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A historic gold in women's ski jumping

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SOCHI, Russia — The smile on Lindsey Van's face did not quite match her place in the final standings.

The U.S. ski jumper finished 15th in the normal hill event on Tuesday night, well off the podium, but did not seem the slightest bit upset.

"I'll take it," she said. "My best-ever Olympic performance."

FRAMEWORK: Best images from Sochi

It was her only Olympic performance, given that Sochi marked the debut for women in this traditionally male event. And a good portion of Van's satisfaction stemmed from the fact that she had led the fight to get female jumpers invited to the Games.

"It was a long time to get here and it was stressful and a lot of parts were not fun," Van said. "But once I got here, it turned fun real fast."

For the record, Carina Vogt of Germany won gold in an unexpected result that saw favorite Sara Takanashi of Japan miss the podium. Daniela Iraschko-Stolz of Austria finished second, and Coline Mattel of France took third.

"I couldn't realize it in that moment, and I couldn't believe it until now," Vogt said of her victory. "It's amazing."

This night at RusSki Gorki Jumping Center was supposed to feature a showdown between the two best jumpers in the world, Takanashi and Sarah Hendrickson of the U.S., both teenagers.

But Hendrickson hurt her knee last summer and, just back from surgery, struggled to finish 21st. Takanashi took fourth with a performance well below the level that has seen her dominate on the World Cup circuit this season.

"Something went wrong," she said. "I have realized my mental weakness."

Distance and style points notwithstanding, the 30 competitors in the late final seemed to realize they were taking part in history.

U.S. veteran Jessica Jerome, who finished 10th, said that everyone was high-fiving at the top of the hill, Americans congratulating Norwegians, Canadians congratulating Finns.

"It's the most important step for women's ski jumping to get to the Olympics, because it's the highest level winter sport can reach," Iraschko-Stolz said.

More than a few of the women took a moment to thank Van, who won the world championship in 2009 and has been jumping for more than a decade.

Before the 2010 Vancouver Games, she put her name on a lawsuit to get women jumpers into the Olympics. Though the suit ultimately failed in court, it helped turn the tide.

"I think our battle to get women into ski jumping became much more than ski jumping," Deedee Corradini, president of Women's Ski Jumping USA, said before the event. "It really became a women's rights issue and a human rights issue."

So, coming into the Sochi Games, Van decided to enjoy the fruits of a much larger victory, one that had nothing to do with how far she jumped.

"I'm happy," she said. "For the first time in a long time, I can be happy without looking at the number."

david.wharton@latimes.com

Twitter:@latimeswharton

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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