Parkite Sarah Hendrickson wins Team Trials in front of crowd of 7,000 | ParkRecord.com

Parkite Sarah Hendrickson wins Team Trials in front of crowd of 7,000

Sarah Hendrickson wasted no time setting the tone at the ski jumping Olympic Team Trials at Utah Olympic Park on Sunday. In her practice jump, she cruised for 91 meters, edging ahead of her competitors – Nina Lussi of New York, who jumped for 90 meters, and fellow Parkite Abby Ringquist, who flew for 89 meters.

For Hendrickson, the competition was a breath of fresh air. Not only was she jumping in front of a historic home crowd – estimated at 7,000 spectators, the most since Utah hosted the Olympics – but she felt good physically for the first time in a long time.

After four knee surgeries, Hendrickson can quickly pick out the last time she felt healthy and strong.

"It's been probably since world championships, since Sweden in 2015 that I felt that good," she said. "I've really been struggling with equipment, and changing hills and traveling so much, so it was definitely beneficial to come home two weeks ago and be able to train here and help me with my knee and everything like that. Days like this, when it's blue skies, I feel good, my knee feels strong, those are the days I look forward to."

She said when she's home in Park City, she feels the support of her community, and the confidence it brings her showed.

In the first round of the competition, each competitor jumped farther as the event progressed through the jumping order, topping out with Nina Lussi's 98.5-meter jump.

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Hendrickson, who jumped after Lussi, broke the trend and jumped a meter shorter, but her style earned her the most points of anyone – 133.2.

Ringquist jumped last and finished nearly one point above Lussi with 125.9, and took over second place.

By finishing highest in the first round, Hendrickson was slated to go last in the second round.

As the round progressed, the distances climbed again.

Nita Englund of Wisconsin landed at 96 meters for a combined 238.9 points. Then Lussi soared for 97 meters, but landed awkwardly and fell. Emergency crews helped her off the course in a stretcher with suspected knee injuries, but no further information had been released as of Tuesday morning.

"It's really hard to watch a teammate go down," Hendrickson said. "It's hard to watch anybody go down. … To see Nina at the bottom of the hill is really tough."

Only Ringquist and Hendrickson still had to jump. The two, who have become close friends over years of training, traveling and competing together, exchanged reassurances at the top of the jump.

"It's just one of those things, you never know when it can happen to you, so you just have to trust your skills," Ringquist said.

Hendrickson said she took a moment to reassure Ringquist and refocused on the jump.

Ringquist jumped 91.5 meters, earning a score of 238.9 and the lead. Hendrickson didn't land as far down the hill – 90.6 meters – but good form in the air and in her landing put her firmly in first place with a combined score of 263.4.

Her named flashed at the top of the leaderboard, and Hendrickson buckled with joy, unable to talk to the NBC interviewer trying to get her attention.

After four knee surgeries and years of doubt and slow rehabilitation, Hendrickson was back on top.

She said most importantly, she overcame the lingering doubt and negativity in her own mind.

"Those that are close to me know that's been really challenging the last four years," she said. "When you show up on competition day, you can't really focus on the missed training days or the aches and pains or anything that you could have done differently in the past."

The years of work are once again paying off, as she prepares for her second Olympics.