Lindsey Van from U.S. soars through the air during the women's ski jumping World Cup in Schonach, Germany, Saturday Jan. 6, 2013
They'd show up to international ski jumping events only to be dismissed like "unwanted little sisters." No less than the president of the International Ski Federation tried to justify their exclusion from the sport by saying it could damage their reproductive organs. Lindsey Van actually had people ask if her uterus had fallen out.
Hardly a surprise, then, that ski jumping's first female world champion doubted — feared, really — whether this day would ever come.
"Ski jumping has been in (the Olympics) since 1924," Van said Tuesday at the U.S. Olympic Committee media summit. "I've always wanted to have the opportunity to compete in the Olympics. Ninety years after, we finally got it.
"To have it be so close to the Olympics, it's pretty crazy. But I'm ready for it."
Women's ski jumping will make its Olympic debut in Sochi, the culmination of a decades-long battle to have the sport included at the highest levels. Despite the FIS overwhelmingly recommending its inclusion as an Olympic sport in 2006, the International Olympic Committee refused to budge.
Finally, Van, U.S. teammate Jessica Jerome and other top competitors filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against Vancouver Olympic organizers in hopes of forcing them to add the sport to the 2010 Games.
"I didn't see it as something noble, I saw it more as a moral responsibility," Jerome said. "I never wanted these really talented girls, who are 8, 9 and 10 years old now, to have to deal with that crap. If they don't have to deal with that, then I feel like I've done something good."
The lawsuit failed, with a Canadian court ruling that the IOC, not Vancouver organizers, was the only body authorized to make the call. But the case had generated widespread attention — to say nothing of withering criticism.
Women's participation in athletics continues to rise worldwide, and the IOC prides itself on its role in that. At the IOC's urging, every country at the London Olympics had at least one female athlete on its team. Women made up more than 44 percent of the 10,500 athletes at the 2012 Games, the highest percentage yet.
The IOC also had added plenty of other extreme sports — snowboard, free skiing and snowboard cross, just to name few — and women fared every bit as well as their male counterparts.
"With the criticism that came with Vancouver, if I were the IOC, I would not want to go through that again," Jerome said.
A year after Vancouver, the IOC added women's ski jumping to the program for Sochi.
"It wasn't something to celebrate," Jerome said. "It was more of a weight being lifted off my shoulders. Like, 'OK, it's time.'"
The fight isn't over yet, though.
Male ski jumpers compete on both the large and small hills at the Olympics, and also have a team event. The only women's event in Sochi will be on the small hill.
"We're working on it," Jerome said. "We've got our foot in the door with getting an event in the Olympics. From here, we're just going to keep going."