NORMAN — While world champion Sarah Hendrickson continues rehabilitation from a knee injury and still hopes to compete at Sochi, a precocious Japanese flyer has emerged as the gold medal favorite when women’s ski jumping makes its debut, finally, at the Winter Olympics in February.
Sara Takanashi has won all three World Cup ski jumping events this season and dominates the overall standings.
In the middle of next month, the 17-year-old Takanashi will have two “home” World Cup events for her to pad her lead — at Sapporo and Zao, Japan. And perhaps to give her even more confidence for a podium performance at Sochi.
Hendrickson, meanwhile, hopes to be back jumping at World Cup events next month after having had surgery to reconstruct the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee on Aug. 29, eight days after she was hurt during a training camp in Germany.
“Jumping in January and making the Olympic team, that’s what’s getting me up in the morning. That’s what’s driving me,” Hendrickson said recently. “I could easily give up on the Olympics, but that’s my dream. That’s what I’ve been training for. I want so badly to walk into those opening ceremonies and represent my country.”
This weekend, the 19-year-old Hendrickson will watch on at the U.S. trials at Park City, Utah, where the winner of each event Sunday is guaranteed a berth on the team for the Winter Games at Sochi.
Hendrickson is a near-certainty to receive a discretionary spot when the team is named on Jan. 22, regardless of whether she is able to begin competing regularly again in early January.
Hendrickson and Takanashi are two of the top names in an event that will finally have its breakthrough debut at the Olympics. The IOC twice rejected women’s ski jumping for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics program, saying the sport lacked enough elite competitors. Women jumpers took their case to the Supreme Court of Canada, but failed to overturn the IOC decision in time for Vancouver.