KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — American pop artist Andy Warhol once said "the idea of waiting for something makes it more exciting." If so, the world's best female ski jumpers will have a tough time containing their enthusiasm at the top of the RusSki Gorki Jumping Center on Tuesday evening when they vie for their first gold at any Olympics.
After being spurned by the International Olympic Committee for years, losing a Supreme Court case in Canada's British Columbia province ahead of the Vancouver Games, and even criticized for potentially risking their bodies — FIS president Gian Franco Kasper said in 2005 that ski jumping "seems not to be appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view" — the IOC finally added one event on the normal hill to the Sochi Olympics calendar for women.
Here are five things to know about their long-awaited debut on the Olympic ski hill, a two-round, total-points competition:
THE FAVORITES: Sara Takanashi, the 17-year-old from Japan who has won 10 World Cup events this season, came into Sochi as the biggest gold medal threat, but that favoritism has been eroded by strong training performances from Daniela Iraschko-Stolz of Austria and Carina Vogt of Germany.
RAPID RISE: Women ski jumpers have shown in the past five years that they deserve to be at the Olympics. Their first world championships were held in 2009, won by American Lindsey Van, and the first World Cup season was held in 2011-12. A World Cup race last year garnered 70 entries, and more and more women are taking up the sport.
BEST OF THE BEST: Despite the increasing figures, only the top 30-ranked women were allowed to come to Sochi — call it quality over quantity — so there will be no qualifying and everyone here went through to the gold final. In future Olympics, leaders of the women's competition hope to have the large hill and a team competition added to the Olympic gold picture, and an unlimited entry list.
YOUTH MOVEMENT: Olympic officials say 15 of the 30 competitors in Tuesday's gold final are teenagers, led by Takanashi. Gianina Ernst of Germany, who turned 15 on Dec. 31, just scraping in eligibility-wise for the Olympics, featured on a World Cup podium earlier that month. Ernst is half the age of the three oldest competitors, 30-year-olds Iraschko-Stolz and Norwegians Helena Olsson Smeby and Line Jahr.
SPARE A THOUGHT: For one of those teenagers, American Sarah Hendrickson, the defending World Cup champion and winner of 13 World Cup events since 2011. She tore her right knee apart in August, underwent surgery and made a valiant attempt to get to Sochi. She would have given everyone a fight for a place on the podium, but she's clearly not fit and her knee still hurts. She'll take the rest of the season off after the gold final. "Top of the hill in Sochi... Can't believe how long and hard I've worked to stand here," she tweeted on Feb. 5, along with a photo from the top of the jump. Unfortunately for the 19-year-old Hendrickson, standing is about all she's been able to do without pain.