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 throughout her 2018 Olympic journey.
In February of 2017, I was elected by my fellow women ski jumpers around the world to be the International Ski Federation (FIS) athlete representative for my discipline. There are 11 of us total, one male and one female for each sport (excluding female Nordic combined since it is not at the world cup level.) I feel like I have a very good relationship with all of the other women ski jumpers around the world and I value the friendships I have earned with them. Nonetheless, I was surprised, yet ecstatic, when I was appointed the role. My term for this position is two years, although I am going up for reelection in February of 2019. As of now, I have been to two global meetings, one last spring in Slovenia and also this May in Greece.
I know the general consensus: the athlete population tends to have frustration with FIS and they always seem to look like the bad guy. I once shared this assumption, as I was a part of a sport that was denied for years, as women ski jumpers were long unable to compete at the same level as men.
However, what I love about my position is that I have the opportunity to learn about this organization and the process it takes for these winter sports to run successfully. Now, I will not say it is perfect, as no organizations are, but I definitely appreciate the working hands and minds it takes to run competitions now more than ever.
This year, our FIS meetings were held at a beautiful beachside resort on the western side of Greece. Surrounded by clear water and hot sand, it was a fantastic place to add to my country list, being the 27th country I have visited in my life. I was fortunate enough to explore the area, but meetings were of course the focus. I could bore you with the fine details of the brisk, air-conditioned room where the ski jumping meeting (joint male and female) was held, but I will do my best to sum up the general discussion.
These meetings host an elected leader from each ski jumping nation, as a representative to speak through various discussions in the meetings. We were all surrounding a round (more rectangular in this situation**) table for the three-hour morning and three-hour afternoon sessions. The big proposal for this coming season was the introduction of more women’s large hill events, following the men to certain locations. This has been my dream for as long as I can remember. Back in 2013, when I won in Holmenkollen, Oslo, Norway, we had our competition sandwiched with the men. I will never forget flying into the stadium (yes, literally, this is ski jumping) where 50,000 people cheered in the stands as I landed my winning jump.
When this change takes place, the format will be different, but the progression to add almost 10 large hill events is huge for women’s ski jumping. The discussion, with me being one of the three females in the room, was slightly difficult. It was taxing to try to convince some to allow us to do this. There were multiple times when I needed to speak up and ensure that we are continuing to grow and progress as a female sport. For example, with the introduction of large hills, coaches will make more time to train on large hills, which will enhance technique for us females on both the smaller and larger hills. Thankfully, in the end, the schedule was approved, and women will be flying farther than ever this winter. This is a long time coming and a huge progression to what hopefully ends with a large hill event in future Olympics.
In addition to these FIS meetings, I was invited by the Secretary General of FIS to go to Beijing, China with the International Olympic Committee. While in China, I was a part of the PyeongChang debrief session to prepare future host cities for the Games. I talked on a panel with a Paralympic athlete from Norway who has competed in the last winter AND summer Games. This alone shows just how much of an honor it was to be invited. We talked about our childhood dreams of becoming an Olympian/Paralympian and the hours and years of hard work it takes to compete on the world stage. People from around the world from places like Tokyo, preparing for the 2020 Games, to athletes who competed for Iran in badminton, listened in on the panel – all sharing this common love of sport.
These moments and memories will forever make me thankful for the opportunities that my sport has given me. A decade ago, I had no idea where my hard work would take me, as I only dreamed of being at the top of podiums and competing in the Olympic Games. But, at the end of the day, the people I meet are way more valuable and priceless than I could have ever imagined.
Thank you to everyone who has followed me through my journey of competing in two Olympic Games. There has been a lot of hard times with surgeries and poor results, but your support reminds me why I train so hard every day. Never forget to work hard and appreciate that work regardless of results.