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

Lindsey Vonn sets date for proposal to enter men’s race

ALTENMARKT/ZAUCHENSEE, AUSTRIA - JANUARY 15: Lindsey Vonn of USA celebrates during the Audi FIS Alpine Ski World Cup Women's Downhill on January 15, 2017 in Altenmarkt/Zauchensee, Austria (Photo by Christophe Pallot/Agence Zoom/Getty Images)
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The U.S. Ski Team plans to submit a proposal in the spring for Lindsey Vonn to be able to race against men in November 2018, according to the Denver Post.

“I know I’m not going to win, but I would like to at least have the opportunity to try,” Vonn said, according to the newspaper. “I think I’ve won enough World Cups where I should have enough respect within the industry to be able to have that opportunity.”

Vonn’s idea is to race in Lake Louise, Canada, an annual late fall stop on both the men’s and women’s World Cup schedules. The men generally race in Lake Louise one week before the women do.

Vonn’s greatest success has come at Lake Louise, with 18 victories in 41 downhill and super-G starts dating to 2001.

Vonn previously requested in 2012 to be able to race against men in Lake Louise, but that was denied by the International Ski Federation (FIS). The federation said then “that one gender is not entitled to participate in races of the other.”

It doesn’t look like the federation’s stance has changed.

“You can set up a day where a female racer can compete against men racers, just as a show, but it has nothing to do with competition,” FIS women’s race director Atle Skaardal said, according to the Denver Post. “I don’t see that it’s going to change in the next years — no driving forces to urge a change like that. This is something the teams could do also in training. But why would you want to have a competition in this direction?

“I just don’t see the interest. For me it’s a meaningless comparison. It doesn’t matter if she’s one second behind or a half-second ahead. We compete female against female and men against men. To me it doesn’t matter if one gender is faster or slower. It doesn’t mean it’s a good idea, just because it’s of interest to one racer. I haven’t heard of any other sport being dragged into this kind of position.”

Vonn raced for the first time in 322 days on Sunday, finishing 13th in a World Cup downhill in Austria. It was actually an encouraging result, as Vonn said she wasn’t skiing to her limit in her first race back.

Her upcoming goals are to compete in the 2018 Olympics, after missing Sochi due to injury, and earn 11 more World Cup wins to break Ingemar Stenmark‘s career record of 86 victories. She can overtake Stenmark next season if she stays healthy and continues to win at her usual pace.

Vonn said in the spring that she would postpone retirement by one year and compete in the 2018-19 season if it meant being able to race the men.

But Skaardal’s comments suggest that won’t be possible.

“It’s definitely frustrating to hear that he said that, because I respect Atle very much,” Vonn said, according to the Denver Post. “He does a great job on the World Cup, and he is a former racer, so he understands. It’s disappointing to hear he doesn’t support it. But maybe if we organize something and a plan is put in front of him, maybe he would change his mind. I think most of the men are supporting me.”

Vonn is expected to race this weekend in a downhill and super-G in Garmish-Partenkirchen, Germany, streamed live on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

MORE: Bode Miller plans to race next season, U.S. coach says

Wayne Gretzky compares Hayley Wickenheiser to NHL legend

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The greatest male hockey player of all time paid the greatest female player of all time quite the compliment at her retirement ceremony Saturday.

“You played with heart, desire, finesse, speed, skill,” Wayne Gretzky said to Hayley Wickenheiser. “The only other person, the greatest player to ever live, I think he would be happy if I said you were the female Gordie Howe. Congratulations.”

The Canadian legend Wickenheiser announced her retirement Friday, after six Olympics and four gold medals. On Saturday, she was honored before a Calgary Flames-Edmonton Oilers game. A highlight was a speech by Gretzky, who now works in the Oilers’ front office.

Wickenheiser’s first Olympics, Nagano 1998, marked the only Winter Games for Gretzky. Gretzky played in the first Olympics with NHL participation in Nagano, finishing fourth with Canada, and retired in 1999 without an Olympic medal.

“You’ve opened so many doors for so many young girls to be able to one day win a gold medal,” Gretzky said to Wickenheiser. “To me, that’s more important than anything.”

Wickenheiser then took the mic at center ice and reciprocated.

“A big part of why I play the game is because of this man standing right here, Wayne Gretzky,” she said, later adding, according to Canadian media, “In Salt Lake City [2002] when we won the gold medal, the first two people I saw when we stepped off the ice were Wayne and [former Oilers All-Star defenseman] Kevin [Lowe] standing in our dressing room cheering for us.”

As part of the Wickenheiser ceremony, a tribute video was played including messages from Canadian Olympian and Hall of Famer Mark Messier, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

MORE: Amanda Kessel sets sights on 2018 Olympics