Bring on the Olympics.
Park City’s Sarah Hendrickson cemented her status as a favorite for the 2014 Sochi Olympics in Russia by outdistancing rival Sara Takanashi of Japan for the women’s world ski-jumping championship Friday on her coach’s home hill in Val di Fiemme, Italy.
It’s the second American victory in three world championships for women, after Park City’s Lindsey Van won the inaugural title in 2009.
“I can’t even put it into words right now,” Hendrickson said. “I’m so happy. I had confidence on this hill and knew I could have good jumps. But standing at the top before the first round, my heart was beating and everything was shaking. I didn’t know if I could pull it off. But obviously, I put together two good jumps.”
The 18-year-old graduate of the Winter Sports School scored better on both jumps — the grand total was 253.7 points, far ahead of the rest of the field — to snap Takanashi’s streak of four straight World Cup victories and avenge a disappointing sixth-place loss to the overall World Cup champion at the world junior championships last month.
She soared 106 and 103 meters on the hill where she has trained a lot under coach Paolo Bernardi — his father helped build the ski jumps there, she said — and set a record with a 108-meter jump last year.
Each time, Hendrickson scored nearly perfect style points.
“The first jump is important for me mentally,” she said. “If I have a good first jump I know I can have a good second jump. If I have a hard first jump sometimes I mentally shut down, so it was really important for me.”
Meanwhile, Takanashi flew 104.5 and 103 meters, with style scores not quite as high.
Austria’s Jacqueline Seifriedsberger finished third with 237.2 points, though countrywoman and defending world champion Daniela Iraschko did not compete because of an injury.
“My entire family is here today — mom, dad and brother,” Hendrickson said. “No words can really express happiness as I gave them a big hug after I won. It’s an amazing feeling to accomplish this and be with my teammates, friends and family. It is the best feeling ever.”
Van finished 16th on Friday after a poor first jump, while teammate Jessica Jerome soared 100 meters on her first jump and finished sixth — much better than her 14th-place finish two years ago, suggesting she will be a podium threat in Sochi.
Both women are also from Park City, along with Abby Hughes, who failed to qualify for a second jump and wound up in 33rd place.
“After my first jump, it felt awesome,” Jerome said. “Two days ago in training I had a great jump and I knew I needed to do that again. Yesterday wasn’t as good in training and so when I jumped 100 meters ... I was sort of relieved and thrilled to do it in the competition.”