Though they were shut out of medals at the jumping hill in Sochi today, the inaugural American women's ski jump team still has reason to stand proud: Jessica Jerome from Park City, Utah, finished 10th, and Lindsey Van placed 15th.
They, and their fellow jumpers worldwide, also owe a debt to Minnesota, said Bryan Sanders, a 1992 Olympian and ambassador for the American Ski Jumping Hall of Fame and Museum in Red Wing, Minn.
"If it weren't for the jumps in Minnesota and Wisconsin, I don't think we would've seen ski jumping for women in the Olympics today," Sanders told MPR News' Tom Crann on Tuesday.
Ski jumping in Minnesota can trace its history back to 1883, when Norwegian brothers Torjus and Mikkel Hemmestvedt brought the sport to the bluffs of southern Minnesota. It spread to the hills of western Wisconsin, the North Shore and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. A hill of only 500 vertical feet is big enough to hold an Olympic-sized ski jump, Sanders said.
High school programs popularized the sport in the 1940s, up to the 1970s when schools dropped it because of high costs. Still though, Sanders said Minnesota is "a hot bed" for ski jumping thanks to organizations like the St. Paul Ski Club, formed in 1885 -- making it the oldest of its kind in the United States.
"Women's ski jumping really launched out of Minnesota. More girls have probably gone off the ski jumps in St. Paul and Minneapolis than anywhere else in the country," Sanders said.
Discrimination kept women out of the Winter Olympics for years, Sanders said, and the women in Sochi are still not allowed to compete on the largest hill. That's the next battle for women ski jumpers to wage, Sanders said.
"They are already skiing the large hill in training and practice, and they are skiing it well. We'll look for that in the next games in [South] Korea," Sanders said.