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SOCHI 2014

Ready To Soar

By Jason Devaney | Feb. 21, 2013, 6 p.m. (ET)

(L-R) Nina Lussi, Jessica Jerome, Alissa Johnson, Abby Hughes, Sarah Hendrickson and Lindsey Van pose on Dec. 15, 2012, in Ramsau, Austria.

 
Lindsey Van jumps during day two of the FIS Women's Ski
Jumping World Cup at Zao Jump Stadium on Feb. 10, 2013,
in Yamagata, Japan.

It is well documented that Americans Lindsey Van and Jessica Jerome played a key role in getting their sport, women’s ski jumping, onto the program at the Olympic Winter Games, where it will debut less than a year from now in Sochi, Russia.

So does the pair feel any pressure, given the jumpers’ stake in the International Olympic Committee’s decision?

The answer: A defiant “no.”

Besides, the way the U.S. women’s team has been performing on the World Cup circuit this season proves these athletes are ready for any challenge thrown their way.

“For me, I put pressure on myself because I would really like to be there,” Jerome said. “But if I’m not there, it’s because I’m not jumping far enough. Somebody else who is jumping far will be there instead of me.”

In Ljubno, Slovenia, from where Van, Jerome and Sarah Hendrickson caught up with TeamUSA.org via Skype, the team earned six top-10 finishes during the two-day, two-event World Cup stop. Hendrickson led the way with the second-place result Saturday and a third-place finish Sunday. Van finished eighth and fifth; Jerome took sixth and seventh.

Van could be called a pioneer of the sport. Along with 14 other jumpers (including Jerome), she sued the Vancouver Organizing Committee in 2009 after it was announced the sport would not be included in the 2010 Winter Games. The irony was that before those Winter Games, Van was the record holder on the hill at Whistler — including men and women. She won the inaugural women’s world championship in 2009.

 
Jessica Jerome competes during the FIS Ski Jumping World Cup
on Dec. 14, 2012, in Ramsau, Austria.

The women ultimately lost that lawsuit and were forced to watch the Vancouver competition from their couches at home. But Van and the others did not give up, and finally they were vindicated in the spring of 2011 when the IOC announced there would be a women’s normal hill ski jumping competition in Sochi.

“I was kind of numb when I heard,” Van said in a 2011 ESPN story. “People expected me to be ecstatic, but I’d been after this for so long, it just didn’t sink in at first.”

But now, less than a year before the Opening Ceremony in Sochi, it has sunk in for the 28-year-old. Although in the short term, next up for Van and her merry band of jumpers are the World Championships in Val di Fiemme, Italy. The normal hill final is Friday.

There is one thing working against the U.S. women’s squad, however: The lack of a team event. The men compete in the normal hill, large hill and team events in the Olympic Winter Games. With such a strong crew of jumpers, the American women almost certainly would be contenders to win gold in Sochi if a team event existed.

One step at a time.

“We unfortunately don’t have a women’s team event,” Jerome said. “If we did, we would probably be gold-medal contenders for that. But all of us are doing pretty well individually.”

Hendrickson said one reason the U.S. women’s team is so strong is because they’re from the same ski town in Utah.

"We all grew up in Park City,” Hendrickson said. “We have that determination and closeness that other teams lack because they’re from different parts of the country. We’re from the same town. We’re constantly pushing each other … I think that really strengthens our team.”

With a variety of factors coming into play during a ski jumping competition, the results from this week’s World Championships will not necessarily serve as a barometer of how things will go in Sochi. One such factor is the weather. It’s supposed to be in the 30s and 40s in Val di Fiemme over the next week, with rain and snow sprinkled in here and there.

In Sochi, the 10-day forecast calls for temperatures in the 50s. The ski jumping ramp has a cooling system, so weather won’t be much of a factor next winter, but the air temperature could be warmer than is typical at a Winter Games. And then there’s the issue of having enough snow — Sochi organizers will have an underground cache of snow on hand in case it is needed for any of the skiing events.

Whatever happens on the slopes, Van said watching the sport grow and progress is important to her.

“With the Olympics, the sport is able to keep moving forward,” Van said. “I’m excited to see the future of the sport.”

Story courtesy Red Line Editorial, Inc. Jason Devaney is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.

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