Sarah Hendrickson's flying feat

There are those select few who willingly strap skis to their feet and throw themselves off jumps and into the air. They fly and they say it's the greatest feeling in the world. Until Saturday, there had never been a World Cup event at which those few sanctioned to do so had been female.

Now that event is history, and the books will forever say that the winner of the first World Cup ski jump -- on the same hill in Lillehammer, Norway, used by the men at the 1994 Winter Games -- was a 17-year-old American. Her name is Sarah Hendrickson. She didn't just win. She won big. She flew long and strong.

"There's nothing else you can ever imagine," she said afterward in a telephone interview. "There's nothing else in the world that can compare. There's not one time you don't have that wonderful feeling. You love the sport. And flying through the air is what you train for every day.

"When I jump, I forget about everything that's around me."

Sarah's first jump Saturday was 100.5 meters, seven-and-a-half meters longer than anyone else; her second was 95.5, again well out in front. She scored 277 points for the win. Coline Mattel of France took second with 247.7 points, Melanie Faisst of Germany third with 245.5

Nearly 50 jumpers from 15 nations competed Saturday; this first-ever women's jump World Cup tour includes 14 events at nine venues in seven countries. The women have been jumping on the lower-level Continental Cup for seven years. They are due to make their Olympic début at the 2014 Sochi Games.

It is way too soon to be forecasting Olympic prospects for Sarah, or for anyone else. Even so, her development is a classic study in exactly what American officials said would happen as a result of the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City.

She was born in Salt Lake and raised in Park City, 35 minutes up Interstate 80, where many of the alpine and the jumping events of those 2002 Games were held.

Sarah has been on skis since she was 2. Her older brother, Nick, who is now 20, is on the U.S. Nordic combined team. "Jump far lil sis!" he posted Saturday to his Twitter account.

In 2002, during the Salt Lake Games, the locals' access to what is now Utah Olympic Park in Park City was naturally closed down, Sarah remembers. There were some small hills at the Canyons Resort and, she said, "I started [jumping] because I saw my brother doing it."

She said, "You start out using your alpine skis. Gradually, you switch to jumping skis. I haven't stopped since."

In 2010, Sarah became the only American -- male or female -- to win a medal in a junior world ski jumping championship, winning bronze.

This week, it was clear Sarah was the strongest in the women's field. On Friday, she was first in both training rounds and had the longest jump of the day, 98 meters.

The issue Saturday, really, was whether she could hold it together mentally.

As it turned out -- no problem.

"Today she was unbeatable," the U.S. women's coach, Paolo Bernardi, said. "At the moment she looks like a dominator. She is mentally two, three steps ahead of everybody else. She is in the zone."

She's only 17. You'd never know it.

"At the U.S. team, we have been training for quite a few years now," Sarah said. "We train for competition. Once you get to the jumping level of training, you have to train like you're competing. Ski jumping is a huge, huge, huge mental game. That's a huge part of it.

"What helps me is just relaxing and always thinking that I have more opportunities to come. If a particular jump works out -- awesome. If one doesn't work out, ok, I have another opportunity."

This first World Cup opportunity, though, forever marks Sarah as something special. "It's a nice history what is going on: Sarah is the perfect player, the perfect actor, for the viewers at home," Bernardi said.

Sarah said of winning: "It's fun." She laughed. "For sure."