By Whitney Childers
If the cameras had been close enough on Opening Ceremonies Friday night, you might have seen the constant flash of teeth and radiating pure kid-like enjoyment on the faces of Lindsey Van, Jessica Jerome, and Sarah Henrdickson.
Donned in their Ralph Lauren clothing of white pants, knitted patriotic sweaters and tasseled ski hats, they marched among a sea of their fellow Team USA athletes — celebrating together this historic moment that has been a decade in the making for women ski jumpers.
“It was absolutely amazing. I couldn’t stop smiling and crying,” said Van, the 2009 World Champion. “I was most impressed and moved by everything IOC Chief Thomas Bach said during Opening. He was talking to me – the athlete – that’s what I stand for. That’s why I’m here.”
Sarah wasn’t sure if her mom Nancy would be able to get tickets into the Opening – they were going to $1,500 a piece. At the last minute, a sponsor came through with unused tickets for Sarah’s mom, her grandmother and other family members.
“I thought we’d never see each other. But after the ceremony, she looked up and happened to see me in the crowd in my orange jacket,” Nancy Hendrickson said. “For a brief moment, we had a connection. It was amazing.”
Just a few hours before the ceremony on Friday, Lindsey, Jessica and Sarah participated in a packed-house press conference at the Main Media Center in the Coastal Cluster. U.S. and international press were there, cameras, recorders, bloggers.
None of the questions were new or different, but there was a little more weight behind the answers this time. It’s because they’d finally made it to the Big Dance. They were here and they were already Olympians.
Jessica Jerome was asked what it felt to finally be here.
“I am humbled and thrilled to be here and excited to be representing not just Team USA but also ski jumping,” she said. “There’s a great camaraderie with all girl ski jumpers across the world.”
Sarah Hendrickson’s story has been marked one of the best comebacks in Olympic history by making Team USA just five months after severely injuring her knee. The hordes of Japanese press follow her like bees, working hard to expand the “Sarah vs Sara” battle – referring to Hendrickson’s rival with Sara Takanashi of Japan.
“For me Sara Takanashi is an amazing athlete, two years younger than me, and her results say it all. She has been under the most intense pressure including tons of media pressure. Yet she gets up that hill and jumps amazingly and brushes it off like it’s no problem,” Hendrickson said.
“But I can’t think about that at all, I am in control and I can’t be concerned about how she is jumping. I just need to be concerned about myself.”
For Lindsey Van, who often battles serious jetlag, she was having a hard time describing her feelings about being here and finally competing on sport’s biggest stage. When her words fail her, she said, she takes pictures and sends them to friends, family and even media.
“I have no words to describe how beautiful this place is,” Lindsey said in a Facebook post.
Maybe it’s not just the surroundings that are beautiful, but what they symbolically represent to a group of women who only ever wanted to be included and show the world what they’re made of.
“Never give up,” Van said sleepily on Wednesday. “Never give up.”
Whitney Childers is the Communication and Media Director for Women's Ski Jumping USA. Watch for daily updates, photos and posts about life behind the scenes in Sochi.