By the time Norway’s Maren Lundby lumbered her way up the normal hill for her final jump, the weather was nearly unbearable. As she trudged her way to the top, the thickening snow storm and searing winds whipped at her face. Unlike the tracks she’d soon be flying down -- tracks the Alpensia Ski Jumping Centre crew were furiously attempting to clear between jumps --her mind was clear.
So when she reached the top of the hill -- the final jumper of the night, facing the worst conditions that had claimed so many other's chances before her -- there was an air of doubt.
By the time she reached the bottom of the hill, there wasn't a question.
Lundby, the gold-medal favorite heading into the event, nailed the best jump of the night, a 110.0-meter beauty to lock up the gold, her first career Olympic medal.
Lundby sat and watched as the two jumpers preceding her, Japan's Sara Takanashi then Germany's Katharina Althaus bested each other to sit in the gold and silver positions. She saved her best for last, blazing past the duo and claiming the event with a total of 264.6 points. Althaus, Germany's 21-year-old rising star, finished second with 252.6 points, as Takanashi took the bronze at 243.8 points.
We’ve seen roaring winds cause delays and faulty jumps in the men’s normal hill finals and Sunday’s women’s training round, but nothing of the magnitude defending gold medalist Carina Vogt faced in the first round.
Vogt, who won the first ever women’s Olympic ski jumping medal in Sochi, faced a delay of over five minute in the first round. Five additional minutes 109 meters up in the air, jittering around to stay loose. She posted an uncharacteristic 97.0 meter jump, followed by a 101.5 meter jump to finish with 227.9 points and finish fifth.
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The first round ended with the top three jumpers --Takanashi, Althaus and Lundby -- topping each other as the trio finished 3-2-1 to end the round and separate themselves from the competition. Lundby posted a total of 125.4 in the first round, with Althaus just behind at 123.2 and Takanashi following suit at 120.3.
Team USA’s Sarah Hendrickson, who has overcome an injury-plagued few years and a legal battle just to have the right to compete in the Olympics, represented the U.S.’ best shot to medal.
Hendrickson finished in 19th place, over 100 points behind Lundby. After an underwhelming first jump of 86 meters, Hendrickson finished thefirst round in 23rd place, knocking her out of medal contention. But a much better second jump gave her a brief stint atop the leaderboards in the final round. After all she had been through to get to PyeongChang, Hendrickson was all smiles, even dancing as she watched her name slide down the leaderboard.
Appearing in her second Olympics in PyeongChang, Hendrickson looked to be a top contender heading into the 2014 Sochi Games. However, the 2013 world champion tore her ACL -- the first of two times -- and MCL six months before the Games. Incredibly, she still competed in Sochi, becoming the first time women ever to compete in Olympic ski jumping, finishing 21st. The 23-year-old claimed to be fully healthy this time around.
Hendrickson’s rival, Takanashi finally got the big one. Winner of four of the six World Cup women’s ski jumping titles ever awarded, Takanashi – at just 21 year sold – is already considered one of the greatest female ski jumpers of all time. But prior to winning the bronze, Takanashi had a history of underperforming at major competitions.
Each qualifying skier jumped twice, being judged on distance and style. Varying points were deducted or awarded to account for the shifting winds the jumpers faced, creating an even playing field for all. The skier with the highest combined score between the two jumps was crowned the winner.
After the first round of jumps, five athletes were cut from contention, including Team USA’s Nita Englund, losing out of the final qualifying spot to teammate Abby Ringquist.