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

Simone Biles says Larry Nassar sexually abused her

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Simone Biles watched as friends and Olympic teammates came forward to detail abuse at the hands of a now-imprisoned former USA Gymnastics team doctor.

Drawing in part from their strength, the four-time gold medalist acknowledged Monday she is among the athletes who were sexually abused by Larry Nassar.

Biles, who won five medals overall at the Rio Olympics, released a statement via social media outlining that abuse.

Nassar, who spent more than two decades as a physician at USA Gymnastics while also working at Michigan State University, has admitted sexually assaulting gymnasts, possessing child pornography and molesting girls who sought medical treatment.

He was sentenced in December to 60 years in federal prison for possessing child pornography and is facing another 40 to 125 years in prison after pleading guilty to assaulting seven girls.

Biles, now 20, called Nassar’s behavior “completely unacceptable, disgusting, and abusive, especially from someone whom I was told to trust.”

She joined a list of high-profile gymnasts who came out against Nassar, including six-time Olympic medalist Aly Raisman, 2012 all-around champion Gabby Douglas and two-time Olympic medalist McKayla Maroney.

Like her Olympic teammates, Biles detailed abuse by Nassar that he disguised as treatment.

“It is not normal to receive any type of treatment from a trusted team physician and refer to it horrifyingly as the ‘special’ treatment,” Biles wrote.

Biles is in the beginning stages of a return to competition, a journey that includes visits to the national team’s training center at the Karolyi Ranch north of Houston, where she said the abuse occurred.

“It is impossibly difficult to relive these experiences and it breaks my heart even more to think that as I work towards my dream of competing in Tokyo 2020, I will have to continually return to the same training facility where I was abused,” Biles wrote.

USA Gymnastics initially agreed to buy the Karolyi Ranch in the summer of August 2016, following the retirement of longtime national team coordinator Martha Karolyi but then backed out of the deal, though the national team continues to use the facility while options for a replacement are explored.

Biles says she initially wondered if she was to blame.

“For too long I’ve asked myself, ‘Was I too naive? Was it may fault?’” Biles wrote. “I now know the answer to those questions. No. No. It was not my fault. No, I will not and should not carry the guilt that belongs to Larry Nassar, USAG, and others.”

USA Gymnastics did not initially respond to a request for comment.

The organization has taken several steps in recent months. President and CEO Steve Penny resigned under pressure last March and was replaced by Kerry Perry, who took over on Dec. 1.

The organization hired Toby Stark, a child welfare advocate, as its director of SafeSport last summer.

Part of Stark’s mandate is educating members on rules, educational programs and reporting.

The federation also adopted over 70 recommendations by Deborah Daniels, a former federal prosecutor who oversaw an extensive independent review.

That’s not far enough for some.

Raisman has urged the organization to remove chairman of the board Paul Parilla among others. Biles, like Raisman, wants USA Gymnastics to take a deeper look at the conditions that allowed Nassar’s behavior to run unchecked for so long.

“We need to know why this was able to take place for so long and to so many of us,” Biles said. “We need to make sure something like this never happens again.”

Jamaica qualifies first Olympic women’s bobsled team

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Jamaica, we have a women’s Olympic bobsled team.

Jamaica qualified an Olympic women’s bobsled team for the first time, earning the last quota spot in the PyeongChang field by a slim margin over Romania.

This season, Jazmine Fenlator-Victorian (a 2014 U.S. Olympian) drove the first Jamaican women’s sled in World Cup competition since 2001.

She and brakewoman Carrie Russell debuted in seventh place in December, which put them into Olympic qualifying position. Russell won a 2013 World title in track and field as part of Jamaica’s 4x100m relay.

Fenlator-Victorian and Russell competed in a sled named “Mr. Cool Bolt” after “Cool Runnings” and Usain Bolt, according to International Bobsled and Skeleton Federation announcers.

Eleven Jamaicans have competed at the Winter Olympics — all men. All bobsledders, too, save ski cross racer Errol Kerr in 2010, according to Olympic historians.

Fenlator-Victorian, 32, announced her plan to switch representation to Jamaica (where her father is from) in 2015.

The year before, she finished 11th in her Olympic debut in Sochi with two-time Olympic track and field athlete Lolo Jones.

Jamaica just missed qualifying a two-man bobsled outright for PyeongChang. It is the first alternate if one of the qualified nations returns a quota spot.

The Olympic women’s bobsled medal contenders are American, Canadian and German sleds.

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MORE: Would Usain Bolt make a good bobsledder?

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