You’ve come a long way, Lindsey |

You’ve come a long way, Lindsey

Lindsey Van stood at the top of the towering ski jump outside Sochi. To her right was a ridgeline that shadows the Russian border with Georgia. To her left was a skyline of construction cranes putting the finishing touches on the Olympic transportation network.

Her mind was focusing on the jump, just as she had done thousands and thousands of times before. Except this was different. As one of the team’s veterans, this was a place she didn’t know if she would ever see jumping in the Olympic test event, around 14 months before her sport’s date with destiny.

"It took a long time to get here," she thought.

Yes, Lindsey, it did. But now you are there!

It will be another 13 months before Lindsey Van, Sarah Hendrickson, Jessica Jerome, Abby Hughes, Alissa Johnson and others know who will represent the USA in the Olympic debut of women’s ski jumping. But this past weekend the top ski jumpers in the world had their first look at the venue where their sport will mark history in February 2014.

Athletes will tell you they treat the big events just like any other. Don’t believe it. Going to Sochi was emotional. For Lindsey Van and her teammates, jumping there was the next step in a passionate quest many of them have lived since they were little girls just having fun ski jumping.

As a community, Park City has watched these girls grow into adulthood taking a special pride in its hometown heroes. There were many firsts along the way the first Junior Olympics in 1990, first U.S. Championships in 1999, first FIS events in 2002 and the first push to the IOC that was turned down in 2006. It was at the first World Championships at Liberec, Czech Republic, in 2009 when Van took charge of her sport’s destiny and became its first world champion.

It was endless hours in courtrooms trying to get into the Vancouver Olympics. And it was patiently waiting around live web feeds waiting for that announcement that finally came on April 6, 2010.

Now it was time to check out Russia, flying through a lightning storm on approach to a place they had never seen. It was a weekend enduring 40+ degree temperatures and rain as crews worked feverishly to prepare the jump.

For the athletes, it was a mental roller coaster. It wasn’t just another World Cup. It was a new venue, in a new country with a new culture. Amidst it all, the American women shined. Still nursing a sore knee, Sarah Hendrickson nailed a World Cup win. Jessica Jerome put down some brilliant jumps. Abby Hughes broke through with a career best. And Lindsey Van came from behind Sunday with a stellar second jump to move up 15 spots and regain some of the confidence that had taken her career to so many highs.

As the athletes talked about their weekend, there were two distinct storylines: confidence and gratitude. It was a confidence builder to see Sarah on top of the podium in the first Olympic test and to have three Americans in the top ten the next day. As athletes, they left Sochi knowing they could compete.

But more than anything was the gratitude they felt for all of those who had stood behind them for so many years and fought for them to have the opportunity to go to Sochi.

As Lindsey Van said, it took a long time to get there. But with its legions of supporters, women’s ski jumping is now firmly on the road to Sochi.

One of the most experienced communications professionals in skiing, Tom Kelly is a veteran of eight Olympics and serves as vice president, Communications, for the Park City-based U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. A Wisconsin native, he and his wife Carole Duh have lived in Park City since 1988 when he’s not traveling the world with the team.

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