Krasnodar Krai, Russia — Lindsey Van, who was born in Grosse Pointe, won a world championship in women’s ski jumping at an event in the Czech Republic in 2009.
The next year, at age 26, she went to Whistler Olympic Park in Vancouver just before the 2010 Games and made a spectacular jump that was then the farthest — for women and men — at the venue.
But she could not compete in the Games, just days away.
If she had made the same jump during the Games against the men, who were the only ones allowed to compete, Van would have been in contention for a medal — in men’s ski jumping.
On Tuesday, at 29, with a bit of the spring of young adulthood out of her legs, she finished 15th in the first women’s ski jump in the history of the Olympics.
And when it was done, even when coaxed, she uttered not a word about what might have been.
For Van, for Jessica Jerome, whose father, Peter, spearheaded a campaign to let women jump, for the other parents and family, and for coaches and support staff, the day produced one of those amazing Olympic moments that proves medals are sometimes utterly superfluous.
Sometimes it is about the mettle.
To see Van’s face and hear her talk when the event was over at the Russki Gorki Jumping Center was to know that despite all the cynicism, all the doping, all the hucksterism, all the petulant, egomaniacal athletes, there remain moments in sport when simple humanity triumphs gloriously.
“It was a great experience, best experience ever,” Van said. “A lot of emotion coming into it. A lot of emotion for a long time.
“I was surprised I didn’t cry. I thought I would cry.
“I feel way better now and more relieved than I actually have in my entire career. It actually feels for the first time in my entire life like I am living now, and not talking about what I’m going to do.
“I’m here, and that in itself make me extremely happy and — and somebody just won the Olympics.
“They just had — somebody won!”
Fight for a chance
The Jeromes, Van and some other skiers were plaintiffs in Canada in a lawsuit against the International Olympic Committee that challenged the long, unwavering stand against women in ski jumping. The suit failed.
The publicity did not.
Concerned the controversy, which roiled for years, had ripped the cover off what many women think is sexism in the IOC, which still refers to women’s sports as “ladies,“ the committee caved.
But it was not before some untoward things were said.
Asked on National Public Radio several years ago why women should not jump in the Olympics when they had jumped in World Championships for years, Gian-Franco Kasper, president of the International Ski Federation, said it was unsuitable “from a medical point of view.”
Kasper cited no such expert medical opinion.
There isn’t any.
Van has said she aimed at the day that Tuesday was since she was a little girl.
When it came, she became a 15th-place champion.
“I didn’t even really think about the history and the fight to get here,” she said. “I’m here. And that’s all I really care about. And I’m going forward. And our sport’s going forward.”
Still more work
But prejudice remains.
The women compete in what is called individual normal hill jumping. They are barred from the two other events in which the men compete, individual large hill and team large hill jumping.
All the American men will compete in all three competitions in Russia.
The women are done.
Women also are excluded from nordic combined, which is ski jumping and cross-country skiing.
If history provides any instruction, it is that those vestiges of we-can-do-it-and-you-can-not intolerance are eventually scorned.
Van may be 33 or 37 or 41 years old when it happens. The spring may well be gone from her legs.
But to listen to her is to know that she would be just as pleased with 30th place as she is with 15th.
And if she can no longer compete at all, even then the experience will be golden.
“Our sport is never going to be the same,” she said.
“We can call ourselves Olympians now, and I couldn’t do that yesterday.”
Van, who lives in Park City, Utah, where many American skiers train, said the first women’s ski jump in Olympic history went by in a flash, especially after struggling for well more than half her life to secure the opportunity.
“It did go very fast,” she said. “The buildup was very long.
“Yeah, I wish I had another competition and more days.
“But I guess we’ll have to wait.”