In Park City, Utah, on Sunday, ski jumper Jessica Jerome, 27, became the first woman to earn a spot on the U.S. Olympic team.
But to get to this point has been a fight.
Ski jumping has been an Olympic sport since the advent of the Winter Olympics — that is, men’s ski jumping. But for the women — who often soar just as far if not farther than the men — it has been a fight that took them to a Canadian courtroom and was marked with years of setbacks. They were told again and again that women’s ski jumping wasn’t at a high enough caliber to be in the games.
Deedee Corradini, former mayor of Salt Lake City and president of Women’s Ski Jumping USA, is among a group of volunteers and parents who have led the charge to get the sport included in the Olympics.
“For years and years, these athletes have had to go to the Olympics and watch their brothers or the boys that they have trained with since they were 5 and 6 years old walk into that Olympic stadium and jump, and they were always on the sidelines,” Corradini says.
To her, it just never made sense that women wouldn’t be included given the caliber of the female jumpers. Many of them grew up training on the ski jump in Park City and were inspired by the Olympics hosted there in 2002.
“Jessica and [second-place finisher Lindsey Van] were the fore jumpers in the 2002 Olympics to make sure the jumps were safe enough for the men, and it’s taken us 12 years to get the women into the Olympics since 2002,” she says.
On Sunday, Jerome and Van were surrounded by the largest crowd to attend an event at the Utah Olympic Park since 2002, when they were just teenagers.
Jerome says that in the locker room before the event, their coach gave them a pep talk.
“He’s like ‘Girls, all these people are out here for you, and you may not realize but this is historic, this has never happened before, so just embrace it and enjoy it.’ And I thought that was pretty cool.”
The sky overhead was the brightest of blues as they made their jumps, sliding down a 90-meter ramp, then lifting off, bodies leaning forward perfectly straight, skis forming a V. Van came into the competition favored to place first but dealing with some back pain. Jerome simply outjumped her.
“It’s really great to be able to only focus on being an athlete now,” Jerome says.
Because for so long Jerome and the others were fighting the fight just to get their sport in the games.
“I was always saying when we were doing all that court stuff and trying to be advocates for the sport, all I wanted to do was train, and in retrospect, of course it was a good thing that we were doing and I’m happy that we did that, but all I ever wanted to do was be an athlete,” she says.
Her dad, Peter Jerome, says his daughter hasn’t always been at the top of the podium, but she kept at it, pushing herself to be better. He was one of the founding members of Women’s Ski Jumping USA and has been deeply involved in both the fight for equality and in fundraising, since the sport has gotten little support over the years. Coming into these first-ever trials, he says he already felt a great sense of accomplishment.
“I felt like we already won, no matter who wins — great crowd, great weather, great venue, great [competition] — but, yeah, I am happy to see my daughter win,” he says.
But, getting a little choked up, he says the best part is yet to come.
“When 30 women from 15 countries march into Sochi, that’s cool,” he says.
Over the coming weeks, as many as three more American women will earn a chance to compete at the Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.