KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — The gold medal presentations are still more than three days away, but the world's best female ski jumpers will finally get a chance to show the Olympics they belong when they hold their first official training session Saturday.
It's not as if they haven't waited long enough — joining the Winter Games 90 years after their male counterparts.
The lead-off competitors at the RusSki Gorki Jumping Center for the normal hill event won't be the ones expected to be on the podium late Tuesday evening when medals are presented. The training runs are seeded so that the lowest-ranked jumpers go first and conclude with those among the top 10 in the World Cup standings.
With the anticipation growing, and it's been brewing for a while, here are five things to know about women's ski jumping's Winter Games debut on Saturday:
SO HOW LONG HAS IT REALLY BEEN? Male jumpers were at the inaugural Winter Games in 1924 in Chamonix, France, and their female counterparts have been lobbying the International Olympic Committee for nearly a decade to be included. But Sochi Olympic officials say it's been more than 150 years since the first documented women's ski jump was reported — by Norwegian Ingrid Olavsdottir Vestby in 1862.
POETIC JUSTICE: Two of the leaders of 15 women who led an unsuccessful court case in 2008 against Vancouver Olympic organizers — Americans Lindsey Van, the sport's first world champion in 2009, and Jessica Jerome — will be among the starters on Saturday. The IOC finally agreed to admit women jumpers in 2011. "I didn't see it as something noble, I saw it more as a moral responsibility," Jerome has said of the court case.
QUESTION MARK No. 1: Can huge gold medal favorite, 17-year-old Sara Takanashi of Japan, translate 10 World Cup victories this season into an Olympic gold? Or will the pressure of being one of Japan's main medal hopes prove too much for the high school student?
QUESTION MARK No. 2: Can American 19-year-old Sarah Hendrickson, the 2013 world champion, contend for a podium spot without having competed since last August? That's when she had to undergo right knee surgery following an accident in training. She's clearly looking forward to the challenge, and loves the venue: "Beautiful place to hold the event of a lifetime," she tweeted Friday along with a photo of the Olympic five rings and mountains in the background.
ONLY THE BEGINNING: While the women will compete only on the normal hill and have just one set of medals awarded at Sochi, there are hopes for an Olympic expansion — jumping on the large hill and eventually a team competition, just like the men. "Our women's ski jumping community has gotten stronger and stronger, and we're ready to show the world what we have here," says Canadian ski jumper Atsuko Tanaka. "We're happy with this, for now. But we are hoping for more."