- Ski Jumping
Lindsey Van accomplishes Olympic dream
American ski jumper Lindsey Van knew she wanted to compete in the Olympics ever since she was a child. The only problem for Van was that her sport, women’s ski jumping, was not recognized as an Olympic event. Now, at 29 years old, Van finally accomplished her dream -- a spot on the United States women’s ski jumping team, because for the first time in 2014 the sport will be included in the Sochi Games.
Van, who was born in Detroit, Mich., moved to Park City, Utah, when she was child, and immediately fell in love with sport of ski jumping. At the 2002 Salt Lake Games, she was offered a spot to be a test jumper before Olympic competition. At 17, Van was only one of a few women to serve as a test jumper in Salt Lake City. Yet despite being qualified to test the jump sites, women’s ski jumping was not an official Olympic sport. Things started to change, however, in 2009, when the inaugural women’s ski jumping World Championships were held in Liberec, Czech Republic.
Embedded owg_slideshow: Growing up: Lindsey Van
Van would compete in that event, even through she was not at full strength.
“A few weeks before the event, I fell off a cliff while I was skiing," Van said. "I tried to go off a 10-12 foot cliff and I hit some rocks. Since I was not supposed to ski at the time, I held off telling my coaches for days. I didn’t jump until the day after the crash. I was hurting pretty bad.”
Van ended up with six broken vertebrae, three bulging disks and three separated ribs from the crash. The day before the World Championship, she recorded her shortest trial jump in her career. Nevertheless, that did not stop Van from winning the event and becoming the sport's first World Champion.
“It was cool, it was insane, it was unexpected, I can’t describe it," Van said. "It was strange, but it was a good distraction being injured. I kept telling myself, ‘If I could do this jump and not be in too much pain, that would be awesome.’”
Embedded owg_slideshow: Model Olympian: Lindsey Van
However, as the 2010 Vancouver Games were approaching, women’s ski jumping was still not an Olympic sport. Van and teammate Jessica Jerome were part of a lawsuit against the Vancouver organizing committee (VANOC), which claimed that the VANOC was discriminating against the sport based on gender.
Ironically, in the lead-up to the Vancouver Games, there was an open ski jumping competition on the normal hill in Vancouver, the same hill that would be featured in the 2010 Olympics. Van entered the competition and set a hill record. She jumped 105.5 meters, the farthest distance for both men and women. Van recalls why it was significant.
“I didn’t do it to prove anything," Van said, "but people needed to see that women in this sport are capable of jumping really far, just as capable of having our own event.”
Unfortunately for Van and her teammates the Supreme Court of British Columbia ruled that although there was discrimination, it could not enforce the law. The Vancouver Games could continue to exclude women’s ski jumping. The decision left Van frustrated and mentally exhausted.
“I couldn’t separate the sport from the politics and it was frustrating and it made me not want to ski jump. It wasn’t fun anymore. I needed a break, there was no point for me to go out and jump. It wasn’t beneficial for me and anyone around me.”
In December 2009, Van, the reigning World Champion, walked away from ski jumping.
Van spent her time off skiing and hanging out. She did not jump for a while but eventually missed the sport so much that she came back to it. She realized she needed to have a different approach this time around.
“I wanted to be a high level ski jumper and compete. I had to find a new perspective to do that -- not let the political aspects of it get in the way of me enjoying the sport.“
Van returned to the sport in October 2010. She also received good news, that an International Olympic Committee (IOC) representative would be on-hand for the 2011 World Championships in February in Norway. The representative would be there to judge the quality of jumping and competition and determine if the event could be ready for the Sochi Games.
Embedded video_content_type: Lindsey Van tackles all obstacles in her way
But that winter Van found a new cause to fight for, and this cause hit close to home. Van’s roommate at the time, Seun Adebiyi, a Nigerian skeleton athlete and hopeful for the 2014 Winter Olympics, was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia and lymphoma. Adebiyi needed a bone marrow transplant, and Van felt inspired to help her roommate. Unfortunately, Van was not a match, but as a sign of support she joined a bone marrow registry. Adebiyi ultimately won his battle with leukemia. Van found out before the 2010-11 season that she was a match for a different patient in San Francisco, and as soon as the patient was cleared for surgery, Van would have to leave competition to donate her bone marrow. Even though the 2010-11 season was crucial for her sport, Van didn't think twice about walking away.
“It would be hard for me to understand if this patient was my family member and someone couldn’t help them," Van said. "I would rather save someone’s life than compete or jump. To me it’s not even on the same level, this was easy for me to decide.”
Luckily for Van, she was able to compete in the 2011 World Championships. The conditions were awful in Norway, as heavy fog and wind resulted in Van’s worst finish in her career and she missed the cut to advance to the second round. But Van had a different issue to face; she needed to come back to the States and start her bone marrow donation. The patient was ready.
Embedded owg_slideshow: Through the lens: U.S. women's ski jumping
Van headed to San Francisco in March 2011 and donated stem cells in a three-hour procedure. The donation was a success and the patient ultimately survived.
Van returned to Utah to recover. While recuperating, she got news that the IOC representative determined that despite the terrible conditions for the 2011 World Championship, the competition featured high level jumping and strong competition.
On April 6, 2011, women’s ski jumping was introduced into the Sochi Games. Van has been considered a pioneer for ski jumping by many, although she sees herself as more of a veteran.
“I don’t see myself as a pioneer, I see myself as the older athlete who had to go through all of that. I got to watch the sport go from nothing to where it is now. “
Asked what it would be like to compete in her first Olympics Games, Van paused and answered, “I hope at that point, I am able to enjoy it and not be too nervous about it. I think no matter how I got there I am going to be excited for the sport.”
But ultimately Van can now appreciate the journey it took to get her to this point.
“The harder something is, the more you are going to appreciate it in the end. I have had a lot of great experiences and opportunities and I have a learned a lot more in this process then I would otherwise."
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