Takeoff and landing starts in Lillehammer for women ski jumpers | ParkRecord.com

Takeoff and landing starts in Lillehammer for women ski jumpers

Christopher Kamrani, The Park Record

The defending World Cup champions were searching for another way to build team rapport and togetherness. Jessica Jerome said being blindfolded on a ropes course with her teammates this summer forced the issue of trust.

"We had to talk each other through the course," she said. "Something like that makes you trust somebody."

After winning the inaugural women’s ski jumping World Cup team title in 2011-12, the six jumpers from Park City are ready trust each other once again and repeat last year’s historic achievement. A year ago, the Americans ran away with the overall trophy, finishing more than 600 points ahead of second-place Germany.

The Americans celebrated in Oslo, Norway, as champions in mid-March. Included in the celebration was youngster Sarah Hendrickson, 18, who won nine of the 13 World Cup events en route to becoming the first-ever owner of a women’s World Cup crystal globe.

Now, Jerome, Hendrickson, Lindsey Van, Alissa Johnson, Abby Hughes and Nina Lussi are looking forward to the 2012-13 season starting in Lillehammer, Norway, on Saturday, Nov. 24. In all, there will be 16 competitions on the women’s World Cup winter circuit, including stops in Norway, Austria, Russia, Germany, Japan and Slovenia. The stop in Russia is in Sochi, where the 2014 Olympic Winter Games are to be held. The season is scheduled to end in Oslo on March 17, 2013.

To Alan Alborn, the head of the program and development coach, this off-season was about fixing the little things that could have helped the jumpers soar even farther last year. Hendrickson, Van, Jerome and Johnson all underwent off-season surgeries to repair some wear and tear, but Alborn said all the jumpers have been working relentlessly to get back to the top.

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"Last season we had quite a bit of the team not at 100 percent, so I guess that’s why I can say I’m not too worried about this year," he said. "Everyone is on the path to be being more healthy. This winter, I think we’ll see better performances out of everyone on the team. I’m looking forward to seeing what that level can be.

"I’m really confident we’re going to be ahead of the pack and, as far as sustaining that throughout the season, I don’t see that being a problem because the calendar is not super jam-packed."

As opposed to bouncing around different countries on a weekly basis like last season, this year’s World Cup schedule will give the jumpers more down time on the road as well as giving them valuable time at home to rest and compete on their home hill at the Utah Olympic Park.

Along with the added time to rest during the season, Jerome said the team will not be jammed into a van with six people and their ski equipment this winter. This year, the team will have two vans for traveling as well as a physical therapist on board, according to Jerome. She said the added comfort and time off will help the team’s attitude throughout the season.

"You don’t get to choose your siblings, but you also don’t get to choose your teammates, either," she said, laughing. "In the past, we’ve spent so much time with each other off the hill and were with each other constantly.

"Having more time home this year than last year, we’re looking forward to coming home for 10 days and just unwinding."

To Van, the idea of being at the top suits this talented group, but she said she knows that other top ski jumping teams from around the world are aiming to dethrone the Americans.

"I don’t think it changes a whole lot. People are gunning for us," she said. "We know what we have to do; it doesn’t change the fact that we want to go out there and win every day."

Hendrickson, who is in the process of graduating from the Winter Sports School prior to the start of the season, is once again the favorite to repeat as a World Cup individual champion.

"It’s definitely not going to be easy," she said. "And I’m definitely going to be at the top of my game. I had pressure on myself last year, but there’s always that pressure that you’re expecting to do just as well. You have to put that stuff aside and just jump for yourself."

Alborn said the defending champ has a will to win that is extraordinary.

"I try not to ripple the water," he said. "My coaching style is pretty straightforward. I don’t try to butter it up at all. Coaching Sarah is quite easy because in one example, or one five-minute chit-chat together, she can go perform exactly what we talked about."

"She’s on top of her game; she knows what’s going on," Van said of Hendrickson. "It’s not just one day, but every day. It’s going to be quite a feat for anybody to beat her at this point."

Both Van and Jerome said they have early-season goals of finishing on the podium at least once this season to reach individual goals as well as helping the team to repeat. This year is also a World Championship year. The event is scheduled to take place in coach Paolo Bernardi’s hometown of Val di Fiemme, Italy.

"I am really excited," Van said. "It’s been a very long off-season. I had surgery in July and haven’t really competed since last March, since Oslo. I’m definitely ready."