Utah sports leaders honor a Park City teen | ParkRecord.com

Utah sports leaders honor a Park City teen

Tom Kelly

Park Record columnist

It’s a daunting task to stand in front of a packed house of 750 sports leaders – not to mention Utah Governor Gary R. Herbert. For 18-year-old Parkite Sarah Hendrickson, though, it wasn’t much different from sitting on the starting bar and staring down a towering ski jump. The world champion did just fine last week, proudly accepting her award from Gov. Herbert as 2012 Olympian of the Year.

There was a certain amount of irony in the recognition – a first-year award at the Governor’s State of Sport Awards. After all, Sarah Hendrickson may be the queen of her sport but she hasn’t yet been an Olympian. Women’s ski jumping won’t celebrate its inaugural Olympics until next February. Nonetheless, Hendrickson’s 2012 World Cup performance – where she won nine of 13 World Cups in the circuit’s debut season – as well as her victory on the Olympic jump in Sochi, made her the obvious choice.

In a state where sport is dominated by the Jazz, the University of Utah and BYU, it was a much welcomed recognition in a state that is also the home of Olympians. The legacy of the 2002 Olympics and the 39-year-home of the U.S. Ski Team have combined to make Utah the epicenter for Winter Olympic sports.

"At the age of seven, I watched the Olympics in my hometown of Park City," Hendrickson told the crowd. "It was an amazing experience and I specifically remember going to watch the men’s ski jumping event and that became a dream of mine."

The Olympics are about dreams. Hendrickson is at the leading edge of a wave of youngsters who formed dreams 13 years ago in Salt Lake City.

USSA President and CEO Bill Marolt talks a lot about Olympism – family, friends, fans all coming together to support the dreams of athletes. That’s what athletes find in Utah. The U.S. Ski Team put roots down at Park City Mountain Resort in 1974. The USSA followed in 1988, with the Center of Excellence, a powerful national training facility, opening in 2009. The early development of Utah’s Olympic venues and legacy after the 2002 Olympics has made Utah a place of dreams.

"Everything the governor has said about the values that we learn from sport are embedded in the personalities and character of the athletes," said Marolt. "Sarah Hendrickson and Ted Ligety grew up in Utah. They were inspired by the Olympics." We have unbelievable Olympic legacy facilities including the Utah Olympic Park, Soldier Hollow and our great resorts of Park City, Deer Valley and Canyons. Our Center of Excellence here in Utah, the Olympic facilities and the partnership with the state combine to make a best in the world organization. Utah truly is the state of sport."

The USSA was also recognized as the Team Utah Partner of the Year.

"Utah is proud of its Olympic legacy and the success of our Olympic athletes that live and train here," said Herbert. "Our world -class venues, athlete training and hosting of major sporting events, has helped to create successful Olympians like Sarah Hendrickson."

Hendrickson and her Women’s Ski Jumping USA teammates are now embarking on their Olympic season, vying for spots to make history in Sochi.

"I was privileged to grow up in a huge sport world with the support of the town and the state," Hendrickson said. "Utah does an amazing job supporting athletes. Here I am 11 years later, as a result of the 2002 Olympics.

"And I’m a little bit closer to becoming an Olympian."

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.

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