Erzurum, Turkey (Feb. 23) — Sarah Hendrickson added another title Thursday to her long list of ski jumping accomplishments — silver medalist in the 2012 Nordic Junior World Ski Championships.
In 2010 she won the bronze (the only American, male or female, to ever medal in a Junior World Championship). She began this season by winning the inaugural women’s World Cup opener in Lillehammer, Norway, and she’s the current overall leader on the World Cup circuit.
Sometimes we forget that she’s just a teenager — only having been on this planet 17 years, but long enough to make a huge impression in the winter sports world and also to feel the stress of being the best.
“This was hands down the most pressure I’ve ever felt in a competition,” said Hendrickson, of Park City, Utah after her silver-medal performance in Erzurum, Turkey. “I am super happy and very satisfied with my 2nd place.”
Hendrickson was tied after the first round with Japan’s 15-year-old sensation, Sara Takanashi. The two battled in the final round with Takanashi just edging out Hendrickson for the win by 11.5 points. Carina Vogt, of Germany, took the bronze. U.S. teammates Nina Lussi finished 29th and Nita Englund was 35th.
“Sarah and Sara (Takanashi) are the two strongest jumpers on the Earth right now. They are both shooting stars,” said Paolo Bernardi, Women’s Ski Jumping USA International Coach. “It was nice to watch a battle to win because it was such a high level of ski jumping.”
Bernardi said he was proud of his team, their performance, and their ability to handle the stress they were under this week. “Everybody stepped up (Thursday) and got their best results.”
Lussi’s and Englund’s skis weren’t delivered from the airlines until halfway through the first day of training on Tuesday, causing them to miss valuable time on the hill. The judges also adjusted the start bar frequently during training, which caused some rattled nerves for the young team. But that kind of experience is valuable, Bernardi said, and only makes athletes more mentally strong.
Lussi had a solid first jump Thursday that catapulted her into the second round. Englund, who crashed in training in September and suffered a serious concussion and cracked ribs, fought back to be healthy and confident enough to make the Junior Worlds team and have a good first jump, just missing the cut for the second round.
Hendrickson said she struggled in training this week – trying to get used to the new hill and get her head wrapped around the task at hand.
“I’m still a junior and I wanted to really focus to keep my goals set high for Junior Worlds,” she said. “Being in contention for the overall World Cup title means that some people automatically assume I will win every competition. It’s not that easy because there are great jumpers here and everyone has the same goal, and I put a lot of pressure on myself this week.
“Sara (Takanashi) jumped amazing and definitely had the best jumps on the hill Thursday and deserved the win 100 percent,” she added.
Hendrickson rose to the occasion, Bernardi said.
“It’s not easy to be on top of the world,” he said. “I’m so proud of how she handled the situation and fought back after rough training rounds to get an amazing silver-medal result.”
There is a team event on Saturday where nations (consisting of four jumpers) compete against each other. The U.S. Team will not be participating since there are just three jumpers at Junior Worlds.
The World Cup women’s tour continues March 3-4 in Zao, Japan, where there will be three comps (one comp was added to make up for an earlier cancellation in Poland). The World Cup final is set for March 9 in Oslo, Norway.
2012 Junior World Ski Jumping Championships, Individual Event
Thursday, Feb. 23
Women’s Normal Hill, K95
1. Sara Takanashi, JPN, (108.5 107.5) 276.5
2. Sarah Hendrickson, USA, (105.0, 100.5) 265.0
3. Carina Vogt, GER, (102.5, 100.0) 255.5
29. Nina Lussi, USA, (84.0 80.5) 164.0
35. Nita Englund, USA, (79.5) 76.5