ROSA KHUTOR, Russia (AFP) - Japanese teen star Sara Takanashi showed she had conquered the normal hill in Rosa Khutor on Monday, displaying her best training performance so far, a day before women's ski jumping makes its historic Olympic debut.
The 17-year-old World Cup leader jumped over 100 metres in all three training jumps, finishing first in two.
Austria's Daniela Iraschko-Stolz, her closest rival, won the second jump and finished third in both others.
Tuesday's competition - the first time women's ski jumping will feature at the Olympic Games - looks set to be a face-off between the Japanese teenager and the 30-year-old Austrian.
"I want to do my best and just jump," said Takanashi, who already won an Olympic gold in 2012, albeit at the Youth Olympics.
Unlike in their previous two training sessions, which were scheduled in the afternoon, the women jumped on Monday in the evening and under floodlights, as they will on Tuesday.
But that was of little concern: "I really like to jump at night," said the Japanese sensation.
"It's not so easy to jump at this hour, it takes some getting used to," Iraschko-Stolz admitted.
"It's like daylight, it's lit like a football stadium, so I don't have any problems with that. But the day is really long and you do notice that. You have to adapt your rhythm."
"I like this hill. Sometimes I manage a great jump and then I make a little mistake. But all in all, I'm very consistent," said the 2011 world champion.
"Tomorrow I'll give it my all and a lot is possible. The tension is building."
Unlike men's ski jumping, which has featured at every Olympic Games since 1924, the women's discipline has only achieved late recognition, with the first world championships held in 2009 and a first World Cup season in 2011-2012.
United States world champion Sarah Hendrickson proved she was still a fighter, with a vastly improved performance on the floodlit hill.
The 19-year-old has been struggling to come back after a knee injury in August and has not competed since.
In her first training sessions she finished in the bottom five but in her last jump on Monday she was able to climb 10 places to 18th.
Ahead of Tuesday's competition, she tried to save energy by skipping the first jump in each session.
"(The knee) is not 100 per cent recovered and I need more strength. I've done three jumps in previous training sessions but I've not done three jumps in training two or three days in a row," she said.
While she would not miss Tuesday's debut for the world, "I'm planning on taking the rest of the season off until my knee has recovered," she added.
The women's ski jumping event will kick off at 9.30pm (1.30am on Wednesday, Singapore time).