SOCHI, Russia -- Ski jumping was one of the eight original sports at the first Winter Olympics in 1924, but it has taken 90 years for women to take flight.
They finally get their chance Tuesday, when women's ski jumping makes its Olympic debut on the normal hill at the RusSki Gorki Jumping Center.
What took so long?
"Question of the century," said Sarah Hendrickson, the 2013 world champion. "Sure, 20 years ago we didn't have enough women to have an event. I think we were ready in 2006 and definitely ready in 2010, but unfortunately they pushed it to 2014. But now we've made it."
Along the way, women jumpers had to overcome stereotypes that persisted even while the International Olympic Committee was adding women's boxing and wrestling to the Summer Games and extreme sports such as halfpipe and aerials to the Winter Games.
As recently as 2005, Gian Franco Kasper, the president of the International Ski Federation, told an NPR reporter that ski jumping "seems not to be appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view."
"I thought it was laughable," said Jessica Jerome, the U.S. Olympic trials champion.
But there was nothing funny about the decade-long battle to get women's ski jumping on the Olympic program. Fifteen athletes, including Jerome and Lindsey Van, who won the first women's world championship in 2009, filed a lawsuit to compete at the 2010 Vancouver Games. It went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, which refused to hear an appeal.
In 2011, at long last, the IOC announced that it would add women's ski jumping to the program for the Sochi Games.
"The fight that Lindsey and Jessica went through as athletes was never-ending," Hendrickson said. "I give them so much credit for how strong they stayed. It would be so easy to just walk away and they stayed strong and paved the way for me. I can't thank them enough."
Hendrickson, Jerome and Van will represent the United States and are keen to show the world they belong.
"I just want people to see that women can ski jump," Van said. "It's one of the oldest sports in the Olympics and it's taken 90 years for women to be here. I'm just thrilled to show ski jumping to the world, and that women can do it."
Hendrickson, 19, would have been a favorite to win gold if not for a training crash in Germany on Aug. 21 that left her with a devastating knee injury. She tore her ACL, tore her MCL off the bone, shredded 80 percent of her meniscus and underwent reconstructive surgery on Aug. 29.
"Right away when I slid to a stop, I knew it wasn't good," she said. "I thought the hopes of competing in Sochi were crushed. It was pretty devastating. I won't sugarcoat it. I was on such a good path. I was jumping well and had some of the best jumps of my life when I fell.
"That was really hard, but you can only be sad for so long and then you've got to pick yourself up and fight against your odds."
Hendrickson didn't resume jumping until Jan. 11 and is still in pain. She had to make some concessions for the knee in training sessions Saturday and Sunday. Both days, she elected to take only two of her three allotted jumps and her speed on the in-run was slow. On Sunday, she requested a lower gate than the other jumpers were using.
The women have one more training session Monday.
"I still have pain in my knee," she said. "There's no need to jump too far. I don't want to sacrifice anything."
Hendrickson admitted to feeling some apprehension about the possibility of reinjury. Does she still consider herself a medal contender?
"It's hard to say," she said.
With Hendrickson hobbled, 17-year-old Sara Takanashi of Japan is the favorite to win the gold medal. The 5-foot, 99-pound Takanashi is No. 1 in the World Cup ranking.
"Sara is an amazing athlete," Hendrickson said. "Her results say a lot. Under the most intense pressure -- she has tons of media pressure on her as well -- she shows up at the hill and jumps just amazing."
Daniela Iraschko-Stolz of Austria is the only woman who has jumped 100 meters in training and she's done it twice in six jumps. Takanashi was consistently in the upper 90s.
But no matter who wins the first Olympic medals, all the women will literally be jumping for joy.
"I'm just humbled and thrilled to be here," Van said. "Of course, I'm excited to be representing Team USA, but I'm also very excited to be representing women's ski jumping. All of us are thrilled to be here. It was a long, uphill battle."
From here on out, though, it's all downhill.
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