They fought for a decade for Olympic inclusion. Now, women’s ski jumpers are set to vie for the sport’s first U.S. Olympic berth.
The U.S. Olympic Trials for ski jumping and Nordic combined will take place at 2002 Olympic venues in Park City, Utah, this weekend.
The winner of each event — three athletes total — will earn a nomination to the U.S. Olympic Team. The rest of the ski jumping and Nordic combined teams will be named by Jan. 22.
In all, the U.S. Olympic Team for ski jumping can include up to four women and four men and for Nordic combined can include up to five men. This is if International Ski Federation quotas hold through Jan. 19. Quotas are determined by countries’ results in international competitions.
Here’s the U.S. Olympic Trials schedule of events (all times Eastern):
Nordic combined ski jump — 12:15-12:45 p.m.
Nordic combined 10K cross-country — 4-4:35 p.m.
Ski jumping men’s and women’s jump one — 1:50-2:05 p.m. (LIVE on NBC)
Ski jumping men’s and women’s jump two — 2:36-2:52 p.m. (LIVE on NBC)
The NBC broadcast Sunday (1:30-3 p.m. ET) will include a Nordic combined recap.
Here’s an event-by-event preview:
Women’s Ski Jumping
Women’s ski jumping will no doubt be the focus of this weekend. The International Olympic Committee added women’s jumpers into the Olympics in 2011, paving the way for this first edition of U.S. Olympic Trials.
“This is such a historical season already with the first chance for women to jump in the Games,” U.S. jumper Jessica Jerome said, according to the U.S. Ski Team. “Now to be able to compete with the nation’s top field to earn our nomination to the team will turn one of our lifelong dreams into reality.”
Five women are essentially in the running for four spots in Sochi. Four of them are competing this weekend.
Reigning world champion Sarah Hendrickson remains out after tearing the ACL, MCL and meniscus in her right knee in an Aug. 21 crash. Hendrickson, 19, expects to return to jumping on snow in the second week of January, according to the Salt Lake Tribune, and compete in World Cup events later in the month.
Hendrickson is expected to be placed on the Olympic Team. The other three spots ought to come down to Jerome, Lindsey Van, Abby Hughes and Alissa Johnson. Barring a shocking upset, one of them will wrap up the first berth Sunday.
“It’s really nerve-racking,” Hughes told KSL News in Salt Lake City. “We’ve never been in this situation before. It’s really intense, but it’s really exciting at the same time.”
The U.S. Nordic combined team isn’t quite the Olympic medal threat it was in 2010, when it broke through with a team silver medal, one individual gold and two individual silvers.
No U.S. man has placed better than seventh in this season’s World Cup events. The U.S. did not reach the podium in the first two team events, either.
Expect the competition Saturday to come down to three men — brothers Bryan and Taylor Fletcher and 2010 Olympic champion Bill Demong.
The younger Taylor Fletcher made the 2010 U.S. Olympic Team at age 19, but Bryan did not. However, Taylor did not compete in the Vancouver team event. Thus, neither owns an Olympic medal.
Bryan was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at age 3, underwent chemotherapy for seven years and survived a stroke before it went into remission.
They are opposites in competition. Bryan is better at jumping. Taylor is stronger at cross-country skiing.
The Fletchers traded the top American spot in World Cup standings the last three seasons and are expected to make the Sochi Olympic Team regardless of what happens Saturday.
As is Demong, eyeing his fifth Olympic berth. Nothing will top his experience in Vancouver, when he won the first U.S. Nordic combined Olympic gold medal, successfully proposed to his wife and was named flag bearer for the Closing Ceremony on the same day.
Demong, 33, is not the most experienced skier at trials. That would be Todd Lodwick, 37, trying to become the first six-time U.S. Winter Olympian.
“I have to make sure I am doing everything every day to get there,” Lodwick told TeamUSA.org earlier this month. “It comes with a lot of personal gratification to get to the Olympic Games, not just once, but multiple times.”
Men’s Ski Jumping
The U.S. men’s ski jumping program has long sought a boost. It hasn’t produced a World Cup medal since 1991 and hasn’t put anybody or team in the top 10 of an Olympic event since 1988.
The contenders this week include the three members of the 2010 Olympic Team — Peter Frenette, Anders Johnson and Nick Alexander — and Nick Fairall.