“Smoke on the water…..the fire’s burning…” Deep Purple performed at the Opening Ceremonies of the FIS Nordic World Championships in Liberec, Czech Republic February 18, 2009. Check that one off the list, seeing a classic rock song preformed by a group inspired by a lake in Switzerland. The experience in Liberec had just begun and what would happen in the coming day would be remembered by me as a great act of sportsmanship. On February 20, 2009, all the great women ski jumpers in the world gathered at the venue for the first ever Ladies Ski Jumping World Championship. A long journey to get to this point, but on this day, all the women ski jumpers in the world are winners, because if they dream of world championships, they now have their chance. The jumps are performed and history is written. Lindsey Van, showing grit, does her jump (that is what Andrew Lockett the producer of ESPN’s Outside the Lines piece on the sport said about Lindsey). I saw the “grit” standing in the finish area with a press pass as I watched her will her body to go further down the slope on the jump, moving from 4th place to 1st place. Ulrike Grassler, Germany, finished 2nd with a silver medal, and Anette Sagen from Norway, 3rd, for the first bronze medal awarded in the inaugural women’s ski jumping competition.
Bedlam and pandemonium everywhere as the athletes gathered in the finish area. I had helped recruit Lindsey, Ulrike and Anette for the court case in Canada, since the IOC had rejected the FIS recommendation for 2010 Olympic inclusion. I thought- this is spectacular, these young women, who had the grit to stand up for gender equality in their sport, are the inaugural winners of this competition. What happened next is one of the fondest memories I have of my involvement in supporting the fight for women’s ski jumping World Championship and Olympic inclusion. As we hugged and congratulated each athlete, Annette Sagen whispered to me, “Vic, I am just so happy to be on the podium with my friend Lindsey Van.” I was astounded. No comment about, I came close or could have gotten silver or gold. Just simply, friendship and respect and pure joy from Anette. Being a champion with her friend who she had competed with in building the sport. Class and style from the great Anette Sagen.
Lindsey and Ulrike got the chance to jump in Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games. Anette was an ambassador for her country, Norway, to the Sochi Olympics. All three have retired, Lindsey the first ever world champion is a top real estate professional in Park City, Utah. Ulrike is an EMT paramedic in the German police force and Anette is a nurse in healthcare in Norway. Her comment speaks volumes about what is right about sport, with the competition, the friendships and building bonds between athletes and countries.