PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — The agony of missing the Olympics in 2014 was so devastating, Abby Ringquist almost gave up on a dream she’d been nurturing since kindergarten.
“Missing the first Olympics, it was brutal,” said Ringquist, a Park City native who was an integral part of the U.S. women’s team that led the fight to allow women to compete in one of the Olympic Games’ oldest, most traditional events. A year after they successfully led the world’s female ski jumpers to gain access to competing in the 2014 Games, Ringquist found herself watching from her Park City home.
“I cried every day of February in 2014,” she said of missing that first women’s ski jumping Olympic team by one spot. “It took probably a year before people stopped asking me, ‘How was Sochi?’ I was part of that original group that fought for us to compete, and then I didn’t get to compete. I almost quit after that.” It was the dream she’d held onto since she was five-years old that became her lifeline.
“I just wasn’t going to give up on that,” she said. “I’d been dreaming about it my whole life.”
Her brother was a forerunner during the 2002 Olympics, where her hometown hosted the ski jumping events.
“I got to watch him jump with all the big guys, and it was an experience I will never forget,” she said. “I was 12 at the time, watching the Olympics on our home hills. I didn’t even realize at the time that there wasn’t women’s jumping in the Olympics. I just idolized the sport, the men.”
She’d actually started jumping a few years before the Games when Salt Lake Olympic organizers created developmental programs in her hometown. Every Friday, she and her older brother Blake Hughes would jump on the hills at the Utah Olympic Park.
“I just wanted to be like him,” she said laughing. I followed him around.”
Her passion for ski jumping grew, and it wasn’t until she began competing internationally that she realized women were barred from competing in the Olympic Games.
“I remember watching the opening ceremonies in the 2006 Olympics,” Ringquist said, “and I was with some of my teammates, and they were crying. I looked at them and thought, ‘How come we’re not there?’ That’s when it hit me, we weren’t allowed.”
At that time, American women dominated the tour with four of the top six jumpers coming from the U.S. team.
Ringquist continued jumping for the same reasons, and with the same mindset that most of her teammates relied on back then.
“There wasn’t really anything that I could do,″ she said. “All I could do was jump and train and do the best that I could. I just kept hoping each Games that they wouldn’t say no again.”
The IOC said no in 2010, after which the U.S. team led the world’s female jumpers in a lawsuit that engendered sympathy but not change. It wasn’t until 2013 that IOC officials relented and allowed women to compete in a normal hill event. They still do not have, as the men do, a large hill competition.
Ringquist said she watched women come and go in the sport, but never considered leaving competition herself until missing the 2014 Olympics by a heartbreakingly small margin.
“I just really appreciate all I get out of ski jumping,” she said. “And now, it’s not just for me but for the next generation of girls. Hopefully, I can inspire them to never give up on their dreams.”
Two years after missing out on the Sochi Games, she married her husband after three years together.
“We’ve been together for five years now, so he knew what he was getting himself into,” Ringquist said laughing. “It’s definitely been a little bit harder this year because I’ve spent more time in Europe because I really wanted to focus on this dream, this goal I’ve had.”
Jake Ringquist, who works for Deer Valley Ski Resort, doesn’t love to travel, but he does support his wife’s lofty dreams.
“He’s been so supportive of me achieving my dreams, and it’s been nice to have a dual income,” she laughs, adding that she’s not sure she’ll continue jumping after this season, regardless of her result at the Olymics. “I’ll see how it goes, but I’m pretty ready to start a family and move on to the next chapter of my life. So this is also a bittersweet year for me.”
Ringquist, who admits she’s afraid of heights, will make her Olympic debut Monday night at the Alpensia Ski Jumping Center.
“I’m slowly getting better with it,” she said of fearing the heights she needs to climb in order to compete. “When I have my skis on, I’m in the zone. I know what I’m doing. But, with age, I’ve also gotten a little wary of injuries. You definitely lose some of that fearlessness.”
The week before Ringquist found out she’d made her first Olympic team was punctuated with high hopes and a lot of tears.
“It was waking up in the morning, checking to see if the email had been sent out,” she said. “It was a roller coaster of a week with bursts of random tears here and there, giddy smiles, and just trying to keep myself together.” After learning she’d earned a trip to the Pyeongchang Olympics, the 28-year old said her focus immediately shifted to her goals at the Games.
“I made it, but I want to do my best at the Olympics,” she said from her apartment in Slovenia, where she spends about half the year training with many of her U.S. teammates. “I’m just trying to stay positive and trust the work I’ve put into this.”