While world champion Sarah Hendrickson continues rehabilitation from a knee injury and still hopes to compete at Sochi, a precocious Japanese flyer has emerged as the gold medal favorite when women’s ski jumping makes its long-awaited debut at the Winter Olympics next month.
Sara Takanashi has won all three World Cup ski jumping events this season and dominates the overall standings.
The 17-year-old Takanashi will have two “home” World Cup events for her to pad her lead at Sapporo and Zao, Japan, which will perhaps give her even more confidence for a podium performance at Sochi.
This weekend, the 19-year-old Hendrickson is to look on at the US trials at Park City, Utah, where the winner of each event on Sunday is guaranteed a berth on the team for the Sochi Games.
Hendrickson and Takanashi are two of the top names in an event that will finally have its breakthrough debut at the Olympics.
The International Olympic Committee twice rejected women’s ski jumping for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics program, saying the sport lacked enough elite competitors.
The committee added women’s ski jumping to this year’s Winter Games program. There are to be 30 female ski jumpers on the hill on Feb. 11 at Sochi and Takanashi might make the Olympic decisionmakers wonder why it took them so long.