Ski Jump Champion Takes Her Impeccable Style To Sochi

Sarah Hendrickson is 19 years old and the reigning world champ in women's ski jumping. She's coming back from a severe knee injury. NPR's Rachel Martin talks to Hendrickson about her Olympic goals.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. For 90 years, Olympic officials barred women from competing in the ski jumping event. Over the years, there have been several reasons given for the ban. For example, women were told that the female body wasn't strong enough to take the strain of repeated jumps; even that it might affect their ability to have children. But in a few weeks, women will have their chance to compete for the first time ever at the Sochi Winter Olympics. And the Americans will boast a team that includes the current ski jumping world champ, 19-year-old Sarah Hendrickson. When we caught up with her slope-side in Park City, Utah, I started out by asking her how her recovery from a severe knee injury was going.

SARAH HENDRICKSON: It's been going really well actually. I've been jumping now for two weeks. And, obviously, the knee is still a little bit sore at the end of the day but, I mean, nothing too bad. And, yeah, I'm looking forward to the weeks ahead.

MARTIN: So, let's talk about this sport. For most of us watching, the thought of doing what you do - soaring through the air on a couple of plastic sticks essentially at 60 to 70 miles per hour - I mean, that can make a lot of us break into a cold sweat. It sounds horrifying. Can you walk us through what happens during a jump? I mean, what's going through your head and what are all the little adjustments that you have to make along the way?

HENDRICKSON: Yeah. Well, I have been ski jumping for 12 years now, so I've taken about 10,000 to 12,000 ski jumps on all different size of hills.

MARTIN: Wait. Since you were 7 years old, Sarah?

HENDRICKSON: Yeah, I started when I was 7. Yeah, so now for me it's just a routine and I don't really think about the crazy aspects of it. Just 'cause you start so small and gradually build up and learn the techniques one by one. But, yeah, so you get in that interim position, let go of the bar and you're going about 60 miles an hour, like you said. And then you get into your fly position and fly about a football field in the air with, yeah, just skis on your feet. It's pretty crazy but it is the best feeling in the world.

MARTIN: What are you looking at?

HENDRICKSON: I mean, it kind of changes and you have to adjust your head angle and all that. But once you get into the air you're pulling and pulling for that flat landing, I guess.

MARTIN: When you say you're pulling, what does that mean essentially? You're stretching your body? Or what are you pulling?

HENDRICKSON: Yeah, stretching your body - it's kind of hard to imagine - but you pull with your hips and kind of with your head. It's something that you work on over the years and it's crazy from an outsider's point of view. But it's very technical.

MARTIN: And even though on TV it looks like you're just like a bird flying at such huge heights - you're really only ever 10 to 12 feet off the ground.

HENDRICKSON: Yeah. We're mainly just going really fast. So, a lot of people think we're really high off the ground but we fly with the contour of the hill.

MARTIN: So, this has been a boy's game, a men's world up until now. This is the first time women will get to compete in this sport in the Olympics. That's got to be a cool thing for you.

HENDRICKSON: It's really exciting for sure. Lindsey Van and Jessica Jerome and a lot of other women ski jumpers around the world have fought so hard for this. I was a little bit too young to be involved in the fight, so I'm really thankful for all the hard work that they've put into paying the way for me. And I'm privileged to walk into the opening ceremonies with those two by my side.

MARTIN: Olympic ski jumper Sarah Hendrickson in Park City, Utah getting ready for the Sochi Games. Sarah, thanks so much for talking with us and good luck.

HENDRICKSON: Yeah, no problem. Thank you.

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