Sarah Hendrickson

Ski Jumping World Cup season preview

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The Olympic addition of women’s ski jumping makes this arguably the most story-filled World Cup season in the sport’s history.

Most U.S. eyes will be on a jumper who might not compete at all before Sochi.  Utah teen Sarah Hendrickson, the reigning world champion, tore the ACL, MCL and meniscus in her right knee in an Aug. 21 crash and hopes to be ready to fly in January.

In Europe, three decorated men enter the Olympic season with something to prove.

Japan has two intriguing jumpers separated by 24 years in age.

The ski jumping World Cup season begins in Klingenthal, Germany, this weekend for men and in Lillehammer, Norway, in two weeks for women. In will make more than a dozen stops — including the prestigious Four Hills Tournament — before the Olympics from Feb. 8-17.

Here are the key storylines:

1. Will Sarah Hendrickson jump in Sochi?

The latest Hendrickson recovery update came via Instagram on Thursday:

It’s hard to believe it has been 12 weeks since my reconstructive knee surgery. Thank god the days of pain and suffering on the couch are behind me and I am back to doing normal things. After hours of hard work in the gym it seemed to have shown at my doctors appointment yesterday. He was absolutely amazed with my gain in muscle strength and “on track for jumping in January” (Without set backs) A huge thanks to my PT for getting me to this phase as we are one step closer to the ultimate goal!

Her goal has been to jump in January from the start. It was quite ambitious but also necessary.

The U.S. Olympic Team is expected to be composed of four women. The winner at the Olympic Trials from Dec. 28-29 in Park City, Utah, will get the first spot. The next three are due to go to the top three ranked women in the World Cup standings as of Jan. 19 or 20.

The Olympic selection procedures include a discretionary selection clause that could allow Hendrickson to be picked even if she doesn’t have any World Cup points.

So, if Hendrickson can’t compete in a pre-Olympics World Cup, she’ll need to prove to coaches she deserves to go to Sochi. There are jumping hills in her hometown of Park City, Utah, where she could take those first jumps whenever she feels ready.

In the meantime, a few healthy U.S. women will set out on the World Cup tour to earn the U.S. the maximum of four quota spots. The leaders will be 2009 world champion Lindsey VanJessica Jerome and Abby Hughes, who were the top three Americans in each of the last two World Cup seasons.

If there are four U.S. women in the top 30, the fourth will be on the bubble come mid-January. If Hendrickson is put on the team, somebody will have to be bumped out.

“With Hendrickson hurt, it will be a test for us,” Hughes said. “We have never competed in an Olympic year, so we never had this kind of intensity. There are all these new emotions that we haven’t ever had with each other before. There are eight or nine of us fighting for four spots.”

source: AP2. An Austrian, a Swiss and a Finn

Gregor Schlierenzauer — Schlieri — is the star of ski jumping. As he was this time four years ago. Yet the Austrian ceded the spotlight to Simon Ammann at the 2010 Olympics, taking two bronzes behind the Swiss wizard’s double gold.

Schlierenzauer is coming off his second overall World Cup title and his second straight Four Hills crown. At 23, he already holds the career World Cup wins record of 50. He enters the Olympic season with the pressure of backing up that success with a breakthrough in Sochi.

“Individual gold is missing in my collection,” Schlierenzauer told Austria’s Kleine Zeitung. “But the real goal is to get to the Olympics in top form. No one knows what will then happen in Russia.”

Ammann enters what would be his fifth Olympics in an unfortunately familiar head-scratching position. Ammann swept the individual Olympic events in 2002 and 2010. But he went into each of the last three Olympic seasons without World Cup results befitting an Olympic champion.

In 2000-01, he competed once and finished 41st. A year later, he flew to Salt Lake City and stunned favorites Adam Malysz and Sven Hannawald in both the normal and large hills.

He fell back into mediocrity between 2003 and 2006, never finishing in the top 10 in the overall World Cup standings. He then went to Torino and, in a dreadful defense of his titles, placed 15th and 38th.

Ammann picked it back up going into 2009-10, but he was still behind Schlierenzauer. No matter, Ammann repeated his Salt Lake City feat and registered the longest jump in Olympic history (144 meters) to boot.

He has since regressed. Ammann hasn’t won an event since March 2012 and finished 14th and 11th in the overall World Cup standings the last two years.

Has he finally passed his prime at 32? Or does he have enough left to win one more Olympic gold and break his tie with mercurial Finnish legend Matti Nykanen?

“I can not be euphoric about Sochi every day,” Ammann, whose wife is Russian, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur. “No, I must do my day-to-day work.”

Finally, there is another Finn. Janne Ahonen is the last link to any semblance of national pride in a sport Finland once dominated. At 36, he’s come out of retirement for a second time.

Ahonen is a five-time Olympian with 10 career World Championship medals and 36 World Cup wins. He is also one of the greatest winter sports athletes of all time without an individual Olympic medal. Ahonen owns two Olympic silver medals in the team event and three fourth-place finishes in individual events.

“I thought, if the ski jumping in Finland is so bad, maybe it helps if I return,” Ahonen said, according to German newspaper Die Welt. “The people are desperately waiting for success. That’s the same for me. I like these situations. I need this pressure.”

3. Japan defies the ages

There’s little doubt the best women’s jumper, with Hendrickson sidelined, is Japan’s Sara Takanashi. She won the World Cup overall title over the American last year and took second at the World Championships.

Even if Hendrickson is healthy, Takanashi could beat her in Sochi. She won a test event at the Sochi venue on Oct. 13, the only jumper to clear 100 meters in both jumps.

Takanashi says she looks up to Hendrickson. This is not surprising given the Japanese turned 17 in October and is 4 feet, 11 inches.

One of Japan’s best men’s jumpers is almost a foot taller. He’s also 24 years older.

Noriaki Kasai is entering his 23rd season on the World Cup tour. He’s a six-time Olympian and likely to make his seventh Games considering he was Japan’s No. 2 jumper last year, 24th overall. The Olympic field will include 70 men at a maximum of five per country.

He’s best known for being part of the Japanese team that won silver at Lillehammer 1994. That team was in line for a possible gold until anchor jumper Masahiko “Happy” Harada mistimed his final jump, soaring about 30 meters shorter than his first jump. Norway took gold.

Japan famously redeemed in Nagano in 1998, but Kasai, who finished seventh on the normal hill individually, was not picked for the team.

Kasai joked in February he would like to compete for another 10 years, according to Deutsche Presse-Agentur.

U.S. skier tore ACL, competed at Olympics 2 weeks later

Karen Chen breaks U.S. Champs scoring record; Ashley Wagner, Gracie Gold trail

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KANSAS CITY — A skater broke the U.S. Championships women’s short program scoring record Thursday night, but it wasn’t Ashley Wagner or Gracie Gold.

Karen Chen, a 17-year-old former junior star who struggled the last two years, tallied 72.82 points at the Sprint Center to lead going into Saturday’s free skate (8 p.m. ET, NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Mirai Nagasu, a 2010 Olympian, is second, .87 of a point behind.

That leaves Wagner and Gold, who combined to win the last five U.S. titles, in third and fifth, respectively.

This is concerning for Wagner (1.88 behind Chen) and Gold (7.97 behind) given U.S. Figure Skating can send three women to worlds in two months. That selection will be made this weekend, primarily — but not totally — based off U.S. Championships results.

Tessa Hong is in fourth place, but at 14 years old is too young for senior worlds.

Full results are here.

Though Wagner and Gold are usually higher placed, the biggest surprise was Chen.

“My body’s still trembling right now,” she said, two hours after her performance.

Chen skated a clean program Thursday, rare for her in the last couple of seasons. Chen burst onto the scene as a 15-year-old two years ago, finishing third at nationals behind Wagner and Gold.

She was too young to be selected for the 2015 Worlds team. Little has been heard from Chen since.

She dropped to eighth at the 2016 U.S. Championships and came into Kansas City as the seventh-ranked U.S. woman this season. Struggling to find comfortable boots — a common skater problem — has plagued her. She went through 14 pairs in a four-month stretch.

“Everyone has doubts, and I certainly do as well,” said Chen, who choreographed her short program. “But I just kept pushing and telling myself that I’m gaining more experience, I’m learning about everything in the process and I’m just going to keep getting better.”

Wagner bounced back from her last outing — her worst Grand Prix finish in 25 career starts — with a decent program. She needed to save a double Axel near the end of her short. The 2016 World silver medalist was the pre-event favorite.

“People do not understand how difficult of a position I am in,” said Wagner, a 25-year-old bidding to become the oldest U.S. women’s champion in 90 years. “It might seem like I’m on top of the world, or second from being top of the world, but this is a very tough position to be in. It’s mentally been weighing on my shoulders all season. To be able to come out and show people I am a fighter, I’m really proud of that.”

Gold needed to show a fighting spirit given her well-publicized disaster of a fall season. And she did. Her only miss in the short program was doubling a planned triple flip.

“I can feel a huge improvement as a skater. I think everyone can see it,” Gold said. “I have made comebacks before. This doesn’t feel like a major comeback in some ways, because I felt pretty solid. … A long program is worth a lot of points, and I can certainly deliver some good long programs. I kind of feel like I’m due for a good one.”

If Gold doesn’t improve in the free skate, she could be left off the worlds team for the first time in her senior career. However, Gold believes her strong credentials in recent seasons merit consideration.

“We’ve seen different controversies where people aren’t on the [nationals] podium, and they’re still selected for events,” Gold said. “Michelle Kwan has not gone to nationals and been selected for an Olympic team [in 2006]. I believe that I deserve to be on the world team, but I’m not on the selection committee. Of course, every athlete feels like they should be on the world team.”

Earlier Thursday, the pairs short program produced surprise leaders.

The U.S. Championships continue Friday with the short dance and men’s short program. A full broadcast schedule is here.

MORE: U.S. Figure Skating boss wants Russia out of PyeongChang

Women’s Short Program
1. Karen Chen — 72.82
2. Mirai Nagasu — 71.95
3. Ashley Wagner — 70.94
4. Tessa Hong — 65.02
5. Gracie Gold — 64.85

 

Gwen Jorgensen pregnant, to sit out 2017 triathlon season

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 20: USA's Gwen Jorgensen followed by Switzerland's Nicola Spirig Hug (L) compete in the running portion of the women's triathlon at Fort Copacabana during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro on August 20, 2016.(Photo by Jeff Pachoud-Pool/Getty Images)
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Olympic triathlon champion Gwen Jorgensen is pregnant and will not compete this year.

“Just kind of take this year a little bit easier,” Jorgensen said in a video posted on Facebook on Thursday.

The baby is due Aug. 3, according to Jorgensen’s social media.

Jorgensen, 30, became the first U.S. Olympic triathlon champion in Rio after going in as the heavy favorite. She has said for months that she planned to take time off to have a baby before returning to defend her Olympic title at Tokyo 2020.

Swiss Nicola Spirig, the 2012 Olympic gold medalist and 2016 silver medalist, is reportedly expecting a child in May.

In Jorgensen and Spirig’s absences, the top triathletes going into the season are defending world champion Flora Duffy of Bermuda, U.S. Olympians Katie Zaferes and Sarah True and Britons Vicky Holland and Helen Jenkins.

Jorgensen’s last competition was the New York City Marathon on Nov. 6, when she finished 14th in her first running race longer than 10 miles.

The World Triathlon Series kicks off in Abu Dhabi the first weekend of March.

MORE: Triathlon federation boss wants Olympic races shortened