While men’s ski jumping occupied a storied place in the Winter Games program, women had been refused the same privilege for myriad reasons —among them, a medically unfounded belief, shared by a former president of the International Skiing Federation, that the cumulative effect of landing ski jumps would damage women’s reproductive organs. It wasn’t until 2011 that skiing officials waived their objections, paving the way for the International Olympic Committee to add women’s ski jumping to the 2014 Sochi Games.
The 30 women who qualified for Tuesday’ inaugural competition at RusSki Gorki Jumping Center represent 12 countries. Half are teenagers, including the 2013 world champion, Sarah Hendrickson, 19, of Park City, a protégé of Van’s, and gold-medal favorite Sara Takanashi of Japan.
The 17-year-old Takanashi, 17, won silver to Hendrickson’s gold at the 2013 World Championships and has ruled the sport, winning 10 of the 13 World Cup events this season, since Hendrickson suffered a major knee injury in August. Other podium favorites: Daniela Iraschko-Stolz of Austria, the 2011 world champion, and Germany’s Carina Vogt.
Under the Olympic competition format, the 30 contenders will have a chance to take a trial jump starting at 8:30 p.m. local time. Doing so is optional.
The first round of jumps will start at 9:30 p.m., with the starting order based on world cup standings, in inverse order. Jumpers receive a single score based on the distance and style of their jump.
The starting order for the second round of jumps (10:25 p.m.) is based on scores in the first round, again in inverse order.
The final standings — and medals — will be based on the total of the two jumps.
Let’s meet the U.S. contenders, all of them based in Park City, Utah:
Sarah Hendrickson, 19: A gold medal favorite until tearing an ACL in an August crash, Hendrickson hasn’t competed since undergoing reconstructive surgery. With no ranking, she’ll start first among the 30 competitors, wearing the corresponding No. 1 bib.
Lindsay Van, 29: The sport’s inaugural World Champion in 2009, Van is regarded as a pioneer in women’s ski jumping. Her best chance at an Olympic podium came four years ago in Vancouver, but women weren’t allowed to compete. She’ll jump sixth.
Jessica Jerome, 27: The first to clinch a spot on the Sochi-bound U.S. woman’s ski jumping team, Jerome posted two top-10 results this World Cup season. She’ll jump 15th.