- Associated Press - Saturday, February 8, 2014

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) - Sara Takanashi of Japan has some company in the gold medal favorite department for the first women’s ski jumping event at any Olympics.

The 17-year-old Takanashi, winner of 10 World Cup events this season, made her mark early Saturday on the first day of training for Tuesday night’s historic gold final at the Sochi Games, taking the first round.

But Daniela Iraschko-Stolz of Austria came back to finish first in the next two rounds, relegating Takanashi to second in both as the women took to the RusSki Gorki normal hill for the first time.

Sarah Hendrickson, last season’s World Cup champion, had a cautious but unrewarding start in her first competition since right knee surgery in August. Hendrickson, of Park City, Utah, made two jumps and finished last and next-to-last.

“I’m not very happy with these jumps. I didn’t get the speed,” Hendrickson said. “They’re not as good as I want them to be right now, but luckily we have three days of training so hopefully I can pull it together.”

She said her knee was still bothering her.

“It’s the best it can be in this situation,” she said. “It’s still definitely giving me some pain and obviously limiting the amount of jumps I can do.”

Hendrickson said she’s being realistic about a podium finish.

“It’s hard to say. I’m going to have to step it up a bit,” the 19-year-old said. “Because of my injury, I can’t put high expectations on myself.”

Takanashi, who credits ballet lessons as a youngster with helping her balance during her jumps, was the only competitor of 30 starters to reach 98 meters in the first round.

But Iraschko-Stolz came back to surprise Takanashi in the next two rounds, indicating the Japanese high school student, despite her stellar World Cup season, may have some serious competition for gold on this hill.

“I’m really happy that women are able to participate in this competition,” Takanashi said. “I will … not think about the result yet.”

Iraschko-Stolz nearly fell while landing on her second jump.

“I don’t feel any pain, except my fingers, because the snow was really, really cold,” she said.

Women ski jumpers have been fighting for more than a decade to get into the Olympics, including an unsuccessful court case ahead of the Vancouver Games in 2010. The International Olympic Committee added women’s jumping from the normal hill to the Sochi program in 2011, giving the women access to Winter Games gold 90 years after the men.

American jumpers Lindsey Van and Jessica Jerome, both of Park City, Utah, and who helped lead the court case, competed in the training runs Saturday.

Van improved steadily to a seventh place in the final round after 18th and 17th spots earlier. Jerome had placings of 13th, 16th and 12th.

“Jumping is jumping,” Jerome said. “It’s important to do the final training session at night (on Monday).”


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