Ski jumpers Michael Glasder (Cary, Ill.) and Sarah Hendrickson (Park City, Utah) ended up with two things in common after Sunday's Team USA Olympic Trials for ski jumping. Both came into the event to put on a smile and have fun. Now both are heading to PyeongChang. Glasder and Hendrickson each won against very balanced fields in a winner-take-all competition. The remainder of the Team USA ski jumping squad nominations will be announced the week of Jan. 22.
A crowd of over 7,000 packed the Utah Olympic Park - the largest attendance of any event at the Park since the 2002 Olympics, bringing the weekend to nearly 11,000 for the Olympic Trials, which were televised live on NBC.
Both the men's and women's fields were among the tightest in history. Glasder took his win by a mere 1.4 points over Norge Ski Club teammate Kevin Bickner (Barrington, Ill.). Local favorite Will Rhoads (Park City, Utah) was third. All three went 97.5 meters or longer.
Hendrickson, the only Olympian in the men's or women's field, took a solid win over Abby Ringquist (Park City Utah) with Nita Englund (Florence, Wis.) third. Nina Lussi (Lake Placid, N.Y.) was a strong fourth with the long ride of the day at 98.0 meters, crashing on her second and final jump.
On the opening jump, Bickner jumped fourth putting it down to 98.5 meters but losing points on landing style but still taking the lead. Glasder was up next, matching Bickner’s 98.5 meters but gaining strong style points for his landing to move in front by a mere 1.5 points. Rhoads closed out the round soaring 95.5 meters, falling more than six points behind Glasder.
In a pressure packed second round, Rhoads pushed it down to 97.0 meters - moving into the lead but not likely enough to hold off his teammates. With the pressure on, Bicker came down and crushed the long ride of the day at 100.0 meters.
Now the pressure shifted to Glasder, final jumper of the day. The veteran soared down the hill, punching down at 98.0 meters - two short of Bickner, but with picture perfect style. As the scores came in, Glasder’s stylish landings won the day by the narrowest of margins.
“Everyone was pumped up - anyone on our team could have won,” said Glasder. “I was the lucky one.”
Glasder had a rough start to his season but was coming off two great competitions earlier in the week in Switzerland with two strong finishes at Continental Cups in Engelberg.
“I was relaxed, feeling good and feeling that my technique was heading in the right direction - it showed today,” he added. “I’m looking to build on this heading to the Olympics.”
Glasder began jumping at age five at the Norge Ski Club in the northwestern suburbs of Chicago. “People ask me, ‘where are you from?’ When I tell them I’m from the suburbs of Chicago they say, ‘hey, but there are no mountains there.’” The more than century-old club looked to revitalize itself in 2003, buying a used ski jump from Ely, Minn. Since then, the club has been one of the hottest in the country with athletes like Glasder, Bickner and junior Casey Larson knocking at the door.
The women’s field provided a pressure packed competition from the start. Jumping sixth in a nine-athlete women’s field, Lussi ignited the competition with a 98.5 meter first jump - longest of the day - to take the early lead. Hendrickson was next going 97.5 but nailing the style to move in front. Ringquist and England came next, but could not match Hendrickson, who took a 6.3 point margin over Ringquist.
In the second round, Englund soared 96.0 meters to challenge. Lussi came back with another long jump at 97.0 meters but lost her footing on landing and crashed. She was taken from the venue and was being evaluated by medical personnel. After a lengthy delay, only Ringquist and Hendrickson were left to go.
Ringquist punched it out to 91.0 meters to move ahead of Englund. Then it all came down to Hendrickson, the 2013 World Champion who has battled surgery after surgery since a training crash in the summer of 2013. She pushed out and flew 93.5 meters, far from long ride of the day but nailing a perfect landing to win both rounds on style points.
Tears flowed freely as she experienced what was certainly her most gratifying win since she took World Championships in Val di Fiemme, Italy in 2013.
“I never really get the opportunity to jump in front of a home crowd,” said Hendrickson. “For me, my goal was to have fun and smile today. When I got up today that was what I set my mind on. I love ski jumping and that’s why we are all out here.”
Hendrickson has endured years of pain and surgery since her 2013 training crash. And she had a rough opening to the World Cup season earlier in December. “When you show up on competition day you can’t think about the aches and pains and missed training days,” she said. “I’m really happy with how I managed it mentally.”
The high caliber of the U.S. women’s field was a factor that weighed on Hendrickson and others coming into the winner-take-all event. “Honestly, we had five girls who could have won today - it was anybody’s game,” she said. “But you can’t control what the others are doing. It was a difficult field today and I’m just glad I could compete today because four years ago I couldn’t.”
As thousands of spectators flowed up to the Utah Olympic Park Sunday morning, it brought back memories for Hendrickson of the Olympics 16 years ago. “I remember when I was seven years old and walked up to watch the men’s Olympic ski jumping event - that’s when I fell in love with it. I’m a result of the 2002 Olympic legacy that Park City and Salt Lake City has continued to develop for young athletes.”
With his Olympic spot now confirmed, Glasder, who arrived late Friday afternoon from Europe, will return on New Year’s Day to prepare for the final competitions of the prestigious Springertournee - the Four Hills Tournament. Hendrickson, meanwhile, will continue training at home in Park City before heading to the final World Cups before the Olympics in Japan.
Men's Ski Jumping Olympic Trials
Women's Ski Jumping Olympic Trials