Women’s ski jumper Sarah Hendrickson represents the Americans’ best chance at Olympic gold. The sport was included in Sochi’s program for the first time in Olympic history.
The Salt Lake City native rebounded an injury several months ago — and earned her spot on the U.S. team on January 22 despite being back in action for just one week.
Now healthy and rejuvenated, she’s ready to tackle the North Caucasus slopes beginning on Tuesday, February 11. “Just finished my last training jumps before Sochi… Confident and ready. BRING IT ON,” she tweeted prior to leaving for the Olympics.
For Hendrickson, the journey back to this point has come full circle in just one year.
Standing at only 5-feet-4-inches and 100 pounds soaking wet she has been invisible next to Lindsey Van — the ski jumper who was spokesperson for women’s ski jumping as it campaigned for a place at the Olympic table — but Hendrickson is certainly ready to fly in Sochi.
At the 2013 World Championships in Val di Fiemme, Italy last February, Hendrickson captured her first World title.
She literally flew from the jump in her final attempt, gliding to a snowy stop and earning 138 points which distanced her from defending World Champion Sara Takanashi of Japan.
That 2013 win would turn out to be the first of three major victories in February and March of 2013 for Hendrickson — before the unthinkable happened.
Doctors determined she needed knee surgery that April, curtailing her training plans for Sochi. Her jumps this summer went from an anticipated 300 to just 50.
Unlike Van who literally leapt from her teenaged years, becoming the most recognizable face in women’s ski jumping — and its first World Champion — Hendrickson has virtually lived in Van’s shadow since 2009 and just recently emerged from it.
Whether that’s a fault of Van’s or the team’s or even the US women’s ski jumping non-profit at war with the IOC for well over a decade is immaterial.
Hendrickson is clearly the front runner among the Americans, Van and Jessica Jerome (daughter of non-profit founder Peter) included.
She is Team USA’s best bet to not only capture gold; she is clearly the choice to put the Americans at the forefront of the women’s ski jumping for some time to come.
Brian Shaw is a longtime reporter, editor and commentator who worked at The Salt Lake Tribune, The Enterprise, Salt Lake City Weekly and The Valley Journals. He is currently the Utah Sports Examiner at Examiner.com.