Women ski jumpers were ready to fly

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UPDATED: Pioneering Norwegian ski jumper Anette Sagen fought for years to get the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to finally allow herself and other women jumpers to compete in the Winter Olympics. In a bitter twist of fate, she was sidelined herself by injury when they finally g0t the chance Tuesday night, but she was among those cheering when their historic moment arrived.

Anette Sagen back on the ground. PHOTO: Sven Goll

Anette Sagen has been a pioneer among women ski jumpers, but had to watch their historic debut at the Winter Olympics in Sochi from the sidelines. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no/Sven Goll

Sagen, now age 29, deserves lots of credit for her efforts to spearhead ski jumping as an Olympic sport for women as well as men. She and her fellow ski jumpers finally succeeded at breaking into the World Championships in 2009, she personally lobbied IOC members like Gerhard Heiberg, and was part of a legal challenge in the Canadian court system when the women continued to be barred from competition at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver four years ago.

Now they’ve finally been accepted and their first Olympic event on Tuesday evening has been called one of the highlights of Sochi 2014. Even the secretary general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, claimed he was eager to be among those cheering on the first women ski jumpers to ever compete in a Winter Olympics. When they finally took off, they had millions of other fans following along as well.

When it was all over, Carina Vogt of Germany won the gold medal, Daniela Iraschko-Stolz of Austria the silver and Coline Mattel of France took bronze. The best Norwegian was Maren Lundby, who placed 8th, immediately followed by Line Jahr of Norway in 9th place.

Hazardous flight from Hawaii
Sagen, originally from Mosjøen in northern Norway, insisted she’s not bitter that she wasn’t able to jump herself. She told newspaper Aftenposten late last month that she was almost embarrassed to explain why: On a long flight home from a holiday in Hawaii in 2012, Sagen fell ill and then fainted in the aisle of the aircraft, partially dislocating her shoulder when she literally fell to the floor.

The shoulder injury has continued to plague her, disrupting her training program and ultimately leading to a season of poor results. She simply failed to qualify for Norway’s Olympic ski jumping team for women, but later was invited along to Sochi as a guest of Norway’s athletics federation (Norges Idrettsforbund). Sports commentators had also claimed that it would simply be unfair if Sagen couldn’t at least enjoy the long-sought debut of ski jumping women at a Winter Olympics in person. Sagen has said she intends to keep competing, just not in Sochi.

Newcomers grateful
Norway’s team was thus made up of Line Jahr, Maren Lundby and Helena Olsson Smeby, the latter another ski jumping pioneer who dropped out of the sport over the lack of an Olympic goal to reach for. Aftenposten reported that Olsson Smeby, Swedish by birth and now age 30, made a strong comeback and was jumping Tuesday night in Sochi after marrying a Norwegian and having a child in Norway. She landed in 14th place. Gyda Enger of Norway was also competing in Sochi, after winning an extra quota spot. She placed 24th.

They were up against a young new crop of confident women jumpers from all over the world including the current World Champion, 19-year-old Sarah Hendrickson of the US. Hendrickson told TIME magazine recently that she appreciates the efforts made by fellow women jumpers like Olsson Smeby, Sagen and fellow American Lindsey Van, also now age 30. “They stayed strong and paved the way for me,” Hendrickson told TIME. Van landed in 15th place Tuesday evening.

Hendrickson won the World Championship last February with a jump of 106 meters. That pales in comparison to Anette Sagen’s 128 meters off the Holmenkollen Ski Jump in Oslo in 2005, but Hendrickson was a favourite heading into competition on Tuesday. She was given the honour of jumping first in the women’s first Olympic competition, but ended up in 21st place.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund