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|There is no timetable yet for Sarah Hendrickson's return.|
PARK CITY, Utah -- Every veteran on the U.S. women's ski jumping team has had multiple surgeries that kept them off their beloved hills, and they all can relate to the tunnel reigning world champion Sarah Hendrickson is about to enter. They kept her in their thoughts -- and texts and calls -- as they went about their business last week, and said they're confident she'll tackle the passage with the right energy.
"Never met an athlete that young, that talented, that smart, that driven, who knows what she's doing," said 2009 world champion Lindsey Van, who is 10 years older than Hendrickson and informally coached her during an injury layoff of her own one summer when Hendrickson was still a kid club jumper.
Hendrickson won the 2012 World Cup overall title and was a favorite to medal at the 2014 Sochi Games before a training jump went bad earlier this month. She underwent a three-pronged surgery last Thursday after tearing up her right knee on Aug. 21 in Oberstdorf, Germany. U.S. Ski team physician Dr. Andrew Cooper repaired her MCL and meniscus and reconstructed her ACL. Team officials declined to outline any specific timetable for her possible return.
Three-time Olympian and head coach Alan Alborn said Hendrickson should benefit from previous experience with the tedious process of rehab. She had surgery to repair microfractures on her other knee in April 2012 and could not put any weight on it for six weeks. Hendrickson had to rebuild atrophied muscle before she could even resume regular dry land workouts, but was back to jump training by September. "Five jumps later, I knew she was good to compete," Alborn said.
Alborn was careful not to compare the two injuries or make any predictions about how Hendrickson might progress over the next few months. But he and the other jumpers have all known her since she was a little girl and said they are certain of one thing: Her attitude. "If they say she can jump in January, that's when she'll be jumping," said teammate Abby Hughes.
Can Hendrickson be fit enough to compete in Sochi, where women's ski jumping is on the program for the first time in history? The answer is several months away, and will be contingent not only on her physical recovery but on team selection procedures. The United States, with one of the world's strongest athlete pools, will send four jumpers to the Winter Games in February. The winner of the U.S. Olympic trials on Dec. 29 qualifies automatically. Three others will earn berths based on World Cup results. All Olympic sports have a procedure for injured athletes to request a discretionary slot.