5:10 PM EDT, October 2, 2011
From the top of the jumping tower at the Norge Ski Club in Fox River Grove, the view is of a new season, with yellow and orange tints in the trees marking the change.
For 8-time U.S. champion Jessica Jerome and the other women who will see that panorama as they compete in Saturday's K70 national championship, the view also is of a new era in their sport, with the tint of sexism fading into the past -- even if the poster announcing the event on the Norges web site lists only the top men.
As they look into the distance, they can see the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, where women's jumping will make its Olympic debut. Closer on the horizon is the firstWorld Cup season for women, which begins Dec. 3 in Norway.
For athletes like Jerome, 24, jumping pioneers a decade ago, the International Olympic Committee's decision to add them came after a bitter legal fight for inclusion at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. The IOC won that battle but lost so badly on the public relations front it belatedly did the right thing.
Jerome had spent the years leading up to Vancouver training in Park City, Utah with some of the jumpers and Nordic combined athletes who would compete at the 2010 Winter Games. She went to watch but left after three days.
"I felt like it was a party I wasn't invited to," she said.
When the IOC announced April 6 it would extend that invitation, the other top U.S. women jumpers were gathered together in Utah but Jerome got the news in an Internet cafe while vacationing on the Thai island of Ko Phi Phi. When her traveling companions -- including 2010 Olympic jumper Anders Johnson -- suggested celebrating with a beer, she replied, "I'm just going to bed."
"Part of me wanted to be there with my teammates but it also wasn't something I wanted to handle if it didn't go the right way,'' she said. "My reaction was like, `Finally, OK.' It was more relief than celebration."
Jerome isn't sure if she would have embarked on an 11th season of international competition had the IOC said no again. After all, it has taken her six years to get halfway through college, and she still lives with her mother to break even financially. She also has begun to feel old, especially seeing 15-year-olds coming into the sport with knowledge about diet, training and nutrition given to her much later.
"I have a lot of other things I want to accomplish beyond skiing," Jerome said. "But this is all I have known for so long."
One of those precocious newcomers, Sarah Hendrickson, 17, won Saturday's 70k event. Hendrickson was 13 in 2008 when she became the youngest athlete ever named to the U.S. ski team in a Nordic sport.
This was the first U.S. title for Hendrickson, who had been second four times. With jumps of 68.5 and 73 meters, she easily defeated Alissa Johnson, with Jerome third.
Jerome began jumping at age seven in Park City. She competed in a men's Continental Cup event -- the level belowWorld Cup -- at age 14 and finished 30th of 40, earning a men's standings point that abashed ski officials soon removed from the records.
She was a forejumper at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics and did two more men's Continental Cup events -- beating 18 of the 51 men in the latter - before women were banned from that circuit. (A women's Continental Cup began in 2004).
She has jumped 138 meters, which is 452 feet -- about 1 1/2 football fields. She finished sixth at the inaugural women's world championship in 2009 -- won by teammate Lindsey Van -- and was the top U.S. finisher (14th) in the second last February. She had surgery on one knee five years ago and will have surgery on the other next spring. She has dislocated an elbow and had several concussions.
She won the eighth national title on the 120K hill at Park City in July. Because of athlete availability, beginning in 2008 the U.S. Ski Team moved jumping and Nordic combined championships to summer and early fall, using plastic (and ski rollers for the cross-country) instead of snow.
Other than the Olympics, there is one other thing left on Jerome's jumping bucket list: to get a real leap from a massive ski flying hill like the one in Vikersund, Norway, where a man has jumped 800 feet. She was set to do that as a test jumper in March, 2009 until officials saw women in the starting order, stopped the jumpers and then made everyone begin so low it became a hop more than a flight.
Watching the men ahead of her at Vikersund disappear into the distance before the jumps were shortened, Jerome had asked herself, "What makes anyone think this is a good idea?'' A second later, she thought, "This is going to be awesome."
Not that day. Some day, perhaps. For Jessica Jerome, it always has been good to take the long view.
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