- Associated Press - Saturday, January 25, 2014

Five months ago, American ski jumper Sarah Hendrickson crashed in a training session, tearing the ACL and MCL off the bone, along with damaging 80 percent of her meniscus.

No way to be back in time for the Sochi Games, right?

Turns out, Hendrickson’s a very fast healer.

The 19-year-old from Park City, Utah, had surgery to repair her right knee on Aug. 29, returned to jumping on Jan. 11 and was named to the U.S. team earlier this week as women’s ski jumping makes its Olympics debut. Lindsey Van and Jessica Jerome also made the squad.

“It’s a miracle, kind of,” Hendrickson said of her quick return. “You never know how your body is going to react to that. Luckily, my body responded well. I was able to get strength back and everything working again.”

Hendrickson, the reigning world champion, has no time to squeeze in any competitions before the Olympics begin. That’s all right, Hendrickson said, she’s still confident. After all, she’s won 13 World Cup events since 2011 and figures to be in the medal mix in Russia.

First, though, she had to get over the mental barrier of her crash, which happened in Germany when she overshot her intended landing area. On her first jump back, Hendrickson stared down the hill in Park City, trying to calm her emotions.

“Sitting there, the doubts just run through your head. Everything from, ‘Do I remember how to ski jump?’ to ‘Is my ACL going to completely pop when I land?’” said Hendrickson, who spent nearly six hours a day in the gym getting her knee back into shape. “But I had to be confident that the hard training would pay off. I had to trust that.”

She landed that first jump just fine, like she has countless times before.

Instantly, her confidence was restored.

“I was like, ‘OK, now I can do my normal thing,’” said Hendrickson, who recently appeared in a commercial for Visa ahead of the Sochi Games that’s already garnered more than 1.5 million hits on YouTube.

Her goal, as she recovered, was simply to be in a position to make the team. She was added to the squad after a promising return to jumping and on the strength of her resume.

Sarah has done an outstanding job of taking baby steps every day. She has exceeded everyone’s expectations and continues to do so,” head coach Alan Alborn said.

As for her medal chances, well, don’t discount them.

“I’m going to Sochi to compete,” Hendrickson said, “and whenever I compete, I compete to win.”


NO VONN IN SOCHI: Defending downhill Olympic champion Lindsey Vonn ended any speculation that she might show up in Russia by sending a tweet from her Twitter account that read, “I won’t be in Sochi but I will be rooting for Team USA all the way!”

Vonn recently underwent another surgery to fix her right knee. She initially tore two ligaments in her knee during a high-speed crash at the world championships last February. Vonn then re-injured her surgically repaired ACL in a crash during training in November. She tried to rehab the knee in time for Sochi, but sprained her MCL racing a downhill in France on Dec. 21.

U.S. speed coach Chip White likes the idea of Vonn laying low and just recuperating.

“Stay home and take care of herself,” he said, “because we’re looking forward to having her return.”


SECURITY CONCERNS: International Skating Union President Ottavio Cinquanta, who’s also a member of the International Olympic Committee, said he was “more than confident” about the security conditions in Sochi.

“We do believe that the Russians will do the utmost in order to conduct adequately this Olympic Winter Games,” Cinquanta said in Budapest, Hungary, during last week’s European figure skating championships.

At the same time, Cinquanta, who has led the ISU since 1994, said that while security at the athletes’ residence and the venues was “strong,” skating officials had no power over the transit zone between the two.

“We are not in a position to give any guarantee or any comment regarding something that could happen in between, when moving from one site to another site,” he said. “We can ask that in the hotel and the place where (there) are the events, security is strong, but to ask the ISU what happens between the two events, it is not easy.”


MORE SECURITY CONCERNS: U.S. ice dancer Evan Bates is aware of the security issues surrounding the Sochi Games. He simply can’t let them interfere in his preparation.

Bates and partner Madison Chock, the national runners-up to world champions and Olympic favorites Meryl Davis and Charlie White, read and hear the news. They’re hardly in a cocoon.

“This is the most special time of our lives as athletes,” Bates said on a conference call. “We want the most positive things coming our way. Not that we are ignoring the reality, but we are so focused on our training and preparation. Our families will be traveling with us and this is a very special moment for them.

“We will not be focused on (security). We have trust in the USOC and in the Russian government. We hope nothing of that nature will happen. It is something we don’t want to be losing sleep over.”


PREPPING FOR COLD: Even if the weather in Sochi might not feel appropriate for the “winter” part of a Winter Olympics - the temperature has been around 50 degrees (10 Celsius) in the city lately - it will be colder at altitude in the mountains, where the Alpine skiing takes place.

And zipping down a slope at upward of 65 mph only adds to the chill for the athletes. So they’ll be prepared, especially for the coldest days.

Ski racers use various methods to fight the freeze, particularly when it comes to their faces. Some use Vaseline to protect their skin from the wind. Others use athletic tape to cover up, attaching it to cheeks, chins, foreheads.

There are other effects from extreme cold. Skiers say their boots get stiffer when the temperature really drops, so they travel with two types - one pair that’s stiff, one that’s soft, which they use when it’s bitterly cold.

At least there are usually little space heaters to offer a bit of warmth up near the start house during World Cup races. One member of the U.S. Ski Team revealed another trick to fighting the cold - borrowing a hair dryer from the hotel she’s staying in during World Cup stops and bringing that to the mountain. Plug it in, turn it on, and - voila! - some extra heat.


AROUND THE RINGS: The British Olympic Association has selected 19 skiers and snowboarders for the squad, including skier Chemmy Alcott who’s returning to form after breaking her right leg for the third time during preseason training. This will be Alcott’s fourth Olympics. … British bobsledder John Jackson recovered from a ruptured Achilles he suffered last July in time to make the Sochi team.


AP Sports Writers Howard Fendrich, Andrew Dampf, Stephen Wilson and Barry Wilner, and Associated Press Writer Pablo Gorondi contributed to this report.

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