Women's ski jumping: Japanese teen favored to win historic gold

Women's ski jumping: Japanese teen favored to win historic gold
Japan's Sara Takanashi takes part in a training jump on the normal hill at RusSki Gorki Jumping Center in Rosa Khutor, Russia, on Monday. Takanashi is favored to win gold in the first Olympic women's ski jumping competition Tuesday. (Peter Parks / AFP/Getty Images)

SOCHI, Russia — Just 17 years old, Sara Takanashi has a lot on her shoulders at these Winter Games.

The Japanese teenager is favored in the historic ski-jumping competition on Tuesday, the first time the Olympics have invited women to compete in this sport.


If she comes through, it would make her the youngest athlete — man or woman — to win the normal hill individual event. It would also make Japan the first country to win all four of ski jumping's events.

So how has Takanashi been dealing with the pressure?

"I share my room with her at the Olympic village," said Yuki Ito, another Japanese jumper. "She's always watching movies on her cellphone."

Asked about the expectations she faces at RusSki Gorki Jumping Center, Takanashi said: "For me, it's not failure not to win the gold medal."

The Sochi Games figured to offer a marquee showdown between Takanashi and another prodigious teenager, Sarah Hendrickson of the U.S.

As the reigning world champion, Hendrickson might have come in here as a co-favorite if she hadn't suffered a serious knee injury while training in Germany last summer.

Surgery and months of rehabilitation kept her off the hill all winter. U.S. officials named her to the team only after she showed her stuff in a week or so of practices.

"Of course, I have this in the back of my head," said Hendrickson, 19. "I know I can get injured again."

U.S. coaches have kept her to a cautious regimen in the days leading up to the competition, having her start from lower gates than the rest of the jumpers.

Another top name in the field, Daniela Iraschko-Stolz of Austria, can understand.

"I feel sorry that she's not so strong, but it's not possible after such surgery," Iraschko-Stolz said. "You lose so much muscle in your legs."

The Austrian veteran has made news here for more than just sport. With so much attention being paid to Russia's anti-gay law, she has faced questions about her wife of 10 years.

"I always say I'm together with a woman and don't have any problems," she said. "I don't think it's a good idea to make protests here … to jump pretty good is also a statement."


There are other contenders in the field. Ito, Irina Avvakumova of Russia and Carina Vogt of Germany have a chance at the podium. The U.S. team includes a pair of veterans — Lindsey Van and Jessica Jerome — who cannot be overlooked.

Van, in particular, led the women's fight for equality in ski jumping and has performed well at times this season.

Still, Takanashi looks like a prohibitive favorite; Iraschko-Stolz calls her "awesome."

The Japanese youngster seems relaxed and confident.

"I have already decided everything tactically," she said. "And I'm going to stick to it."

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