As the Sochi Winter Games brings with it the emotion and athletic spirit that makes it one of the world’s most exciting sporting events, women had another opportunity to break barriers. After a lawsuit which attempted to see women’s ski jumping added to the schedule of events at Vancouver 2010, the sport made its long anticipated debut in Sochi.
In addition to the introduction of women’s slopestyle skiing, ski jumping represents the beginning of another bold chapter for female sporting competition. With an event featuring women from over a dozen different countries competing, hardcore fans truly believed that their homeland had a chance to earn a podium finish.
With the RusSki Gorki Jumping Centre as the backdrop for a significant victory in sporting equality, a group of athletic, daring and empowered women truly embarked on a leap of faith. With existing concerns about safety due to so many jumpers suffering from knee injuries prior to Sochi, this competition was going to define its future viability. Launching themselves off a 90 meter hill while soaring through the air at speeds of 50 miles per hour, these fearless women began the process of erasing the existing stigma that women cannot compete in the ski jump.
Germany’s Carina Vogt would make her mark on Winter Games history by becoming the first gold medalist in the women’s normal hill ski jumping competition. Her point total of 247.2 edged out the next closest competitor by just 1.2 points. Silver was claimed by Daniela Iraschko-Stolz of Austria (246.2 pts) while France’s Coline Mattel (245.2 points) was the recipient of the bronze medal.
Involved in a same-sex marriage, Iraschko-Stolz has been the target of media looking for athlete’s comments about Russia’s anti-gay legislation. Displaying remarkable dignity, she chose to comment on her sport rather than her orientation. As the 2011 World Champion, Iraschko-Stolz has set a positive example for younger competitors to follow.
Considering that the first World Championships were only held in 2009, the sport has truly come a long way, creating new sporting heroes and shattering the glass ceiling. America’s Lindsey Van won the inaugural World Championships in 2009, but failed to reach the Top 10 at Sochi. Had the event been held four years ago in Vancouver rather than Sochi, there is no question that Van would have been a gold medal favorite.
Adding insult to injury in Vancouver was the fact that female jumpers were offered the opportunity to jump there, but outside the official competition. Despite Van’s heartbreak, her role as a pioneer in the sport can never be disputed. Of note, fellow American Jessica Jerome would crack the top 10 barrier.
As the sport continues to grow, so too will the number of younger competitors. Of note, half of the field at Sochi featured competitors under the age of 20. One of its shining stars is 17-year-old Sara Takanashi from Japan, who finished in fourth at Sochi. At only 4’11”, she attributes her ballet training as a factor in helping her maintain her balance during competition.
America’s Sarah Hendrickson, the 2013 World Champion, is only 19 years old. The proud owner of 13 World Cup victories, she is another wonder kid defining the sport’s future. Despite a crash in August that caused significant knee damage, the possibility of a podium finish in four years from now is a strong one.
While there are still many more obstacles to overcome, the breakthrough at Sochi represents a significant victory. Having first petitioned to be included as a competitive sport at Nagano 1998, the next challenge is the opportunities to have women participate in the mixed event and on the large hill for the 2018 Pyeongchang Games.