By Sarah Hendrickson, 2013 Ski Jumping World Champion | Jan. 10, 2018, 4:06 p.m. (ET)

Sarah Hendrickson celebrates after winning the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Ski Jumping at Utah Olympic Park on Dec. 31, 2017 in Park City, Utah.

 

Sarah Hendrickson is one of the most decorated female ski jumpers in history. The 22-year-old has 25 world cup podiums to her name, including 13 wins. Hendrickson is the 2013 world champion and in 2014 became the first woman ever to jump at the Olympics. She is blogging for TeamUSA.org as she attempts to make history at a second Olympic Winter Games in 2018.

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It is hard to explain the weekend I had qualifying for my second Olympic team. After a very difficult start to the world cup season, my expectations were quite low going into this qualifying event. After coming home with many frustrated, tearful days, it was time to reset. I needed to adjust equipment and find my confidence again. For myself, finally not having the jarring knee pain anymore, I was frustrated that my jumping wasn’t improving with my ability to train more.

I always imagined that the day my knee was not in excruciating pain, my jumping would improve as well. I was wrong. But with the help of my home coach, some equipment testing with beautiful, soulful jumps at home, the enjoyment and technique slowly came back.

The U.S. Olympic Team Trials was placed right in the middle of Christmas and New Years; the perfect time for the spectators but a difficult time as an athlete. My Christmas was far from relaxing but I still found a way to train alone without open gyms. Christmas cookies and filling dishes were put on hold as I maintained my normal, healthy diet in order to stay in shape. It definitely was not easy, and while this is normally a time to relax, I was preparing for the biggest competition of my life.

I honestly never expected to win. I believed in myself just enough to know that I could win and proceed with confidence. The other girls on my team have been jumping quite well and having five girls on a similar level, I knew it would be close. However, I accepted the fact that I can only control my jumps, and whatever they do I cannot control. I have been working with a sports psychologist for years and trying to dial in my confidence and trust on the ski jump. Everything from my knee, to self-doubt to low self-confidence has been hindering my performance for a long time. The task of pinpointing competition thoughts and dialing in nerve and pressure management has been difficult, thus being a focus for this competition.

My goal on Sunday: Smile. Have fun. Enjoy the moment. As an American ski jumper, we never get to compete in front of a home crowd. Therefore, standing on top of the ski jump and looking down at my hometown of Park City, Utah, 7,000 people filing in, warmed my heart in every way. This was the community that has supported not only myself but hundreds of professional athletes over the years. That alone made me happy.

 

Sarah Hendrickson celebrates on the medals podium after winning the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Ski Jumping at Utah Olympic Park on Dec. 31, 2017 in Park City, Utah.

 

Enjoying the moment, keeping thoughts simple and accepting nerves as excitement was what got me through my jumps on New Year’s Eve. I was so nervous but finally was able to use that energy in a positive manner, versus hindering my performance. After my first jump and going into the lead I had finally proved to myself that I could have good jumps in competition. I finally remembered how to manage nerves and just enjoy that feeling of flying. At the top of the jump for the next round, I gave my longtime teammate, roommate and power buddy a high five, knowing that her goal that day was to have fun as well, a sign to just enjoy and show the crowd what we are made of.

Just when I thought I would not have anymore distractions, another teammate fell just two jumpers before me. She had been jumping amazingly and I first heard the crowd roar and then the sound of crickets. She had gone down, the first time I have ever seen her fall. Ever. As she received help from medics, the time ticks away waiting at the top.

Suit and boots already on tight, feet going numb and mind starting to turn on a hamster wheel. Concern flashed through my head, hoping she is okay and then realizing that I still had to perform myself. Watching a jumper go down is always very tough, specifically when you can see it is a knee injury, something I have gone through six times.

After what seemed like an eternity, we were cleared to go. I cannot tell you exactly what happened that final jump as I dropped into the mindset of “autopilot” but when I landed, I had a feeling it had been enough to win. Coming to a stop with my hands over my mouth, I looked first at the scoreboard and then my teammates running towards me. I had done it. I was going to the Olympics for the second time. After four years of defeat, finally tears of happiness streamed down my face.

Many people have not seen me since Sochi, and it only got harder from there. My knee controlling my training and life, it felt like my world was ending most days. Years of a lot of sadness and grit to get out of bed each morning. Winning is far from everything but this win gave me confidence in hard work. So many times I thought about giving up, walking away, but something deep inside told me to keep going. Things happen for a reason, but only if you work hard. Success is no accident.

 

See you in Korea,

Sarah Hendrickson

Sarah Hendrickson reacts after her final jump at the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Ski Jumping at Utah Olympic Park on Dec. 31, 2017 in Park City, Utah.