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:

Nick Alexander
Nick Fairall
Peter Frenette
Anders Johnson

Sarah Hendrickson
Jessica Jerome
Lindsey Van

Russian men’s ski jump coach against women ski jumping

Mikaela Shiffrin runner-up in World Cup season opener

SOELDEN, AUSTRIA - OCTOBER 22: Mikaela Shiffrin of USA in action during the Audi FIS Alpine Ski World Cup Women's Giant Slalom on October 22, 2016 in Soelden, Austria (Photo by Alexis Boichard/Agence Zoom/Getty Images)
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Mikaela Shiffrin‘s bid for a first outright World Cup giant slalom victory was denied by World Cup overall champion Lara Gut on Saturday, opening what could be a season-long battle between the two.

The Swiss Gut dominated to win the first race in Soelden, Austria, by 1.44 seconds over Shiffrin combining times from two runs. It marked the second-largest women’s margin of victory in Soelden history.

“It’s a big relief to walk away from today with a podium,” Shiffrin said. “It’s always great to win, but I’m starting off on the right foot. I can be happy with that, but I know I can do better.”

Italian Marta Bassino was third. Full results are here.

“I put myself so much under pressure until this morning,” said Gut, who led Shiffrin by 1.42 seconds after the first of two runs. “Sometimes, it’s horrible. You get into the race, and start thinking instead of just skiing. I’m happy I had a fast first run because the second run was just a fight.”

Shiffrin, the youngest Olympic slalom champion, shared victory with Austrian Anna Veith in Soelden in 2014 and finished second to Italian Federica Brignone last year.

Lindsey Vonn and Veith, both coming back from season-ending knee injuries, skipped Soelden.

Gut and Shiffrin could be the top World Cup overall title contenders with Vonn focusing on speed events and Veith’s readiness uncertain. Shiffrin had finished fifth, sixth and fourth in the overall standings before placing 10th last season, when she missed two months due to a right knee injury.

Gut, 25, won six races across four disciplines last season, showing the kind of all-around prowess that Shiffrin can’t yet match. Shiffrin is the world’s best slalom skier and showed she is elite in giant slalom on Saturday, but she has scant experience in downhill, super-G and super combined races.

“Lara’s given us a good pace to chase,” Shiffrin said. “When she comes down, and she’s that far ahead and just taking every gate like it’s the last gate she’s going to ski, it’s really cool to see.”

The men open their season in Soelden on Sunday (4 a.m. and 7 a.m. ET, NBC Sports app; 9:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

The women next race a slalom in Levi, Finland, on Nov. 12.

Shiffrin has won 11 straight slaloms dating to 2015, including her last eight World Cup slaloms, the longest streak since four-time Olympic champion Janica Kostelic won 10 straight from 1999 through 2001.


Ashley Wagner tops Skate America short program

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HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. (AP) — Ashley Wagner topped the Skate America short program Friday night with 69.50 points, building on her second-place finish from last season’s world championships.

Japan’s Mai Mihara, making her Grand Prix Series debut at 17, was second at 65.75, and U.S. champion Gracie Gold third at 64.87.

The free skate will determine the champion Saturday at Sears Centre Arena (live on NBC and the NBC Sports app at 4:30 p.m. ET). Full results are here.

Wagner performed with a fierce and determined style, delivering a technically solid and entertaining program to “Sweet Dreams” by the Eurhythmics.

“I capitalized on the momentum (from worlds) going into the summer,” said Wagner, the 2012 Skate America winner. “It inspired me to train even harder than I had been because it showed me that my training got me onto that podium. It motivated me and made it a realistic goal to get onto that Olympic podium, and I can almost taste it. It’s a totally new season. I’m hopefully a different athlete from that Worlds event and I think it’s just about building on that from here on out.”

Mihara fell during her warmup, which she said relaxed her during her performance.

“I think for my first Grand Prix event, I did a good job,” she said.

Gold, coming off a disappointing fourth-place finish in the world championships, fell on her triple flip, but otherwise was solid in her performance to a tango.

“I had a hiccup on the triple flip, but I went after everything,” Gold said. “I just need to keep working on the program and just keep getting it out there.”

Gold said the months after the world championships were difficult and affected her training.

“It was a pretty hard summer,” she said. “I had trouble getting going and getting my feet under me for some reason. I felt I had let myself down. No one else felt the intense shame that I felt, but it was just so internal that I had trouble getting back out there. But as soon as I got the momentum going, I’ve been feeling excellent.”

Three-time World champion Mao Asada of Japan, hampered by a knee injury, was fifth.

In pairs, Russia’s Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov took a commanding lead program with a score of 75.24. Americans Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier, who missed last season with a knee injury to Denney, were second at 67.29, and Canadians Julianne Seguin and Charlie Bilodeau followed at 66.49.

Tarasova and Morozov, fifth at the world championships, received high marks on their opening triple twist as well as their lifts, spins and footwork.

“Today we have a short program we did well,” Morozov said. “We have a personal best and were glad to have this moment.”

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