Sarah Hendrickson is one of the most decorated female ski jumpers in the sport. However the 23-year-old was unable to make the podium in Pyeongchang, finishing 19th in women’s ski jumping. Her other successes on the slopes include being a three-time U.S. National Champion and five-time member of the World Championship Team. Hendrickson has also reached 23 World Cup podiums in her career.
Off the slopes, Hendrickson has suffered the same fate as many other athletes in her sport, injuries. The rigorous toll ski jumping takes on the body has not spared Hendrickson, who has suffered two torn ACLs and a torn MCL in the past five years. Because of those injuries, the 2018 games could be Hendrickson’s last.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Hendrickson is a Two-Time Olympian
Just six month after tearing both her ACL and MCL, Hendrickson fought back from injury to finish 21st in Sochi. Despite not making the podium, she still made history, becoming the first woman to ever ski jump at the Olympics. The 2014 games were the first to include ski jumping as an event. Hendrickson drew the top spot in the draw which gave her the opportunity to be first out of the gates.
Hendrickson slightly improved her performance four years later in Pyeongchang, placing 19th overall. After an underwhelming first jump, Hendrickson bounced back with an 88-meter jump which briefly placed her atop the leaderboard, but she would eventually fade.
“It’s definitely not what you dream about, but I have to walk away proud,” Hendrickson told NBC. “It’s an honor to become a two-time Olympian.”
2. Women’s Ski Jumping is Still in It’s Olympic Infancy
Ski jumping debuted as a men’s sport when the Winter Olympics began in 1924. Nine decades later, in 2011, the IOC announced that women’s ski jumping would be added to the 2014 Sochi Olympic Winter Games program. Despite the addition, the women are still at a disadvantage, having just one opportunity to medal in the normal hill event. Meanwhile the men have three events (normal hill, large hill, and team competition).
According to the official Team USA Women’s Ski Jumping website, advocates for the sport continue to lobby for Olympic officials to add more women’s events to the Olympic program.
In 2006, eight years before the official inclusion of women’s ski jumping, a young Hendrickson expressed her interest in jumping in the Olympics one day and declared that “girls are exactly like boys”. Ironically enough, Hendrickson became the first women to ever jump off an Olympic ski ramp at the 2014 games in Sochi.
3. She is Considering Retirement After the 2018 Games
The disappointing finish in Pyeongchang could cloud her decision-making process, but Hendrickson is definitely pondering hanging up her skis. “I definitely need to take a break and re-assess to find out if I want to continue with the sport,” she told NBC.
Hendrickson’s biggest concern is living without pain, a difficult task already if you take into account her multiple knee surgeries in the last five years including two ACL tears. She expects to make a retirement decision by the spring. Meanwhile fellow female ski jumper Abby Ringquist has already announced her retirement. The 29-year-old made an emotional post on Instagram the night before her final jumps in Pyeongchang.
4. Her Boyfriend is Also an Olympic Skier
Torin Yater-Wallace will compete in the freestyle skiing event for Team USA. The two started dating after the Sochi Olympics, according to SI.com. Similar to Hendrickson, Yater-Wallace faced his own health challenges. In 2015, while Hendrickson was rehabbing one of her knee surgeries, Yater-Wallace was recovering from a liver and gall bladder infection which threatened to take his life.
“It was a really tough time when he was sick and I was recovering from another ACL injury,” Hendrickson told SI.com. “But that was like the longest time we got to spend together. To have somebody that understands and that gets you and just I don’t know, supports you through that really hard time, is amazing.”
Before Hendrickson’s jumps in Pyeongchang she didn’t receive any special words of encouragement from her boyfriend. “We just have that common language,” she told SI.com. “He is always proud of me regardless of what I do, and vice versa. That’s amazing to have at the bottom of the hill.”
5. Ski Jumping Runs in Her Family
Hendrickson’s father, Bill, and brother were both ski jumpers. Born and raised in the ski town of Park City, Utah, Hendrickson grew up on the slopes and was on skis by the age of two, according to her Team USA Nordic bio. Hendrickson also got into ski jumping because of her brother. After watching him do it for two years she decided to try it herself and had instant success.
As a seven-year-old in 2002, Hendrickson watched the Winter Olympics near her hometown in Salt Lake City, fueling her motivation to become an Olympian. Eight years later she became the first American athlete to medal at a Junior World Championship event, winning bronze. She won silver at the World Juniors two years later, propelling her international career. According to her Olympic bio, Hendrickson’s other hobbies include running, biking, yoga and pilates.