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Sarah Hendrickson, defending World Cup champ, struggles in Sochi

Sarah Hendrickson passed on the first round of jumps, then finished 27th of 29 jumpers in round two and 23rd of 25 in round three.

US world ski jump champion Sarah Hendrickson, who injured her right knee in a training accident last August, says she's confident she can perform well in Sochi.

Questions about Sarah Hendrickson's right knee supposedly were answered a few weeks ago when it was confirmed she'd compete at the Sochi Games in the first women's ski jumping competition at the Olympics.

She's here all right, but only a shadow of her former self.

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The 19-year-old defending World Cup champion from Park City, Utah, has had a challenging start in her Olympic training sessions. On Sunday, she passed on the first round of jumps, then finished 27th of 29 jumpers in round two and 23rd of 25 in round three.

On Saturday, she finished last and next-to-last in her two jumps.

Even worse, she admits her surgically-repaired knee is still hurting, making her an unlikely top finisher in the gold medal final Tuesday at the RusSki Gorki Jumping Center.

Hendrickson said she requested a lower gate than the other jumpers on Sunday, meaning she will have no chance to jump as far as her competitors because of her lack of speed off the ramp.

"My coach and I decided," Hendrickson said. "I still have pain in my knee. There's no need to jump too far. I don't want to sacrifice anything."

And she said her problems might be as much psychological as physical.

"Of course, I have this in the back of my head," she said. "I know I can get injured again, but I have to push it out of my head."

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Five months ago, Hendrickson, who has won 13 World Cup events since 2011, crashed in a training session, tearing the ACL and MCL off the bone, and damaging 80 percent of her meniscus. She had surgery on Aug. 29 and appeared extremely doubtful for Sochi.

But she returned to jumping on Jan. 11 and was named to the U.S. team in late January.

"It's a miracle, kind of," Hendrickson said of her quick return when she was named to the team. "You never know how your body is going to react to that. Luckily, my body responded well. I was able to get strength back and everything working again."

But she was unable to compete before Sochi, and it's showing.

"Beautiful place to hold the event of a lifetime," she tweeted on Friday before the start of training. But so far it's clearly not looking like one for her.

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