Sarah Hendrickson soars into the record books
December 6, 2011
Paolo Bernardi vividly recalls when he first saw Park City’s Sarah Hendrickson soar. It was four years ago and Hendrickson was just 13. Bernardi immediately saw everything necessary for a future star in the sport of ski jumping.
Now "the little one," as Bernardi used to call her, has vaulted into the limelight of the sport.
Hendrickson, now 17, made history Saturday in Lillehammer, Norway, winning the first women’s ski jumping International Ski Federation (FIS) World Cup event in the history of the sport. Hendrickson (277.0) — a member of the VISA Women’s Ski Jumping Team, which is supported by Women’s Ski Jumping USA, a nonprofit organization — finished nearly 30 points ahead of second-place Coline Mattel of France (247.7).
"When you win by 30 points, it’s not just that you’re ready to win, it’s like she’s a dominator now," said Bernardi, the international coach for Women’s Ski Jumping USA. "She’s like Lindsey Vonn in the downhill. She’s now two or three steps ahead of the other ladies. It’s clear she’s definitely from another planet at this point. If you see somebody this good with this talent and technique, I’m really happy and glad she’s my athlete."
After Hendrickson’s victory-sealing second jump of 95.5 meters, teammates Jessica Jerome (12th), Alissa Johnson (19th) and Abby Hughes (21st) mobbed the youngster in celebration.
"My team is awesome and always supportive no matter what result they get," Hendrickson said from Lillehammer Monday. "If someone does well, they’re always out there supporting. It’s kind of an unwritten rule we have between each other. It’s an awesome feeling to be able to share that feeling with someone you’re close to."
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After competing on the Continental Cup level for the last seven years, women ski jumpers were finally awarded a World Cup circuit by the FIS in 2010. Now in its inaugural year, the women’s ski jumping World Cup circuit will include 14 events at nine venues in seven different countries.
According to a press release, nearly 50 jumpers from 15 nations competed in Lillehammer Saturday.
"I don’t think it hit me and it still hasn’t hit me and I don’t think it will until I go home to see my family and friends," Hendrickson said. "It’s definitely a huge accomplishment."
Bernardi said he has always been in awe of Hendrickson’s composure and Saturday, on the biggest stage of her young career against the best talent in the world, it was no different.
"She’s not just able to manage pressure, she’s jumping because she uses the pressure as a bonus or plus," he said. "At the age of 17, it’s not so easy to be focused in all aspects of being an athlete; at 17, it’s not so easy to be so cool, to manage the pressure."
Saturday’s World Cup was the first international competition of the 2011-2012 season and going into the inaugural event, Hendrickson had no idea what kind of shape or groove jumpers from other countries would be in. But she added that her training jumps going into Saturday were above par and that certainly showed Saturday in Hendrickson’s first jump as she flew 100.5 meters–nearly eight meters farther than any other competitor.
"You always have the goal in the back of your head that you want to do really well, but for me, I always want to push that out of my head," she said. "It’s just an added stress I don’t want to think about when I’m jumping.
"Jumping is very up and down; you’re winning one day and not making top 30 the next. It’s just how the sport is. What I want to concentrate on is having two consistent jumps in competition."
Hendrickson and the team remain in Norway this week for a pair of Continental Cups in the city of Notodden, a four-hour drive from Lillehammer.
When asked if the Parkite is the most-talented athlete he’s ever coached, Bernardi deadpanned: "This is not an easy question, it’s a super easy question," he said. "She’s natural-born to be in this sport and naturally-born to manage everything in this sport. I think she’s at the same level as Lindsey Vonn is in downhill."
Hendrickson said she’ll always remember the phone call she made home 15 minutes after cementing her name in the record books and knows she will continue to field questions about her momentous win.
"I’m definitely living in the moment," she said. "I’ve been asked multiple times what it means to make history, and I don’t really know what to say beside, ‘It feels great.’"