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Ski jumper Sara Takanashi of Japan poised to make Olympic history

By AJ Willingham,
updated 6:32 PM EST, Mon February 10, 2014
  • Sara Takanashi, 17, traded in ballet shoes for skis at age 8
  • The Japanese teen will compete in the first-ever women's ski jumping event
  • She has won 19 World Cups since 2011, when the women's series began

(CNN) -- Ten years ago, Sara Takanashi was studying ballet and piano, not flying through the air with a pair of skis on her feet.

But since she discovered the sport of ski jumping at age 8, the Japanese teen has been poised to make Olympic history.

Takanashi will compete in the first-ever women's ski jump event at the Sochi Olympic Games. At 17, she's already made a name for herself in the sport, winning a record 19 World Cups since the women's World Cup series was established in 2011.

It's been a long battle for female ski jumpers to see their sport on the global stage. In 2006, the International Olympic Committee rejected a request to include women's ski jumping in the 2010 Vancouver Games.

Several high-profile female ski jumpers sued the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC), which ended with a court determining the VANOC had, in fact, committed gender discrimination.

However, the ruling did not require the committee to include the sport, and the dream of a 2010 women's competition disintegrated.

Now, in Sochi, Takanashi and her fellow competitors will mark a watershed moment, and Takanashi's hometown of Kamikawa is cheering her on.

According to the town's mayor, Yoshiji Sato, hundreds of pink banners and flags bearing the name "SARA" adorn the city.

Her potential victory is important to them for many reasons: she would bridge (or jump?) a gender gap; she would end Japan's long Winter Olympics drought (the country has won only one gold medal since the 1998 Olympics in Nagano); and she would help position Japan as a ski jumping powerhouse.

It's a lot of pressure for someone so young, but Takanashi -- and the female ski jumping community -- is ready to win.

Takanashi will compete in the women's normal hill event on Tuesday.

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