The poignant Visa commercial showing U.S. Olympic ski jumper Sarah Hendrickson taking flight to the crackling soundtrack of legendary aviator Amelia Earhart's powerful words recorded in 1937 sums up the gravity of this historic moment. Today in Sochi, women competed in ski jumping for the first time at an Olympic level (the men's sport has been part of the Winter Olympics since the inaugural Games in 1924). The competition will air on NBC tonight.
Though earning any Olympic medal is coveted, the three in this event in particular—even among the other sports, like slopestyle, also making their debut—will be especially meaningful. “I think our battle to get the women into ski jumping became much more than ski jumping. It really became a women’s rights issue and a human rights issue because we were really fighting for all women in all sports and hopefully all aspects of life,” says DeeDee Corradini, the president of Women’s Ski Jumping USA.
In an earlier interview, Hendrickson reflected on her historic moment: “It hasn't sunk in yet with me that this is the Olympic Games and it probably won't until we start jump training,” said the 2013 world champ, who was the first woman to jump in the competition earlier today. Her dad, for one, knew exactly what to expect. “There's this preconceived notion that men are braver than women, but it takes a lot of guts and a lot of confidence for these women to go off these big ski jumps,” says Bill Hendrickson.
From what Henderickson's teammate Lindsey Van (a pioneer in making this an Olympic sport) says, Sochi may be the perfect place to take their sport to new heights: “[These are the] most beautiful and biggest mountains I've ever seen. The jumps look good—plenty of snow on them.”
While the American women (spoiler alert!) did not medal in today's event (Carina Vogt of Germany took home gold, Austrian Daniela Iraschko-Stolz won silver, and Coline Mattel of France won bronze), we will still be tuning in to watch them make history.
“Hopefully we have taught other girls and other young women around the world that if you really are persistent and never give up, fight hard—hopefully you don’t have to fight—but if you do, fight fairly and well and you can achieve your dreams,” Corradini says, “so go for it.”