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PARK CITY, Utah -- Ski jumping world champion Sarah Hendrickson, grounded by a crash landing on a spectacular training jump in August, said she is confident she will be fit enough to jump by mid-January and hopes to make the Olympic team.
Hendrickson, 19, spoke to reporters at the Olympic Media Summit in her hometown with her right leg propped up on a chair and encased in a heavy brace. That encumbrance will come off next week, six weeks after she underwent surgery to reconstruct her anterior cruciate ligament and repair the medial collateral ligament and meniscus.
"It was pretty devastating, I won't sugarcoat it," Hendrickson said of her crash in Oberstdorf, Germany. She was training on the 120-meter jump and sailed 148 meters, but any satisfaction with the length of her trip quickly faded as she lay in the outrun area trying to assess the damage. "Everything crossed my mind from losing sponsors to not making the team to blah, blah, blah,'' she said.
"Half of you wants to give up," Hendrickson added, but noted that is not in her nature after growing up in a sport whose participants had to fight simply to get onto the Olympic program. Women's ski jumping will debut at the Winter Games in Sochi after years of bureaucratic and legal wrangling.
The U.S. team, arguably the strongest overall in the world, will send four women. One slot will go to the winner of the Olympic trials to be held in late December in Park City and the others are slated to be selected on the basis of World Cup results, although coaches' discretion could come into play. All Olympic sports have a procedure for athletes whose preparation is interrupted by injury to request a berth.
Hendrickson said she's confident she'll be fit, and predicted the biggest obstacle she could face is anxiety about landing. She is working with a sports psychologist to head that off and help visualize success during what is necessarily a tedious rehabilitation process.
She has been down that road before, after having microfractures in knee cartilage repaired in 2012. That actually required a more involved recovery -- six months -- than her recent surgery because Hendrickson had to wait longer to do weight-bearing exercise than she will this time. She's already in the gym from 11 to 5 daily doing core and upper body work and physical therapy.
"Muscle memory never goes away," said Hendrickson. She estimated that she has done 12,000 jumps over the course of her precocious career, which includes the 2012 overall World Cup championship.
"I want so badly to walk into the Opening Ceremony. That's what's getting me up in the morning."