Sarah Hendrickson

Sarah Hendrickson, Lindsey Van added to U.S. Olympic Ski Jumping Team

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Sarah Hendrickson reached her goal, making the first U.S. Olympic women’s ski jumping team five months after blowing out her right knee in a training crash.

Hendrickson and Lindsey Van joined Olympic Trials winner Jessica Jerome on the U.S. Olympic Team announced Wednesday. A fourth woman could be added later this week if other countries don’t fill their quotas.

Women’s ski jumping will debut at the Olympics after a decade-long fight for inclusion.

“All of these girls … deserve a medal for what they’ve done for the sport,” U.S. coach Alan Alborn said.

The men’s team is Olympic Trials winner Nick Fairall, 2010 Olympians Nick Alexander and Peter Frenette and 2006 and 2010 Olympian Anders Johnson.

Hendrickson, 19, tore the ACL, MCL and meniscus in her right knee in an Aug. 21 crash in Germany that left her in tears. She underwent surgery Aug. 29.

“When I crashed back in August, I laid at the bottom of the hill and thought everything was over,” Hendrickson said. “My dreams of being an Olympian were over.”

She gained hope after consulting with doctors in the U.S. that she could return in time for Sochi.

“I decided to put my head down and work as hard as I could every single day until this day so that I could make my dreams come true,” Hendrickson said.

She showed up to the U.S. Olympic Media Summit in early October with a massive black brace stabilizing her leg. She walked without encumbrance by the end of October and has been jumping in training the last two weeks in Utah.

“Sarah has distinguished herself over the past three seasons as one of the world’s top competitors,” U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association executive vice president Luke Bodensteiner said. “Her accident in August prevented her from competing in the World Cup, but her subsequent rehab was effective, she’s maintained a high level of fitness and her return to the jumping hill has shown us that she’s ready to compete at the top end of her sport.”

At her best, the world champion Hendrickson is considered a gold-medal threat to Japan’s Sara Takanashi, who is 17 and has won eight of nine World Cup events this season.

“Sara’s jumping at a very high level right now,” said Hendrickson, who has watched competitions despite being sidelined. “It’s really hard to say what’s going to happen [in Sochi]. I know what types of jumps I have, but I have no idea how they compare to her right now. … I’ll definitely have to show up on my best day to put a competition to her because she’s jumping very well.”

Van, 29, was one of the women who spearheaded the  fight for inclusion in the Olympics. She is the 2009 world champion.

“It’s definitely been an emotional roller coaster,” Van said of the long road to the Olympics. “I can’t say that we’ve gotten off it yet.”

There is one women’s event compared to three men’s events in Sochi, including a team event.

A U.S. men’s ski jumper hasn’t won a World Cup medal since 1991 nor placed in the top 10 of an Olympic event since 1988.

That likely won’t change in Sochi, where the medal favorites hail from Austria, Germany, Norway, Poland and Switzerland.

Here is the U.S. Olympic Ski Jumping Team:

Men
Nick Alexander
Nick Fairall
Peter Frenette
Anders Johnson

Women
Sarah Hendrickson
Jessica Jerome
Lindsey Van

Russian men’s ski jump coach against women ski jumping

Haven Denney, Brandon Frazier win U.S. pairs title after year off

Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier perform in the championship pairs short program during the U.S. Figure Skating Championships Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
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KANSAS CITY — Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier returned from a year off to win their first U.S. pairs title on Saturday, despite an error-prone free skate and against a field lacking any previous U.S. champion teams.

Denney and Frazier jumped from second after the short program to total 188.32 points and win by 2.04 over Sochi Olympian Marissa Castelli and Mervin Tran. Denney and Frazier’s total score was 23.33 points fewer than last year’s winning score.

Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc, who led by 3.96 after the short program, had a strong free skate going until a fall on their throw triple Lutz and finished third Saturday.

Full results are here.

Denney and Frazier were the top U.S. pair in the fall international season by 16 points, taking a silver medal at Skate America.

But Denney struggled on landings in the short program, her right leg wrapped after blowing out her right knee in spring 2015 that caused them to miss the entire 2015-16 season. They also had multiple jumping errors in their free skate, but, unlike the rest of the top five, stayed on their feet Saturday.

“We’re trying harder elements, harder jumps, bigger throws, bigger twists,” Frazier said. “What you see is a couple of ups and downs. This is all building for the next season.”

The U.S. will send two pairs to the world championships in Helsinki in two months, but not definitively the top two finishers from Saturday. The world championships pairs teams will be named Sunday.

Denney and Frazier finished 12th at the 2015 Worlds, after placing second at that year’s U.S. Championships. Castelli and Tran, in their second year as a pair, have no worlds experience together and are ineligible for the 2018 Olympics. Tran, born in Canada, is not a U.S. citizen.

Pairs is the U.S.’ weakest discipline. The last U.S. pair to earn an Olympic or world medal was Kyoka Ina and John Zimmerman at the 2002 Worlds. Eight different pairs have won the last nine U.S. titles.

In 2016, the U.S. pairs finished ninth and 13th at worlds, but both of those teams are out due to injuries.

Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim, the top U.S. pair in international competition in recent seasons, has been out of competition all season due to her September stomach surgery. They have returned to full training.

The Knierims filed a petition to be named to the world championships team, which is selected on a discretionary basis on results from the U.S. Championships and other recent competitions.

“Whatever they decide,” Tran said of a U.S. Figure Skating selection committee, “we’re all for that.”

The 2016 U.S. champions Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea withdrew before the free skate Saturday after Kayne suffered a concussion in a short-program fall. They placed fifth in the short program.

The U.S. Championships continue Saturday night with the women’s free skate (8 p.m. ET, NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Check out NBCsports.com/USFIGS for all-access coverage all weekend.

VIDEO: Tara Lipinski reflects on 1997 U.S. title at age 14

U.S. Championships Pairs
GOLD: Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier — 188.32
SILVER: Marissa Castelli/Mervin Tran — 186.28
BRONZE: Ashley Cain/Timothy LeDuc — 184.41

4. Deanna Stellato/Nathan Bartholomay — 173.50
5. Jessica Pfund/Joshua Santillan — 168.90

Tara Lipinski reflects on winning 1997 U.S. title at age 14

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Tara Lipinski says she can remember everything about the 1997 U.S. Championships, when she became the youngest national champion at age 14.

The victory 20 years ago helped catapult her to become the youngest individual Winter Olympic champion of all time a year later.

“It changed my life in that moment [in 1997],” said Lipinski, now an NBC Olympics analyst. “That was when you talk about peaking at the right time. I knew when I stepped off the ice as a national champion, I can be Olympic champion.”

In 1996, Lipinski finished third at age 13 at the U.S. Championships behind Michelle Kwan, who won the first of her nine U.S. titles. Lipinski then struggled at the world championships, taking 15th, while Kwan won.

So Lipinski was certainly not the favorite going into the 1997 U.S. Championships in Nashville.

But she delivered an unforgettable performance, landing seven triple jumps in her free skate, including the first triple loop-triple loop combination, to surpass the short program leader Kwan, who fell twice in her free skate.

“I always got very nervous,” Lipinski said. “Now to be a broadcaster on live television, I always wonder, why do I pick these professions where there’s a lot of pressure? It’s because I love it, and I thrive under it. Looking back then, it was interesting to look back and remember how nervous I was and then that relief and that pure joy. Then realizing what happened in the next year, and how I was able to get to the point that I did still gives me chills. I have to sort of pinch myself.”

For perspective on how long ago that victory was, check out this story from the Chicago Tribune:

Within an hour of Tara Lipinski’s victory at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships Saturday night, a “media alert” was on the information table in the press room at the Nashville Arena to announce Lipinski’s site on the Internet.

“Visit America’s hottest sensation at `www.TaraLipinski.com’ ” said the press release from the skater’s agency, Edge Marketing. “Visitors can dive inside Tara’s life by checking out her biography, famiily life stories and other fun facts about Tara (i.e., which of Tara’s talents might pose a threat to Martha Stewart?).”

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