FOX RIVER GROVE – On Sunday, 13-year-old ski jumper Mollie Immens was flying above the snow-covered hills of Norge Ski Club.
Next month, Immens will fly above the snow-covered hills of Anchorage, Alaska.
In the coming decade, who knows where Immens will take flight?
How about the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea? Or how about the 2022 Winter Olympics in a host country to be determined?
“I think it’s crazy to think about,” said Immens, who is in eighth grade at Fox River Grove Middle School. “But I also think I’d love to do it.”
It finally is possible.
This year marks the first time that the Olympics has included women’s ski jumping. The U.S. team – Lindsey Van, Jessica Jerome and Sarah Hendrickson – is scheduled to make its Winter Games debut Feb. 11 in Sochi, Russia.
And although the inaugural women’s Olympic team was many miles away from McHenry County this weekend, the group’s influence loomed large at Norge.
Take Cara Larson, a 13-year-old from Lake Barrington who competed at Norge this weekend along with dozens of other young athletes. Larson will travel to Anchorage along with Immens next month to take part in the junior nationals competition.
Between practices, you can bet that Larson will be watching the U.S. team in Sochi.
“It’s really exciting,” said Larson, who is in eighth grade at Prairie Middle School in Barrington. “I look up to those girls that made it happen, and I hope that Mollie and I get there some day.”
By then, ski jumping could be even more popular among young women.
Karin Friberg led off Sunday’s competition with a 58-meter jump, which equals more than 190 feet for those of us who are not well schooled in the metric system. At 24 years old, Friberg has seen the quick progression of women’s ski jumping.
For a long time, the Continental Cup was the highest level of competition for women ski jumpers. Then came a world championship event in 2009. Finally, the Olympics.
The sport’s addition in Sochi followed frustrating absences in Vancouver (2010), Turin, Italy (2006) and Salt Lake City (2002).
“I see a lot of younger girls that are really excited to get into this sport,” said Friberg, who lives in St. Paul, Minn. “The biggest thing is to be focusing on these developing girls, because once those older girls are done, someone has to take their place.”
Gabby Armstrong would love to take on that responsibility. The 15-year-old from Lake Placid, N.Y., soared 43 meters on her opening jump in front of hundreds of bundled-up observers who cheered from the surface below.
Armstrong has the same coach as Lindsey Van and wears some of her jumping suits.
“I want to go to the Olympics,” Armstrong said. “I’ve still got to keep working, like everyone, but I really want to go.”
Of course, it won’t be easy.
Competitive ski jumping is a significant commitment that requires time and money, and an Olympic run could mean major life changes for anyone who pursued it. Imagine being an adolescent and saying goodbye to your friends and teachers to move to a place such as Park City, Utah, to practice for up to four hours a day.
Then again, imagine representing your country on the biggest stage.
All of this Olympic talk is speculation, but at least the door has opened.
On Sunday, as 9-year-old Raquel Conforti of Palatine watched dozens of ski jumpers, she could imagine everyone – not just the boys – heading to the Olympics.
“I think it’s cool,” Conforti said with a smile as she looked at the 70-meter ski jump. “The height looks scary.”
For women ski jumpers, the sport is soaring higher every day.
• Northwest Herald sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @tcmusick.