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U.S. women's ski jumping team honored

They thought they were just athletes. They never set out to be activists.

But then they were told they couldn't compete because they were women.

Frustrated and saddened, a few of them left the sport they loved. But others refused to take no for an answer.

They would fight, and eventually win, a battle their male counterparts never had to wage in order to have a place in the Winter Olympic Games.

The women of ski jumping did everything they were asked to do by officials, and oftentimes things they were asked not to do — like suing VANOC for inclusion in the 2010 Games — in persuading the IOC to allow women to ski jump in the Olympics.

Years of being on the outside looking in ended in April when the IOC announced that women would have one event in the 2014 Olympic Games — the Normal Hill competition.

Six months after that decision and on the eve of their first season as a sanctioned Olympic sport, members of the U.S. women's ski jumping team are being honored with the Wilma Rudolph Courage Award for their efforts.

The award is given by the Women's Sports Foundation and will recognize the women and their fight at the Annual Salute to Women in Sports Awards Gala today in New York City.

Accepting the honor on behalf of all women ski jumpers — in the U.S. and around the world — will be Park City's Jessica Jerome.

"Terrifying," Jerome said of how she feels about speaking on behalf of the women in her sport. "I definitely feel pressure. I wish that the whole team … I wish everybody involved in this process, could be there to accept this award."

WSJ-USA president Deedee Corradini will be there to watch Jerome, Lindsey Van (the sport's first world champion) and Alissa Johnson accept the honor. She said it's another historic moment for women who aren't finished blazing a trail in the sport.

"It's very significant," said Corradini, who said the women talked about other fights for equality, specifically how female runners finally found inclusion in marathon running in the 1984 Los Angeles Games. "To be recognized for the achievement of getting these women into the Olympics after a seven-year battle, I'm hoping it elevates the sport in the United States."

It was, after all, the U.S. women who took the lead in meeting with IOC officials and signing onto the lawsuit.

"It's a sport that's often ignored in the United States," she said. "And one of our goals is to elevate the sport in the public's mind here in the U.S. … We want to let folks know how courageous these young women are. This means a tremendous amount to all of us."

She said agreeing to sue VANOC took the most courage.

"They risked sanctions," Corradini said. "They didn't know what would happen."

And, Corradini added, there are still a few more battles to win.

"We're not totally equal yet," she said. "We've only been approved for normal hill. The men have three events … We still have a ways to go."

But for one night, for one moment, Jerome is grateful to try and articulate what it means to be recognized for standing up for herself and others. She hopes others, who still haven't found inclusion, will be inspired by the efforts of the ski jumpers.

"I hope people connect with us and that it teaches people that regardless of the ups and downs, at some level, you have to believe things aren't totally impossible. At the end of the day we might be doing entirely different (activities), but we're essentially fighting the same fight."

email: adonaldson@desnews.com