By Mark Trevelyan
PYEONGCHANG (Reuters) - Maren Lundby of Norway outsoared her rivals on a night of snow, wind and biting cold to win the women's Olympic ski jumping competition on Monday.
The 23-year-old put in a final jump of 110 meters on the normal hill at the Alpensia Ski Jumping Centre to score an emphatic victory over Germany's Katharina Althaus, who took the silver medal, and Sara Takanashi who won bronze for Japan.
With weather conditions steadily worsening, the competition reached an exciting climax as the top three from the first round made their final jumps in reverse order, starting with Takanashi.
The Japanese made a leap of 103.5 meters to move into the lead, but applauded sportingly as Althaus responded with 106.0.
With the final jump of the competition, Lundby withstood intense pressure to fly four meters further and take the gold.
"I was quite calm at the top. I had a good feeling. I felt ready, and it was really amazing to fly over the green line and take the win," said the Norwegian, who underwent light physio treatment earlier in the day after crashing the day before.
Takanashi atoned for what she called the 'terrible experience' of the Sochi Olympics four years ago, when she went in as favorite but finished fourth, and said she would use her result here as a springboard to keep aiming for gold.
HUDDLED IN BLANKETS
In a sport where scoring is based on a combination of distance jumped and judges' marks for technique, and adjusted for wind conditions, Lundby finished with 264.6 points, 12 ahead of Althaus, having carried a lead of just 2.2 into round two.
The Norwegian was the strong pre-competition favorite after dominating World Cup jumping this season.
The athletes were forced to contend with night-time temperatures of -11 Celsius (12.2 Fahrenheit) and frequent gusts of wind that delayed some jumps and left them huddling in blankets or beating their knees for warmth as they waited.
The waits got longer towards the end of the first round, with defending champion Carina Vogt of Germany forced to take off her skis and flex her leg muscles as she waited around five minutes to take off down the ramp. She ended the competition in fifth place.
The competition was watched by a sparse but enthusiastic crowd of spectators, including a vocal contingent from Japan, some wrapped up like polar explorers against the chill.
It was the second time that women have competed in Olympic ski jumping, having joined the program in Sochi in 2014 after years of struggling to prove they were as capable as men at launching themselves off a snowy ramp at speeds of up to 90 km/h and flying over 100 meters through the air.
They still only take part in the smaller normal hill contest, not the large hill nor the team event.
(Reporting by Mark Trevelyan, editing by Ed Osmond and Christian Radnedge)