Rosa Khutor (Russia) (AFP) - Women ski jumpers have vowed their successful Olympic debut is just the start of their fight for true equality with their male counterparts after a gripping competition at the Sochi Games.
In a nail-biting finale, Germany's Carina Vogt took the inaugural gold medal late into the night in the mountains at Rosa Khutor, with Austria's Daniela Iraschko-Stolz taking silver and French jumper Coline Mattel winning bronze.
"It's amazing. I'm the first woman champion in ski jumping," 22-year-old Vogt said after breaking down in tears earlier in the finish area, overcome with emotion at her achievement.
US world champion Sarah Hendrickson, who has been struggling to come back after knee surgery, finished 21st but had the privilege of being the first woman to race down the normal hill.
"It's an amazing feeling to be the first one to jump in the first women's ski jumping competition at the Olympics," she said.
"My performance was not the best... but I'm just happy I was able to take part."
Male ski jumpers have competed at the Olympics since 1924 but women have only acquired senior world championships and a World Cup season in the past five years.
In 2008, 15 jumpers even sued to have their sport included in the 2010 Vancouver Games, to no avail.
But the Sochi medallists said women's ski jumping is now making major strides.
"This is the most important step for women's ski jumping -- to get to the Olympics because it's the highest level winter sports can reach," said 2011 world champion Iraschko-Stolz, who recalls when the idea of competing at the Games was just pure fantasy.
"Now we're here and we had a really good competition. It was such a high level, it was so close.
"We really showed how good we are and how exciting ski jumping can be," said the 30-year-old. "I think everyone who watched this competition on TV needs to like women's ski jumping now."
Mattel, France's first ever Olympic ski jumping medallist, agreed.
"It's huge.... It's the first Olympic event in the history of women's ski jumping. That's what the girls have been fighting for since 1998."
"I'm really proud to be here, to have been able to represent my sport and to have won the first bronze medal in the history of this sport."
But she said there was more to be done, adding: "It's just a step, there's still a lot that needs to happen -- team events at the Olympics, ski flying events."
Women currently only jump on the normal hill, whereas the men also have the large hill and team event at the Games.
A series of jumpers -- including Norway's Maren Lundby, Italian Evelyn Insam, Finland's Julia Kykkaenen and Spela Rogelj of Slovenia -- called on Tuesday for more mixed team and women's team events, as well as large hill and sky flying competitions.
Ski flying is a similar discipline to ski jumping but takes place on a bigger hill, enabling competitors to go much further.
Three women won medals in Sochi "but 27 others helped make history," Hendrickson tweeted.
"And THAT'S what we have to be proud of."