US Olympic Trials 2014 Ski Jumping: Preview and Predictions for Men and Women

Sterling Xie@@sxie1281Correspondent IIDecember 27, 2013

Can teen sensation Sarah Hendrickson win gold at Sochi?
Can teen sensation Sarah Hendrickson win gold at Sochi?Harry How/Getty Images

The U.S. ski jump team will prep for the Sochi Winter Olympics on Sunday, when the team trials begin at Utah Olympic Park, the former site of the 2002 Winter Games.  

It's a winner-take-all format, with the champion of each event earning an automatic nomination for the roster.  The rest of the squad will be selected based on existing candidates from World Cup and Continental Cup events.  Viewers can see the whole event live on NBC at 1:30 p.m. ET.

Ski jumping is not a new event at the Winter Olympics. It was part of the inaugural Winter Games in 1924.  However, 90 years later, the women are finally jumping into the fray, with the first-ever women's ski jump event.

That is where the Americans could make a dent in the medals board, led by reigning world champion Sarah Hendrickson.  At 19 years old, the precocious Hendrickson won nine of 13 World Cup events in 2012.  Unfortunately, Hendrickson will not compete this weekend because she needed surgery to repair a torn ACL that she suffered in late August, though she appears close to a return:

Even without Hendrickson, the Americans figure to harbor at least one other legitimate threat to reach the podium.  Lindsey Van was the 2009 world champion, and she has tallied numerous top-10 finishes in 2013.  Van helped the U.S. win gold in the Nation's Cup in the 2012 season at Oslo, Norway.

On the men's side, the U.S. squad is not expected to medal, as the Americans have medaled only once in the history of the event.  Anders Haugen took bronze in 1924, so the squad has a long drought to break.  The brightest hope might be Chris Lamb, who won the FIS Cup in February of 2013, but any American medal here would be a shock.

So can Hendrickson, or any other American woman, medal in their inaugural event?  If that is to happen, they will have to overcome a 17-year-old Japanese sensation who has taken the ski jumping circuit by storm, according to Dennis Passa of the Associated Press:

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 debut, finally, at the Winter Olympics in February.

Sara Takanashi has won all three World Cup ski jumping events this season and dominates the overall standings.

In the middle of next month, the 17-year-old Takanashi will have two "home" World Cup events for her to pad her lead -- at Sapporo and Zao, Japan. And perhaps to give her even more confidence for a podium performance at Sochi.

Hendrickson figures to be competing in World Cup events next month to tune up for the Winter Games, barring any setbacks.  Takanashi will likely enter Sochi as the favorite due to her immaculate pre-Olympics form, but look for Hendrickson to come close to gold this February.



Men: No medals

Women: Hendrickson wins silver (normal hill, individual)