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Hometown pride evident in Olympic women ski jumpers

Tom Kelly, Park Record Columnist

If there was one thing evident in the six young women speaking to the Rotary Club of Park City last week it was passion true love for ski jumping and what they had accomplished as a team bringing their sport to the Olympics. On February 11, 2014, four American women will jump on the world’s largest stage in Sochi with roots firmly embedded in the legacy of the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Utah.

Eleven years ago they were just kids formulating a dream. Today, they’ve grown into adults who have made those dreams a reality, winning two of their sport’s first three World Championships and establishing themselves as the best in the world. And they will be vying for those precious spots on the Sochi team.

"What motivates me is love and passion for the sport," said Abby Hughes. "That and getting over my fear of heights," she said laughing. "We’re a family. I support these girls and they support me. And the support we get from the community makes me feel like I want to be Best in the World."

Long before the 2002 Games came to town, sport officials pushed for long-term use of facilities and the development of local clubs to give Utah youth an opportunity to dream. Park City has watched proudly as Lindsey Van and Sarah Hendrickson have brought home titles. Community pride still resonates.

"Growing up jumping, there were very few of us and we mostly trained with the men," said Alissa Johnson, who has watched her younger brother compete in two Olympics. "What changed for all of us in our careers is having a team that trained together and lived together and that’s made us the Best in the World."

Today, the women are in the mix every day, training side-by-side with Olympic champions at the USSA Center of Excellence or soaring off the jumps at the Utah Olympic Park. What motivates them to hurtle through space off towering jumps? "We started when we were young before we knew better," joked Jessica Jerome.

"What I love about it is flying through the air, said World Champion Sarah Hendrickson. "There’s nothing else in the entire world like it and not many people who can say they do it. The feeling is indescribable. When you’re on the ski jump, nothing else in the world matters."

"It’s hard and it’s frustrating at times. But I like the challenge of the sport," added the sport’s first World Champion, Lindsey Van. "When you have that one jump in a hundred, it makes it all worth it. It has taught me a lot."

"You start out on alpine skis until you feel totally comfortable and just work your way up," said Nina Lussi, who grew up on the Olympic hills in Lake Placid. "I was 10 years old, it was the last day of the season and my coach had asked me the night before if I wanted to ski with the big boys. I was a little scared so I went to my sister, who was a ski jumper. I asked her if she thought it was a good idea. She said, ‘No, Nina, you’re not ready.’ Of course, that’s the moment I decided to do it. As soon as I landed I threw my arms in the air I had jumped off an Olympic hill!"

"You can take a hundred jumps and they can all be really bad. And you get to a point where you’re frustrated, things aren’t going the way you want them to go, you have to change your technique, dial things back and try new things. But as soon as you get it, that one jump just completely erases all those 100, 200 past jumps that were awful. That one jump keeps me going."

At the end of the meeting, Rotary President Joe Rametta offered a small token of appreciation, but one that will likely be prophetic. As a thank you for their appearance, Rotary donated a book to the local library: "Ladies First: Women Athletes Who Made a Difference."

For a group of pioneers who had the courage to be first in their sport, the women’s ski jumpers have already made a difference.


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