VAL DI FIEMME, Italy – Park City’s Sarah Hendrickson found it hard to describe her feelings right after becoming only the third woman in history to win a ski jumping World Championship on Friday, so she did it simply.
“The. Best. Feeling. Ever.”
The Park City teenager out-jumped World Cup overall title winner Sara Takanashi, of Japan, to win the 2013 World Championship in Val di Fiemme, Italy — the hometown of Coach Paolo Bernardi.
“I can't even put it into words right now,” Hendrickson told reporters. “Standing at the top before the first round my heart was beating and everything was shaking and I didn't know if I could pull it off.”
Hendrickson's two jumps of 106 and 103 meters combined with near-perfect style points were more than enough to take the title. Teammate Jessica Jerome had a big first jump, 100 meters, placing her in 6th, which matches her finish from the 2009 World Championships. Austria's Jacqueline Seifriedsberger was 3rd.
Lindsey Van had a short first jump of 89 meters but bounced back in the second round to jump 93.5 meters to capture 16th. Abby Hughes, battling some nerves, finished 33rd.
“I had no idea how far she (Takanashi) went (in the second round). I could hear the crowd roar, but you never know with that. I just knew I had to do my jump and just forgot about the other stuff,” Hendrickson said.
Strength in Team
Americans now have won two of the three World Ski Jumping Championships ever to allow women to compete. Van won the inaugural event in 2009.
Jerome is peaking this season at the right time and woke up Friday “feeling awesome” after a shaky Thursday due to a nagging stiff and sore neck.
“Our physical therapist Valerie worked wonders on me,” Jerome said. “Yesterday wasn't as good in training and so when I jumped 100 meters today, I was relieved and thrilled to do it in the competition.”
Despite being an individual sport, “team” sometimes matters more, Jerome said.
“When we all went out to celebrate with Sarah, we were pretty much all crying,” she said. “I think that as a team we do really, really well together. Today just reinforces that we are a great team and we have been through a lot and we can still get it done.”
Hendrickson started out this World Cup season in a deficit. She had been off her skis for five months due to a knee surgery and had lost weight, which meant she had to jump on skis 6 cm shorter this season — a rule set by the International Ski Federation (FIS). Six centimeters doesn’t sound like much, but to an elite ski jumper, it might as well have been 2 feet.
After winning the inaugural World Cup overall title in 2012, she came into this season as the hunted. For four months she’s fought for the top podium spot with Takanashi — a rivalry the media has termed “The Battle of the Sara(h)s.”
Takanashi secured the overall World Cup title this year, but on Friday Hendrickson became a World Champion.
‘We made it. She did it.’
Just four years ago in Liberec, Czech Republic, at the age of 14, Hendrickson became one of the youngest Americans to ever compete in a Nordic World Ski Championship. She was with teammates five and 10 years older, showing her the way on the jump hill — and in life.
Back then, women ski jumpers were still lobbying to compete in their sport in the Olympic Winter Games. Teammates Van and Jerome were shouldering the weight of expectation, politics, and the media spotlight that so often comes when boundaries get pushed.
She placed 29th.
In Oslo in 2011, Hendrickson and her teammates were jumping for their Olympic lives — tasked with the job of proving they belonged on the world’s biggest stage in sports. The conditions couldn’t have been worse — pea soup fog and unpredictable winds.
She finished 14th.
This time around, armed with a 2012 World Cup title and a historic Olympic Winter Games debut in her sights, Hendrickson set out to simply “jump as far as she could.”
She did and she won.
“My entire family is here today - mom, dad, and brother. No words can really express the happiness as I gave them a big hug after I won,” she said. “It's an amazing feeling to accomplish this and be with my teammates.”
For Coach Bernardi, having one of his jumpers win in his hometown — a place where his father literally helped build the ski jumps — was almost too emotional for him to bear. He lost his father more than 10 years ago — he’d always nagged Paolo, a former Nordic Combined athlete, to stay in the game after retiring and coach. And just a few weeks ago, Bernardi lost his beloved mother to a long-term illness.
Today, after the competition, his thoughts turned to his family.
“I have so much inside me right now. This is such an emotional day for me,” he said. “All of my friends and family were here. It's a special day.
“Sarah did. We did it.”
Val di Fiemme, Italy
Women’s Normal Hill – HS106
(with wind system calculation)
February 22, 2013
1. Sarah Hendrickson, USA, (106 meters, 103) 253.7
2. Sara Takanashi, JPN, (104.3, 103) 251
3. Jacqueline Seifriedsberger, AUT, (104, 98.5) 237.2
6. Jessica Jerome, USA, (100, 98) 224.9
16. Lindsev Van, USA, (89, 93.5) 198.4
33. Abby Hughes, USA (81.5) 80.2