OSLO, Norway – One by one they sailed over the knoll at the mighty Holmenkollen, swooping down the K120 hill, nearly 10 seconds in flight.
To the untrained eye, they could have been free-falling down a giant waterfall, landing and then submerging in a sea of 30,000 cheers in the outrun. Then they popped back up, reemerging and skiing to a stop, flashing a bright, red-lipped grin.
Perhaps it was the defining moment for these top 30 women ski jumpers from around the globe — most of whom, in a show of unity and humor, painted their lips cherry-red for the final round of the historic final World Cup event of the season.
“We just wanted to celebrate the season finale and show that we’re women and proud of it and that we’ve come along way with women’s ski jumping,” said American and 2013 World Champion Sarah Hendrickson, who won the Holmenkollen event, besting rival Sara Takanashi, of Japan, by less than a point. Austria’s Jacqueline Seifriedsberger was 3rd.
“This is a historic day for us and we’ll remember it forever.”
It marked the first time ever that women were allowed to compete on the large hill, or K120, in an International Ski Federation-sanctioned event. And they did it in the cradle of ski jumping — Oslo, Norway — home to the massive concrete and steel Holmenkollen jump, a modern marvel and pride of the nation rumored to cost $100 million to build.
Women and men ski jumpers took turns in their competition rounds, putting on a flight show for the 30,000 people who were in the Holmenkollen stadium watching, with another 20,000 on the outside, taking in jumping and other Nordic ski racing events.
The Visa Women’s Ski Jumping Team placed 3 in the top 10 — Hendrickson 1st, Lindsey Van 7th, and Jessica Jerome 10th. Alissa Johnson was 19th and Abby Hughes was 28th.
After the event, the season’s top honors were awarded. Takanashi, winning eight of 16 events, was crowned the World Cup Champion. Hendrickson, racking up 10 podiums (including four wins), was second overall, and France’s Coline Mattel was 3rd overall.
For the second year in a row, the Visa Women’s Ski Jumping Team won the Nations Cup — the overall World Cup title for teams. The U.S. women edged out Slovenia, a team that caught fire this season with six jumpers in the top 17 overall. Japan, led by Takanashi, came in 3rd.
Women’s Ski Jumping USA coaches Paolo Bernardi and Alan Alborn, having taken the helm two years ago, were more than prideful for their team that has endured multiple surgeries, disappointing setbacks, and the pressure of being the ones “chased” with less than a year to go before the Sochi Olympic Winter Games.
“They did an amazing job this season — individually and as a team,” Bernardi said. “It was my goal to win a World Championships and win the Nations Cup. We worked hard and we did it.”
Alborn knew the team could perform at the Holmenkollen, but he also knew that jumping in front of 30,000 people would be intimidating.
“It was a ton of pressure, especially sitting at the start bar and seeing thousands below. I think they handled it great, and it definitely helped prepare them for the Olympics next year,” Alborn said.
WHAT THEY HAD TO SAY
Sarah Hendrickson, 18
Hendrickson won the 2013 World Championships in Val di Fiemme, Italy, just three weeks ago and her confidence was high. After a short and media-heavy 10 days back home in Park City, Utah, she was back in Europe preparing for the final two World Cup events, winning back-to-back in Trondheim on March 15 on the normal hill and at the Holmenkollen in Oslo on March 17.
“I was able to squeeze it out (at Holmenkollen) over Sara Tanakashi with style points and I’m just so honored to be able to win here. I love jumping big and love jumping the big hill.”
Lindsey Van, 28
Van finished the season 8th overall with 10 top-10 finishes, including a 6th in a Sochi test event — the venue for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games. She was struggling with consistency this season and trying to “feel at home on the jumps.” She said the Holmenkollen was the most fun she’s had all season.
“It really was exciting for all of us to finally get to jump here in World Cup competition. It was huge. That first jump was so much fun to go big in front of all these people. I loved every minute of it.”
Jessica Jerome, 26
Jerome finished the season ranked 9th overall with eight top-10 finishes in just the past six weeks — barely missing the podium in Trondheim on March 15 with a 4th-place, and by placing a strong 6th in the 2013 World Championships.
“I’m more satisfied this year than I was last year when I also finished 9th overall because my competitions were on a higher level and I was more consistent than a year ago.”
“Jumping the Holmenkollen is very special for any ski jumper. You could hear the crowd at the top, but couldn’t see a lot until you came over the knoll and in your peripheral could hear them and feel the energy. It was amazing.”
Abby Hughes, 23
Hughes finished 21st overall in one of the best seasons she’s ever had. She finished in the top 15 three times, including 9th in a test event in Sochi. Hughes had a couple uncharacteristic lows toward the end of the season – a product of “simply trying a little too hard,” said Coach Bernardi. She’s on her way up, he said, and that’s great going into an Olympic year.
“We showed at the Holmenkollen that we deserve to be here and that we can jump far on big hills. It almost didn’t feel like a competition — everyone was smiling, a little giddy, and we came in here as a unit and competed as a unit.”
Alissa Johnson, 25
Johnson was 27th overall this year, even after missing six events to spend some time at home working on and honing her technique. She had her best ever World Cup season with five top-20 results, including a 12th and 14th, the latter of which came in Trondheim on March 15, boosting her into the top 30 and qualifying her to jump the World Cup final at the Holmenkollen.
“My training has definitely been getting better over the past month and a half, and I’m glad I was able to keep moving up in the right direction.”
“Jumping the Holmenkollen was incredible. It was such an honor for us to be here and show what we can do.”