Pyeongchang, South Korea • The fight was about this.
It was about Abby Ringquist standing at the base of the Alpensia Ski Jump hill, wrapped in an American flag, her skis held in her right hand, swirling light snow whipping around the stadium. She had two Olympic jumps Monday evening in below-freezing temperatures accompanied by the brutal wind, and the second was her last, her flight into retirement, into a life unknown.
So as she stood there trying to summarize the end, she stepped away from a few reporters. She heard the name announced over the public address system. Teammate Sarah Hendrickson was about to take off. Ringquist, who finished 29th out of 30 finalists, stared up at the hill she just had soared over. And just as Hendrickson lifted off, she gave her some words of advice midflight.
“Go, Sarah,” Ringquist said. “Go.”
The skis eventually landed. For a brief second, Hendrickson lowered her head in disappointment. Then she picked it back up and waited for a few brief minutes as she stood atop the podium before being bumped. The 23-year-old Park City jumper made stop after stop in the mix zone, flashing her wide grin, holding up her skis appropriately featuring the red, the white and the blue.
Nineteenth place. Two spots ahead of her first Olympic appearance in Sochi four years ago, when she essentially hobbled to the bar, just months after reconstructive knee surgery, to finish what she, Ringquist and the Women’s Ski Jumping USA program chased.
An equal shot. A right to fly, too. These pioneers of the sport, who spent years lobbying and litigating to get women’s ski jumping included in the Olympics, finally got their chance on the biggest stage in winter sports. And came up short of the podium.
The vibe resurfaced Monday night. Ringquist is hanging up her boots the same night she became an Olympic ski jumper. All that’s left from the original group is Hendrickson now, and after four more surgeries just to get to Pyeongchang, she acknowledged that after a couple of more World Cup appearances, she will need to take several months off to determine whether she will keep jumping.
“I’m not sure about the future,” she said.
This night once was considered a faraway future. Back then, Hendrickson was the teenage sensation, a world champion, the face of the sport that deserved Olympic inclusion, but never was allowed up until 2014. Hendrickson, Ringquist and former ski jumping pioneers such as Lindsey Van and Jessica Jerome eventually spearheaded a lawsuit against the International Olympic Committee to give them a shot.
They turned up the heat on the Olympics, and the Olympics listened because the powers that be eventually ran out of excuses. In April 2011, the IOC at long last announced women’s ski jumping was in. The same year, Hendrickson won her first World Cup. She went on to win the first-ever World Cup title before winning gold at World Championships.
That track, destined for superstardom, was derailed by a series of knee injuries that never allowed her top-shelf form to return. She called her two jumps Monday “pretty mediocre jumps for me,” but they were a season best.
A time frame so crucial to the Olympic story isn’t officially over, but it certainly feels that way.
Hendrickson’s the last of the crew who stood, who forced an issue to turn. With Ringquist stepping away after finally achieving her Olympic aspirations, the gravity of the moment struck her a couple of weeks back at a World Cup event as she was watching some young American jumpers make their debut.
“It was almost like I was passing the torch to them,” she said. “I can help guide them because I didn’t have that growing up. I think it’s a really special thing that they can look up to us and pursue their dream.”
Hendrickson and Ringquist will spend the rest of the Olympics here in South Korea. After that, Hendrickson will go to Germany, Ringquist back home to Park City to begin her new life transition.
“I would say, in a way,” Hendrickson responded when asked if she felt this night was the end of an era, “but that’s what it’s all about.”