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Hendrickson makes Olympics team after ACL surgery

Saturday - 1/25/2014, 12:02am  ET

PAT GRAHAM
AP Sports Writer

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."

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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."

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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."

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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.

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