Becoming Olympians |

Becoming Olympians

Tom Kelly, Park Record Columnist

There was a tear in Lindsey Van’s eyes albeit for just a moment. Jessica Jerome beamed with newfound pride. Sarah Hendrickson Red Bull hat neatly in place turned on that Sarah smile of confidence that let you know instantly that all was good. Three ski jumpers staring at the glare of TV lights and a half dozen broadcast cameras beaming the story around America and the world.

This was the day they became Olympians!

The Utah Olympic Park was the backdrop to last week’s announcement. This was their home, the place where Jerome and Van found their love for ski jumping two decades ago. It was where Hendrickson drew inspiration as a young girl, watching her older brother soar off the jumps.

This was where they found their wings.

It’s one thing to be an elite athlete, navigating your way through a sport, trying to be Best in the World. But that was just one part of what these girls had to do. They bore the burden of their entire sport. They had to build women’s ski jumping as a whole, showing the world they were ready. Finally, it was not about court cases or inequality. It was about showing the world they were elite athletes and showing the world the global strength of their sport.

"Through their unwavering personal dedication, these athletes have progressed their sport over the past four years to a point where it’s undoubtedly and debatably worthy of the medals that will be handed out in Sochi," said USSA Executive Vice President, Athletics Luke Bodensteiner.

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There was no lack of experience on that stage. Lindsey Van 2009 World Champion. Sarah Hendrickson 2012 World Cup winner and 2013 World Champion. Jessica Jerome 2014 Olympic Trials champion. Behind them was an entire team of women who pushed them and battled them tooth and nail for the three Olympic spots.

While each of them had their story of success, it was Hendrickson whose presence in the Alf Engen Ski Museum theater was the most improbable. Just five months after a horrific training crash in Germany, the 18-year-old was back the result of a strategic rehab program and tremendous willpower.

"When I crashed back in August, I thought everything was over, my dreams of becoming an Olympian for this year were over," she said. With the wisdom of a veteran, Hendrickson took guidance from doctors and U.S. Ski Team strength coaches, crafting a well-planned recovery and return to jumping. Without fanfare, she put in day after day of jump training earlier this month to the point where coaches saw that she was back and able to compete in Sochi.

"I worked as hard as I could, every single day, so that I could try and make my dreams come true. It’s been one of the hardest things I’ve ever set out to do."

Month after month, day after day, Sarah Hendrickson walked into the USSA Center of Excellence, hopped on a bike for warm up, hit the weights for strength, and worked with coaches in agility. Calm and cool as always, Hendrickson stuck to her plan, monitoring her progress with strength coaches, and keeping her sights firmly set on Sochi.

If nothing else, she didn’t want to ever look back and say, "what if."

What fate holds for the three U.S. women on Tuesday, Jan. 11, remains to be seen. But the fact that women’s ski jumping is on the Olympic program, the fact that a growing depth is making it tougher and tougher to win, is a testament to the fortitude these athletes have shown.

This was their sport. And it will be their Olympics.

One of the most experienced communications professionals in skiing, Tom Kelly is a veteran of eight Olympics and serves as vice president, Communications, for the Park City-based U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. A Wisconsin native, he and his wife Carole Duh have lived in Park City since 1988 when he’s not traveling the world with the team.