(News Senior Sports Columnist Jerry Sullivan is profiling U.S. athletes leading up to the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, which begin Feb. 7)
Before she was 10 years old, Hendrickson was on posters hailing her as "The Future of Women's Ski Jumping." Hendrickson, 19, lived up to that lofty promise two years ago when she won the first women's World Cup. Last year, she won nine of 13 World Cup events and became the world champion.
Hendrickson was seen as the top U.S. hope for gold medal in the 2014 Olympics, which will be the first time women are allowed to take part in the event. The sport had closed its doors to females for two centuries. But in 2008, women from five countries filed a discrimination suit against the organizers of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, seeking the right to compete. In time, the IOC relented.
Last August, Hendrickson overjumped a hill and tore up her right knee while training in Germany. She tore the ACL and MCL and figured the worst.
"I laid at the bottom of the hill and thought everything was over," said Hendrickson, a native of Salt Lake City. "My dreams of being an Olympian were over."
Hendrickson spent five months, rehabbing six to eight hours a day, to come back. She called it the hardest thing she ever had to do. But last month, she resumed jumping on the 90-meter hill in Utah and was named to the first U.S. women's team later in January.
While Hendrickson was rehabbing, Japan's 17-year-old Sara Takanashi was winning eight of nine World Cup events and establishing herself as the favorite for gold in Russia. It remains to be seen whether Hendrickson will be able to perform at an elite level in what has been dubbed as "The Sara of the East vs. the Sarah of the West" in Sochi.