How one ski jump shaped my career

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Lindsey Van first competed at the famed ski jump at Holmenkollen as a 15-year-old, in front of a crowd of 100,000 cheering Norwegians.

As I train for the upcoming ski jumping season at the Olympic Park in Park City, Utah, I've also been daydreaming about one of my favorite places in the world, and how it kickstarted my career.

The Holmenkollen -- the iconic 120-meter ski jump in Oslo, Norway -- is the most famous jump in the world. Every ski jumper dreams about competing there, because Norway is the birthplace of our sport. The Holmenkollen to Norwegians is what Yankee Stadium is to Americans.

The first competition held at the Holmenkollen was in 1892, and the jump has been rebuilt 19 times since then. Holmenkollen Day, which is held annually in March, is regarded as one of Norway's national holidays. Thousands of people, sometimes as many as 120,000, flock to the hill to watch competitors jump.

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Lindsey Van will compete in her first Olympic ski jumping competition on Feb. 11.

I first jumped in Holmenkollen in 2000, when I was 15, in front of 100,000 fans. I had never jumped in front of anywhere near that many people, so it was an overwhelming experience. It was a sunny spring day in March, and I remember coming out of the elevator at the top and looking out over the city and the Oslo fjord. I looked down the hill into a sea of red-and-blue Norwegian flags. From the top of the hill, you could hardly tell all the people were real.

I remember feeling anxious when I heard the roar of the crowd after the first jumper. The stadium is shaped like a bowl surrounding the area where the jumpers land (the outrun), so it looked like ski jumpers were flying into a sea of people. I had never seen anything like it, and needless to say, I was intimidated to jump in front of such a big crowd.

I don't remember the specifics of my jump, but I remember the sound and the energy when I came to a stop. I didn't take my skis off right away, but just stood there and looked around. Chills ran through my body and I had a huge smile that made me giggle. I will never forget that feeling and the energy in the air that day.

I was able to jump at Holmenkollen for six years in a row through 2005. But then, the International Ski Federation (FIS) ruled that women were allowed to jump hills only 100 meters long or smaller. Holmenkollen at that time was 115 meters, so we were excluded. I was glad that I had gotten to jump there six times, but bummed that I could no longer do it.

Whitney Childers

The famed Holmenkollen ski jump in Oslo, Norway.

Over the next seven years, I watched the competition at Holmenkollen wistfully on television. Then last spring, the FIS revealed the upcoming World Cup calendar for the 2012-2013 season and the last on the list of competitions was Holmenkollen. I didn't believe it at first, but was elated to see it had been added to our schedule as the finale for the season -- the first time that women would be allowed to compete on a large hill (called a K120) in an FIS-sanctioned event.

So in March of this year I was back at the historical ski jump, which had been completely demolished and rebuilt since the last time I'd jumped there. The steel structure stood above anything else in the city and could be seen from miles away. I could feel the energy even on our first training day, when no one was there. I had the same feeling and chills I'd had at 15, even just walking around the new facility.

My Visa Women's Ski Jumping teammates and I were excited and honored to be there on competition day. I knew it would be a great day for our team. At the top of the jump I forced myself to take it all in. I looked out over the city of Oslo and down into the stadium. It was a sunny day and the bowl was filled with a sea of people once again. I sat on the stairs at the top and just let myself smile. As my turn approached, I once again felt the nerves of jumping in front of that many people. Thirteen years after my first jump at Holmenkollen, many of my feelings were exactly the same.

I jumped well and it was the most fun I had in competition all year. I was motivated by the energy in the air, and it was contagious for us all. My teammate Sarah Hendrickson won the competition, I was seventh, Jessica Jerome 10th, Alissa Johnson 19th and Abby Hughes 28th.

We all had a great experience, and I'm already looking forward to jumping there again next March. It keeps me going every day in training, because jumping at the Holmenkollen is like playing in the Super Bowl -- a dream come true.

Lindsey Van is a member of the Visa Women’s Ski Jumping Team and represents the United States on the World Cup circuit. She made history in 2009 by becoming the first women’s ski jumping world champion. Van has helped lead the charge to get her sport into the Winter Olympics, where it will debut in Sochi in 2014. Find out more at Women's Ski Jumping USA.