Hendrickson fought back after significant knee surgery in April, and had to jump on skis 6 centimeters shorter this season to compensate for some weight loss a rule set by the International Ski Federation (FIS). Six centimeters which is less than the width of an iPhone may not sound like much, but in the highly technical sport of ski jumping it might as well be the length of a car.
"I had no idea what to expect and I'm super satisfied with second place," said the 18-year-old Hendrickson. "There's room for improvement, but I'm very happy I was strong in both jumps."
Hendrickson won the first-ever FIS World Cup competition for women ski jumpers last year and went on to win 9 of 13 events to become the World Cup champion.
Japan's Sara Takanashi edged Hendrickson in the second round to win Saturday's competition. Norwegian favorite Anette Sagen was third. U.S. teammates Lindsey Van, Jessica Jerome and Abby Hughes were eighth, 13th and 24th respectively.
"Today was really, really good," said World Cup Head Coach Paolo Bernardi. "Second place was amazing for Sarah; she nailed it. I'm very happy about Lindsey. She's had a little problem with her knee and she's still struggling a bit, so I know she can do even better.
"Jessica's fist round was not her best, but she came back and had a good second jump. And Abby, she just put up two of her best jumps of the year. I'm very proud."
Van and Jerome also underwent knee surgery this summer. Teammates Alissa Johnson (who had shoulder surgery in the spring) and Nina Lussi did not make the cut for the second round, but Bernardi said they are definitely ready to take the next step to the top 20.
The team will train in Europe for the next week before heading to Sochi, Russia, for the next World Cup stop on Dec. 8-9. Sochi is the venue for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games, where women will be allowed to compete in ski jumping for the first time.
Team USA takes 5th in Friday's mixed-team event
In the two-man, two-women event, Team USA capped a great start to the season on Friday by placing 5th under the lights in Lillehammer.
Team USA -- Sarah Hendrickson, Lindsey Van, Anders Johnson and Peter Frenette --scored a combined 869.9 points. Hendrickson led the team with the longest jump of 96.5 meters. Norway was first with 983.1 points, Japan was second with 966 points, and Italy was third with 899 points.
This season marks the first time the mixed-team event has been on the FIS World Cup winter schedule and the points count for the overall Nations Cup for both men and women.
"It's been really cool to compete with the best men in the world," Van said. "We had no expectations going in -- just to do our best. It was a really fun event."
Typical of Lillehammer, the teams battled rain and gusty winds that resulted in a few crash landings for men and women.
"We, as Team USA, were able to make it into the top five of the event. Certainly that's a nice place to start the season," said Anders Johnson.
The next mixed-team event will take place during the Ski Jumping World Championships in Val di Fiemme, Italy, in late February.
Peter Graves, USA Ski Jumping, contributed to this story.