Hendrickson looks to Olympics after world title
VAL DI FIEMME, Italy (AP) -- Already a ski jumping world champion at 18, Sarah Hendrickson now has her sights set on something bigger -- the sport's first Olympic gold medal.
The American teen beat Sara Takanashi at the Nordic world championships last week, finishing 2.7 points ahead of her Japanese rival despite only recently returning from a knee injury. A day later, a beaming and ecstatic Hendrickson -- nicknamed "Giggles" -- met with The Associated Press at her hotel in Val di Fiemme.
"It hasn't sunk in at all," said the native of Park City, Utah. "Obviously there was so much excitement yesterday with my team and my family being here. ... Maybe once when I get home and see all my friends back there, maybe then I'll kind of realize what's happened, but right now it's just pure happiness."
Women's ski jumping will make its debut at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. And Hendrickson, a world champion only one month after finishing sixth at the junior worlds, is one of the favorites for gold.
"I really had my heart set on being a world junior champion and I just had a bad day there," said Hendrickson, who won the World Cup title last season. "I moped around in my room for about two hours after that competition and then I was like, `OK, this is over. I can't do anything about it. It's a bad day.' And I got up and I learned from that experience.
"I said I don't want to do that at world championships and, if I was to make the Olympic team, I don't want to do it on the day of the Olympics."
Female ski jumpers have been petitioning to join the Olympics since the 1998 Nagano Games. Before the 2010 Vancouver Games, 15 female ski jumpers -- including world champion Lindsey Van -- sued the Vancouver Organizing Committee. The case went to the British Columbia Supreme Court, but women's ski jumping failed to make the Olympic program.
In April 2011, ski jumping was included for the Sochi Games.
"I was pretty young when that started to happen," said Hendrickson, who played soccer in high school. "So I owe all that hard work to my older teammates Lindsey Van and Jessica Jerome, they had their name on the court document and they worked so hard for that. I was that younger generation that didn't really have to do that hard work and I'm so thankful for that."
While women might now be able to compete at the Olympics, Hendrickson said there is still sexism in the sport because women jump on smaller hills and have fewer events than the men.
"I think Europeans just saw it as such a traditional men's sport. It's traditional and they didn't want to break tradition," Hendrickson said. "I see a side of that but we're just girls, we want to jump. Why can't we just jump? It's not a big deal, we're not trying to take it away from the men, we don't have to compete against the men, we want our own separate class. There's nothing wrong with that."
Hendrickson started ski jumping when she was 7. Already into skiing, she said she tried jumping because she is a "daredevil" -- and because she got bored of going to her older brother's ski jumping competitions and just watching.
Nick Hendrickson is now part of the Nordic combined team.
"He's one of my biggest support systems," Hendrickson said. "I can't thank him enough for how much he does for me. He trains so hard and I can't imagine how hard it is having a younger sibling take away some of the glory away from him. He trains harder than me, I'll be the first to say that."
Her mother, however, isn't always eager to see Hendrickson hurtling herself down a hill at top speed.
"My mom would always stand at the bottom and if it got a little bit windy, just because I'm a little bit small the wind would affect me more than the bigger boys, and she'd cover her eyes and be like, `Oh gosh,"' Hendrickson said. "But she always had faith in me and supported me 100 percent."
As scared as her mother may get, for Hendrickson the daily routine of flying off a mountain is just part of life.
"Sometimes I'll have moments on a training day, and just be sitting on the bar and be like, `This, this is crazy,' and then you just kind of go and you forget about it," Hendrickson said. "But obviously the thrill of flying through the air is still there every jump and the emotion at the bottom is always so amazing."