Hendrickson secures overall World Cup title with win in Zao, Japan
Coaches call it an incredible accomplishment for the Park City teen
Zao, Japan, March 3 — Sarah Hendrickson clinched the inaugural women’s ski jumping World Cup overall title Saturday in Zao, Japan — a feat so significant that even she was left nearly speechless.
"It’s pretty crazy and I don’t even know how to put it into words," said Hendrickson, the 17-year-old from Park City, Utah.
She won Saturday’s first competition in Zao over rival Sara Takanashi, of Japan, and then wrapped up the overall title by finishing second to Takanashi in the second comp. And the season isn’t even over yet. There are two World Cup events remaining, but with a 295-point lead over Austria’s Daniela Iraschko in the overall race, Hendrickson has the numbers to seal her place in the history books.
"I knew I had to jump really well and that Sara (Takanashi) was catching up to me for the overall,” said Hendrickson, who has won seven of 11 World Cup events and was the silver medalist in the 2012 Junior World Championships. “I felt a lot of pressure, but that’s why I love ski jumping."
Hendrickson won the World Cup opener in December in Lillehammer, Norway, becoming the first woman ever to win an International Ski Federation World Cup competition. Women ski jumpers have competed on the lower-tier Continental Cup for seven years. In 2010, the FIS approved a World Cup circuit for women to debut in the 2011/2012 season. And after a long-fought battle, women will be allowed to ski jump in the 2014 Olympic Winter Games for the first time.
The World Cup circuit is physically and mentally draining and demanding of any athlete, never mind a teenager, said Alan Alborn, head coach for Women’s Ski Jumping USA (WSJ-USA) and former World Cup competitor and Olympian.
“To have an athlete sustain that high level of jumping from the first World Cup of the season to now is, well, incredible,” he said. “I’m blown away and super psyched for her.”
For Paolo Bernardi, WSJ-USA coach who has been traveling with the team on the World Cup, he “feels like the luckiest person in the world.”
The U.S. women’s team is No. 1 in the world — thanks to wins by Hendrickson and consistent podiums, and top-10 and top-25 results from teammates Lindsey Van, Jessica Jerome, Abby Hughes and Alissa Johnson — and will most likely win the overall team title.
Bernardi is a former Italian Nordic Combined athlete who almost left the sport after completing his athletic career. But he said his father, who died 10 years ago, pushed him to stay in the business as a coach.
“I’m sure he’s proud of me right now. After 15 years of working as a coach, to be here in this place in this time, I just have no words,” he said, working to fight back the tears. “I’m so happy for Sarah and so proud of our team.”
And back home in Park City — more than 5,000 miles away — Sarah’s mom, Nancy Hendrickson, was huddled over a computer at midnight watching the live ticker of results. When she got the call that her daughter was the new World Cup title winner, she did what was natural.
“I just cried,” she said. “I am so proud of her and that she’s been gracious and thoughtful in the midst of all that immense pressure. She’s been able to keep it together and I credit her coaches and teammates for helping her keep it real. They were amazing.”
Nancy Hendrickson dismisses the idea that she or her family had anything to do with Sarah’s early success.
“People look at me like I’m crazy for letting my teenage daughter go on the road to compete for months at a time,” she said. “But she’s doing what she loves to do and it’s who she is. There’s no control. “Her wings are firmly attached and I’ve got to let her fly.”
One more competition takes place Sunday in Zao before the jumpers head to Oslo, Norway, for the World Cup final on March 9.
Saturday, March 3, 2012
Women’s Normal Hill, HS100, K-point 90m
1. Sarah Hendrickson, USA, (99.5m 95.5m) 253.8 points
2. Sara Takanashi, JPN, (98.5 99.5) 252.7
3. Daniela Iraschko, AUT, (94.5 96.5) 244.2
9. Jessica Jerome, USA (93.5 86.5) 209.7
11. Lindsey Van, USA, (79.5 96.0) 206.1
31. Abby Hughes, USA (83.5) 87.5
36. Alissa Johnson, USA, (79.0) 79.0
(Second jump canceled because of weather – results stand from first round)
1. Sara Takanashi, JPN, (102.5) 124.9
2. Sarah Hendrickson, USA, (95.5) 113.7
3. Ulrike Graessler, GER, (95) 109.2
6. Jessica Jerome, USA (88.0) 104.8
8. Lindsey Van, USA, (88.5) 102.4
21. Abby Hughes, USA (82.0) 88.8
35. Alissa Johnson, USA (74.0) 69.4