Anette Sagen, Norway’s top female ski jumper, was chosen to be the first person to officially jump off Oslo’s new Holmenkollen Ski Jump when it opens on Wednesday. Sagen was chosen because she’s said to be a “pioneer” in the sport.
Sagen, a 25-year-old from Mosjøen, was also clearly the “people’s favorite” for the honor of jumping first off Holmenkollen. She led the voting conducted by several media organizations and around 10,000 Norwegians had formed a Facebook fan club to support her.
Sagen is one of the greatest female ski jumpers of all time. She has fought for years to raise the profile and participation of women in ski jumping, and for their rights to take part in international competition.
City officials said it was “only fair and correct” that Sagen should be the first to soar off the new Holmenkollen, calling her a “pioneer” and a representative for “a new era” in ski jumping.
Sagen herself told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on the phone from Japan on Monday that it was “incredibly special” to have been chosen, and she thanked Oslo officials for their confidence in her. She said she’d been amazed and encouraged by the outpouring of support for her, and for Norwegians’ interest in the sport.
She’s widely considered the driving force behind the establishment of the first-ever World Championship ski jumping competition for women last year, where she won the bronze medal. In Norway, she’s remembered for being denied the right to jump at Vikersund in 2004, and for her battle against the International Ski Federation’s ski jump committee, which was led by a a Norwegian.
“Without her, I don’t think there would have been any World Championships for women ski jumpers,” Arne Scheie, veteran sports commentator for Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). He praised city officials’ choice of Sagen, calling it “well-deserved” and “a big day” for ski jumping in general.
Not everyone has supported Sagen, however. Roar Gaustad, who has led the Kollenhopp ccompetition at Holmenkollen since 1993, told newspaper Aften last month that he thought it would be “unnatural” for Sagen to jump first — not because she’s a woman but because she’s from Mosjøen, about 900 kilometers north of Oslo. Gaustad thought a local jumper like Bjørn Einar Romøren should have the honor, and didn’t think the opening of Holmenkollen should have anything to do women’s rights.
“Sagen has nothing to do with Holmenkollen,” he claimed. She won, however, women’s ski jumping events at Holmenkollen both in 2004 and 2005.
The new Holmenkollen Ski Jump was formally handed over to city officials and approved by the International Ski Federation (FIS) last month. It and a new winter sports complex around it have cost taxpayers over a billion Norwegian kroner to build, and will be the showcase for next year’s Nordic World Championships (VM) in Oslo.
After the official opening event on Wednesday, the jump will be used for VM preliminaries over the next two weeks including the annual Holmenkollen Ski Festival on March 14.