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In Olympic First, Women Ski Jumpers Shatter Glass Ceiling


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block.

Sports history was made today at the Winter Olympics in Sochi. For the first time, women were allowed to compete in ski jumping. And some of the women who jumped today had been fighting for equality for their sport for more than a decade.

NPR's Tamara Keith was there at the RusSki Gorki Jumping Center and joins us now. And Tamara, let's start first with the medalists, who came out on top today?

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: The woman who won is Carina Vogt from Germany. She had two incredible jumps. And then silver went to Austria and bronze went to a jumper from France.

BLOCK: OK, so no American women on the podium. There were three American women competing. How did they finish in the end?

KEITH: Jessica Jerome finished 10th. Lindsey Van, who is a real pioneer for the sport, she finished 15th, which she says she's happy with, in part because she's had worse results in other competitions this year. And Sarah Hendrickson, who was the team's top jumper until August when she had a terrible crash that tore apart her knee, she's been in physical therapy essentially for six months and only just started jumping last month. She finished 21st. And because she had no world cup record this year, she actually got to jump first tonight.

SARAH HENDRICKSON: I was kind of like bib number. Like, that kind of sucks because I'm used to being among the last one. But then someone was like, well, no. You're the first girl ever to jump in an Olympic. And I kind of took that ran with it.

BLOCK: Took it and ran with it. Or really, in her case, she flew with it off that jump. What else did these American women have to say about this historic day of the first time that women's ski jumping made it to the Olympics?

KEITH: You know, there's that old cliche in sports about how everyone is a winner, just being there makes your winner. And nobody really believes it and where they say it. I got the feeling that Jessica Jerome really meant it when she said it.

JESSICA JEROME: I didn't perform to my best ability but I'm still happy, strangely. I think everyone is. And all the girls from all the countries are just smiling.

KEITH: And that's because they have been fighting for such a long time just to be in the Olympics. And many of them have been in this fight together. They're friends. So, really they meant it. They said everyone won because they were all Olympians, finally.

BLOCK: Why did it take so long for women ski jumping to be accepted as part of the Olympics? Men's ski jumping has been part of the games since way back when the Winter Games started.

KEITH: Yeah, they were told for a long time that women's bodies couldn't handle it, which sounds familiar. I was sitting around talking to a group of female sports reporters, who have been doing this longer than I have. And they said it was much like the 1984 Olympics, when women were first allowed to run the marathon. And before that they were told their bodies couldn't handle the marathon.

Lindsey Van told me that in 2009 someone actually asked her if her uterus had fallen out. And they were serious.

BLOCK: Had fallen out during jumping?

KEITH: Yeah. I don't know. It just doesn't make any sense. But they were also told that women athletes weren't good enough at jumping. And they were told that there wasn't enough depth in the field. And part of that was because it wasn't an Olympic sport. And now that it is, the competition has already gotten a lot stronger worldwide.

BLOCK: And what else do women ski jumpers want to happen to feel like they're fully participating in the sport?

KEITH: Men get to jump on both the normal hill, which is where the women jumped tonight, and the large hill. And the women jumpers really want to be able to jump on that large hill in the Olympics. They jump on that hill in practice and they'd like to do it in the Olympics, and they're aiming for games four years from now.

BLOCK: OK. NPR's Tamara Keith covering women's ski jumping at the Sochi Olympics. Tamara, thanks.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.