Park City • No matter where she is or what season she might be basking in, Sarah Hendrickson’s right knee throbs. It’s a dull pain, not sharp in discomfort, but it’s constant. It’s a reminder of how far she’s come, of this four-year cycle that hasn’t really given her a single break.

“I can’t walk around a city without it hurting,” she said. “I’m basically in chronic pain. I manage it as much as I can.”

The pioneer for Olympic equality is 23 now, just more than four years removed from paving the way for women’s ski jumping to be included in the Olympic Winter Games. When the Park City native soared off a jump, staying as still as possible slicing through the sky, people stopped and watched.

Hendrickson is more guarded and reserved these days. She has to be to try to rediscover that jumping ability before the knee surgeries. That takes dedication and focus in every training jump.

As a teenager, she won the first ever women’s World Cup title in 2012, dominating the field she wanted to see expanded with flocks of jumpers worldwide joining the movement.

Then she added a World Championship gold in 2013.

“It’s hard being someone who has won so much in the past and then have all this happen to you,” Hendrickson said at the base of the jumps at the Utah Olympic Park this week. “Once you’ve tasted winning, all you want to do is taste that again. Since I’ve won, so many things have changed in the sport and just me as a person.”

The world quickly caught up. The talent pool deepened. Hendrickson suffered the first of several major knee injuries — a torn ACL and MCL that August — before the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. She rehabbed so rigorously just to get there, to be atop the hill, ready to take flight. Not even close to 100 percent, Hendrickson finished 21st.

KRASNAYA POLYANA, RUSSIA - JANUARY 11: Park City's Sarah Hendrickson gets ready to jump in the women's ski jumping competition at the Gorki Ski Jumping Center during the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games Tuesday February 11, 2014. Hendrickson finished in 21st place with a 217.6. (Photo by Chris Detrick/The Salt Lake Tribune)

“Definitely the silver lining was having bib No. 1 and being a part of that historic moment, with those 29 other women from across the world, and kind of breathing a sigh of relief that we got our foot in the door,” she said. “It’s something I’ll remember forever.”

Now she’s back. Ahead of this weekend’s Olympic trials for Nordic combined and ski jumping in Park City, the eyes once again fixate on the trailblazer ahead of the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Hendrickson’s endured four more knee surgeries post Sochi. The results that once were expected haven’t been there. On top of that, U.S. ski jumpers have performance-based quotas to hit to receive funding. Hendrickson needed two top-five World Cup finishes, but her bests last season were eighth and ninth. She finished 14th in the world last year.

She’s paying her own way this year. At the U.S. Olympic Media Summit in the fall, she estimated the upcoming season would cost roughly $20,000. Results have been tough to come by still. She finished 45th and 52nd in two World Cup events this fall.

“I wake up every day motivated because I want to win,” Hendrickson said. “But there’s this reserve part of me now that I just have to do what I have to do. Hopefully I go to Korea and I don’t walk away from Korea with my head down because I didn’t win a medal. Because I’ve done so much work.”

Hendrickson recently was nominated and elected by her peers worldwide as the women’s ski jumping representative with FIS, the world’s governing body for international winter sports.

“For them to entrust that in me,” she said, “is really cool.”

The winner of Sunday’s jumps will solidify her spot in South Korea. The rest of the teams will be chosen in late January based on season results as well as discretionary criteria. Which makes this weekend all that more intriguing for Hendrickson.

“There’s always something in my gut that said you’re not done,” she tells herself, “you need to be in this.”

This leadup to the Olympics is markedly different, Hendrickson said. There’s less voices doling out insight, less stress over rehabbing a serious knee injury, less interviews, less attention.

“I have to give myself credit for how hard I’ve worked just to be here,” she said. “Of course I want the results. Of course I want the golden ending, but at the end of the day, I really just have to appreciate how hard I’ve worked.”


Sport • Ski jumping

Age • 23

Hometown • Park City

String of bad luck • After suffering a torn ACL and MCL in August 2013, Hendrickson returned to jump in the 2014 Sochi Games. The 2012 World Cup champion and 2013 World Championship gold medalist has endured four more knee surgeries since then.


Nordic combined and ski jumping

Location • Utah Olympic Park, Park City

Saturday’s Nordic combined schedule

HS100 competition jump • 10 a.m.

10k race • 1 p.m.

Sunday’s ski jumping schedule

Men’s and women’s competition jumps • 11:15 a.m. to noon

Tribune reporter Aaron Falk contributed to this story.