Women's ski jumping will finally make its Olympic debut in Sochi — 90 years after the men competed in the sport for the first time at the Winter Games. For the best female jumpers in the world, Feb. 11 will be a momentous day after years of fighting for the right to compete, including an unsuccessful court case to be included in Vancouver four years ago.
The International Olympic Committee finally decided in April 2011 to add women's jumping to the Sochi program. The delay can be partly blamed on Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards, whose terrible form and questionable bravado at the 1988 Calgary Games. That brought the wrong kind of publicity to the sport and persuaded the governing body to introduce tougher qualifying restrictions, which ultimately affected female jumpers. The growth in elite women's jumping was evident in the first women's World Cup event of the season in December at Lillehammer, Norway, when 70 female jumpers from 15 countries — the largest start list ever — competed.
Here are five things to know about the event at the RusSki Gorki Jumping Center at the Mountain Cluster east of Sochi:
WHY SO LONG? Female ski jumpers have heard all the excuses about why they weren't allowed into the Olympics sooner, including not having enough elite jumpers. But they were also told the female body wasn't thought to be strong enough to take the strain of repeated jumps, and even that it might affect their ability to have children. Former world champion Lindsay Van of the United States said she had people ask if her uterus had fallen out as a result of ski jumping. Van and Jessica Jerome were among the top competitors who filed the unsuccessful suit ahead of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. "I didn't see it as something noble, I saw it more as a moral responsibility," Jerome said at a media summit last year. The lawsuit failed, with a Canadian court ruling that the IOC, not Vancouver organizers, was the only body authorized to make the call. But the case generated widespread attention.
KID BALLERINA IS BIG FAVORITE: Despite her small stature — she's 4 feet, 11 inches tall — Japan's Sara Takanashi is one of the biggest gold-medal favorites in any sport heading into Sochi. The 17-year-old Takanashi has won eight of nine World Cup events this season and is a runaway leader in the standings. Takanashi, who graduated from high school in 2012, credits ballet lessons as a child with helping her maintain balance during her jumps. "The Olympics in Sochi are my big goal," Takanashi said at a World Cup meet last year. "To fulfil my dream about a gold medal would be a huge success, but I will be glad about any position near the top."