Ski Jumping 2016/17 Highlights
U.S.A.'S Bickner Leads Nextgen Charge
North American ski jumpers have joined forces under a new program and continue to make their mark on the international scene, with veterans and young upstarts ready to strut their stuff at top events on the calendar, including those on home turf.
Men's Ski Jumping
Following a strong summer where he had a career-best sixth at a Grand Prix in Klingenthal, Germany, Canadian Mackenzie Boyd-clowes demonstrated that he continues to be a top-10 threat. In early December back in Klingenthal at Round Two of the World Cup, he nailed a first-round jump that put him in sixth place and ended up a season-best 12th overall.
In early February at the 2017 USANA FIS Nordic Junior World Championships in Park City, Utah, Casey Larson from Barrington, Ill. soared to sixth after the first round with a 92.5-metre ride. In the final round, the 20-year-old out of Norge Ski Club outside Chicago, Ill. went 92 metres and dropped down to eighth overall, only one spot away from the American Junior Worlds men's record held by U.S. Coach Clint Jones back in 2002.
“I put down two solid jumps that I was really pumped about, so I really can't complain about anything. There's a couple competitions left, so I just want to keep that groove going and not try too hard and let it flow,” said Larson, who also noted his confidence was high as the hill is on his summer-training grounds.
In March at the Lahti 2017 World Championships, all four American ski jumpers qualified for the HS130M Large-hill medal round – the first time since 1991 in Val di Fiemme, Italy, where the U.S.A. saw four men advance to the Large-hill final.
Michael Glasder (Cary, Ill.) led the foursome with a 116-metre jump to finish 14th, while Will Rhoads (Park City, Utah) also went 116 metres to come in 21st. Both at their debut Worlds, Larson was 33rd and Kevin Bickner (Wauconda, Ill.) placed 34th.
In the final, Bickner, 20, finished 30th, earning the best U.S. men's finish on the Large Hill at a Worlds since Alan Alborn was 27th in 1999. On his first jump, Bickner soared 117 metres to place 28th, making the top-30 cut for the second round. On his final jump, he managed only 104 metres and dropped to 30th. Rhoads finished 39th, Glasder was 40th and Larson placed 46th.
Then on March 19 at the penultimate round of the World Cup in Vikersund, Norway, Bickner claimed a new American ski-jumping record on the HS225M ski hill, flying 244.5 metres following a strong 233.5-metre trial. His second jump was 234.5 metres, but he hung onto 15th despite a crash on landing. Poland's Kamil Stoch took the win.
“I've been looking forward to this event the entire season,” said Bickner, who grew up outside Chicago and now trains at the Utah Olympic Park in Park City, Utah. “Vikersund is a big deal to me. It was here I had my first experience ski flying and [the] first time going over 200 metres. I also felt like it was a very unique hill and rather challenging, and I had learned how to jump it so there would be an advantage.”
He hopes to inspire more interest in the sport leading up to the 2018 Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. “I feel like ski jumping's been ignored and assumed dead, but this will let people know it's very much alive and on an upward climb. I think these accomplishments are really important for the advancement of ski jumping in America,” Bickner added.
As the season came to a close, Austria's Stefan Kraft took the overall World Cup series crown, while Canada's “Mac” [Boyd-clowes] is still the top North American on the circuit, finishing 41st, with the U.S.A.'S Bickner hot on his heels in a three-way tie for 42nd. It appears that the “Team North America” concept under Head Coach Bine Nordic is working well, and all eyes are on the Olympic season ahead.
Women's Ski Jumping
A former world champion, U.S.A.'S Sarah Hendrickson from Park City, Utah made a strong return to the FIS Ski Jumping World Cup after a nearly 15-month absence, finishing 11th on the opening day at Round One in Lillehammer, Norway by jumping 84.5 and 90 metres. On Day Two, she was eighth, jumping 94.5 and 89 metres.
Having injured herself in the summer before the 2014 Olympics, Hendrickson attempted several comebacks, but took a break after the 2015 season for more follow-up surgery, taking her time to come back as strong as possible.
“Yesterday was so much fun,” said Hendrickson. “I cannot put into words how amazing it felt to be back with a bib on. I honestly thought the day would never come, as I wanted to give up so many times.”
At Round Two in Nizkny Tagil, Russia, Hendrickson continued her streak, finishing 10th on the second day of competition. On the Large Hill Individual in Round Three in Oberstdorf, Germany in early January, Hendrickson delivered another strong top-10 result, finishing ninth on Day One. On Day Two, her teammate Nita Englund from Florence, Wis. finished a solid 12th, while Canadian Taylor Henrich from Calgary, Alta. was 15th.
In late January, Hendrickson claimed ninth in Rasnov, Romania at Round Six, while Canada's Natasha Bodnarchuk took home a career-best 12th at the Junior Worlds that kicked off in Park City, Utah.
Bodnarchuk was part of a foursome of young Canadian women that included Natalie Eilers, Abigail Strate and Nicole Maurer, who earned their first World Cup points at Round Nine in mid-february at the Olympic test event at Pyeongchang, South Korea. With these results, the four young jumpers were named to the National team at the National Championships in Whistler, B.C. in early April. The U.S.A.'S Englund also had great results at Pyeongchang, finishing seventh on Day One and eighth on Day Two.
In early March at the Lahti 2017 Worlds, Henrich showed her form again, claiming 16th. Hendrickson led the U.S.A. in 23rd, with Englund finishing 27th.
As the season came to an end, Hendrickson topped the North Americans, finishing 14th overall, followed by Englund in 16th. Henrich led the Canadians in 33rd, while Japan's Sara Takanashi claimed the women's series title for the fourth time.