Not really the normal news item I'd post on NordicSkiRacer, but this seemed special: an American becomes the first World Champion in the first year that women are allowed to ski jump!
LIBEREC, Czech Republic (Feb. 20) - Lindsey Van (Park City, UT) stunned the field with a massive second jump Friday to become her sport's first world champion. Van, tied for fourth after the first jump, soared 97.5 meters to take a strong win over first round leader Ulrike Graessler of Germany in the debut of women's ski jumping at the FIS Nordic Ski World Championships in Liberec.
"This is for everyone. This is for all the women who have been pushing the sport over the last 10 years and all the women who really did well today. They deserve this too," Van said. "It's the high point of my career. It's a relief to have it over. I am happy all my hard work over the years has paid off, especially in the last year."
Van was followed in sixth by Jessica Jerome (Park City, UT). Alissa Johnson was 20th and Sarah Hendrickson (both Park City, UT) was 29th.
"I think this is great for the Team as well. I want to share this with them, too. Jessica did well, Alissa did well and it's awesome for Sarah to be here competing. They deserve this, too," Van said. "They deserve what our sport is headed toward. I'm glad I could do this for our Team and for our country. I thank everyone at home for all the support."
The first World Championship proved to be an outstanding showcase for the sport and its top stars. After the first round, German star Ulrike Graessler led veteran Anette Sagen of Norway. Unheralded French jumper Coline Mattel was third, with Van tied with Austrian leader Daniela Iraschko in fourth. Van's 97.5 meter final leap gave her a decisive edge over Graessler, 243.0-239.0.
After soaring into the lead, though, the Park City native had to patiently wait while the final three competitors climbed into the starting gate. One by one, though, they failed to match the Utahn's score. Van's smile got bigger and bigger as she realized she was a medalist and then the champion. She was beaming as she paraded around the finish area proudly waving an American flag.
According to Van, the journey to her Championship medal was not an easy one. Tough conditions including driving wind and snow factored in to her only jumping 63 meters in the trial round. An 89.0 meter jump put her in fourth place after the first official jump..
"It was snowy and it was windy and it was really hard to get the speed on the track that we needed. My skis were slow and the wind was all over the place, but I definitely had better wind on the second jump, which helped me," Van said. "The conditions haven't been ideal, but it's like I say, that's ski jumping and that's how it goes."
In the end, Van's final jump was the longest of the competition by 3.5 meters.
"It was a hard competition, a hard day and I think the top three, I want to share this with them because we've all worked together in the sport for years."
Van is used to trying competition circumstances, though. For the past year the new world champ has competed with a bruised bone in her left knee. But Van credits her all or nothing attitude with getting her where she is today.
"I've definitely made it a point just to give it my all, all the time. There's no holding back at all for me," Van said. "I don't expect anything anymore, I just try to do what I can do, hope for the best and have fun when something good happens."
With the competition now over, Van is looking ahead with hopes that her win will be able to push the sport to new heights.
"I think it’s a step in the right direction for the sport," Van said, adding," I feel like everything I've done over the last 18 years is finally paying off this season. It's been a great season here overall."
Van's win marks the first gold medal ever attained in ski jumping by the U.S. The only time a U.S. athlete has medaled in ski jumping was in 1924 when Anders Haugen took bronze in Chamonix in what was the Olympics and World Championships.
"I am proud of this. It means a lot to me to be my sport's first World Champion and have the first gold medal in ski jumping for our country," Van said. "That's something nobody has ever done and I did it."
While the historical nature of her win is incredible, for now, Van plans on continuing to do what got her to the World Championships - competing and having fun.
"From here I'm just going to try and keep doing the same thing. I wouldn't say my focus changes at all," Van said. "I just want to keep jumping far and having fun. If that results in winning, then I'm psyched."
2009 FIS NORDIC SKI WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS
Liberec, Czech Republic - Feb. 20, 2009
Women's Normal Hill
1. Lindsey Van, Park City, UT, (89.5 - 97.5) 243.0
2. Ulrike Graessler, Germany, (89.5 - 93.0) 239.0
3. Anette Sagen, Norway, (90.3 - 94.0) 238.5
4. Daniela Iraschko, Austria, (90.2 - 91.0) 228.0
5. Coline Mattel, France, (90.1 - 87.5) 220.5
6. Jessica Jerome, Park City, UT, (89.5 - 91.0) 207.0
20. Alissa Johnson, Park City, UT, (88.3 - 62.5) 131.0
29. Sarah Hendrickson, Park City, UT, (87.7 - 69.5) 110.5
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For complete results click here.