Sarah Hendrickson sure hopes it was a good omen.
The 18-year-old ski jumper from Park City won her first World Cup event of the season Saturday, on the same hill that will be used for the 2014 Sochi Olympics in Russia barely a year from now. It was the first time a women’s World Cup competition was held at the new RusSki Gorki jumping center outside Sochi.
“The head of Sochi’s 2014 Organizing Committee shook my hand and said, ‘Hopefully I will be shaking your hand again at the Winter Games.’” Hendrickson said. “He said that to everybody on the podium, but it was bone chilling to think that we are that close to getting to compete in the Olympic Games for the first time in history.”
“It was awesome,” she added.
Hendrickson figures to be a gold-medal favorite in Sochi, where women will compete in ski jumping for the first time after a long fight for inclusion. Hendrickson was part of that fight, spearheaded by fellow Park City teammate Lindsey Van, a former world champion.
Van fell on her second jump Saturday and finished a distant 42nd, but was unhurt and came back to lead the Americans with a sixth-place finish in the competition Sunday. Hendrickson was seventh on Sunday, after outpacing top rival Sara Takanashi by virtue of style points on Saturday.
Takanashi was third on Sunday, behind reigning world champion Daniela Iraschko of Austria and France’s Coline Mattel.
Abby Hughes of Park City enjoyed her best World Cup finish with a ninth-place showing on Sunday, giving the Americans three jumpers in the top nine. Hughes was 23rd on Saturday.
“The level of women’s ski jumping is so high right now and the competition is fierce,” said Paolo Bernardi, the U.S. coach. “There are at least eight to 12 women who can fight for the top spot, and the competitions are superstrong. I’m really, really happy with the team’s results.”
Hendrickson is competing after offseason knee surgery that had her uncertain of her prospects, and she felt some soreness Sunday.
But that was overshadowed by the idea of what lies ahead.
“One moment during official training I was in the start area and there were like 10 jumpers in front of me,” Hendrickson recalled. “I was looking down the hill and thinking that in a little over a year from now, there will be girls looking at the exact same thing before they take their first Olympic jump ever. That was amazing.”