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The best women's ski jumpers in the United States rose at dawn Wednesday and made their way to the Park City, Utah, home of former Salt Lake City Mayor DeeDee Corradini. Bagels and coffee were served. They dialed a number that would allow them to listen in on a news conference in London and waited to hear if their sport had finally been cleared for landing.
When International Olympic Committee sports director Christophe Dubi announced that women would jump at the Sochi Games in 2014 -- the culmination of a vigorous and at times contentious fight for the past several years -- it was a thrill, a relief and a challenge all wrapped into one.
"There's not a group out there more prepared for the world stage than we are," said 23-year-old U.S. team member Alissa Johnson, who began jumping when she was 5. "It's a huge weight off our shoulders, and the rain cloud's no longer following us wherever we go. But the battle doesn't end here."
Now, Johnson said, she and her teammates are intent on demonstrating that their performances can be just as breathtaking and compelling as their male counterparts.
Ski jumping was the last male-only skiing discipline in the Olympics. The women had petitioned for inclusion for years; but, leading up to the 2010 Vancouver Games, a multinational group of competitors mounted a more concerted effort to get on the schedule and eventually took their case to court. Although they lost, Corradini -- president of Women's Ski Jumping USA, the foundation that funds the women's program -- said the lawsuit was still the turning point in her mind.
"It gave us the ability to get the attention of the world and the IOC," she said. "We'd been trying to get the facts out, and we won in the sense that it exposed that this was discrimination."
The women will compete in only one event, the shorter "normal hill," in Sochi as opposed to the men, who jump the normal hill, the large hill and contest a team event. Corradini said the women will keep pushing to add those events, as well as Nordic combined (ski jumping and cross-country skiing), in future Olympics.
Top women are capable of jumping the same distances as top men. Men build up more speed on the approach, or "inrun," because they weigh more, but women, by virtue of being lighter, can sail farther in the air. Lindsey Van, the 2009 world champion from the U.S., held the distance record for both genders on the normal hill in Vancouver for two years before it was broken by several male skiers in the Olympics.
FIS, skiing's world governing body, has sanctioned the first women's World Cup circuit for the 2011-12 season. It will consist of between 10 and 14 events, some in conjunction with the men, and will include at least one event in the United States. The lower-tier Continental Cup series also will continue.
The details of integrating the top women's jumpers with the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association are yet to be worked out. (VISA, a major sponsor of the USSA, also is the chief sponsor of the women's ski jumping foundation.)
On Wednesday, Van said the news "hasn't really set in" and admitted it has been hard to stay positive at times during a campaign that hit obstacle after obstacle. (Russian organizers reportedly put up some last-minute resistance to including the women.) She said she'll decide season by season whether to keep competing.
And Van said she is more than ready for the inevitable name-game confusion between her and her alpine skiing counterpart, Lindsey Vonn, born a month apart in 1984.
The U.S. women hope to continue the country's recent success in Nordic sports, headlined by the men's Nordic combined team in Vancouver. Gold medalist Billy Demong is among the women's supporters.
"They have been persistent in their pursuit of growing the sport and raising the level, and the fact that they've had two very competitive World Championships in Liberec [Czech Republic] and Oslo [Norway] illustrates that they have arrived at a point where they need to be taken seriously by the IOC," he said earlier this week. "Inclusion in Sochi can do nothing but help up the popularity of the sport and the level of the competition."