World champion ski jumper Sarah Hendrickson made her way through interviews at the U.S. Olympic media summit via cane and wheelchair Tuesday, her right knee in a massive black brace due to an Aug. 21 crash in Germany.
She underwent reconstructive knee surgery on Aug. 29 to repair a torn ACL, MCL and meniscus, and the U.S. Ski Team did not give a timetable for her return. There is doubt whether Hendrickson, 19, will be ready for the first Olympic women’s ski jumping competition Feb. 11.
“It was pretty devastating, I won’t sugarcoat it,” Hendrickson told reporters of her crash, where she jumped a personal record 148 meters off a 120-meter hill (larger than the normal women’s hills).
Hendrickson said her goal is to be back jumping by January and to walk in the opening ceremony, but she acknowledged it’s not a definite.
“Obviously I know that if my doctors tell me that I’m not ready or I don’t pass my testing results — stuff like that — and I know it’s a possibility, I won’t jump,” Hendrickson, who also had major left knee surgery in 2012, said, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
She’s spending six hours per day in physical therapy at the U.S. Ski Team’s Center of Excellence in her hometown of Park City, Utah, according to the newspaper. The knee brace comes off next week, and she’s working with a sports psychologist to calm potential fears over landing on the reconstructed knee when she comes back, according to ESPN.com.
Her fight to make it to the Olympics brings to mind the fight women’s ski jumpers waged for Olympic inclusion, finally getting into the Games in 2011.
“In the beginning, it’s very hard to stay positive,” Hendrickson said, according to the Deseret News. “Half of you, you just want to give up. But that’s against my nature.”
Hendrickson and Japan’s Sara Takanashi, 16, have a growing rivalry going. Hendrickson edged Takanashi for the World Championship on Feb. 22, but Takanashi beat out Hendrickson for the 2012-13 season World Cup title.
The U.S. Olympic team will be composed of four women. The winner at the Olympic trials from Dec. 28-29 in Park City, 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 team is expected to include veterans Lindsey Van, Jessica Jerome and Abby Hughes, the other top three U.S. women in the World Cup standings the last two seasons and the 2013 World Championships. Van and Jerome are outside medal threats.
Alissa Johnson was the only other U.S. woman to score World Cup points last season.
But 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.