Olympic champs Goggia and Moioli are inspiration for hometown Bergamo

Italian alpine skier Sofia Goggia competing in a World Cup super-G
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MODENA, Italy (AP) — The endless cacophony of ambulance sirens. The convoys of military trucks carrying away the overflowing coffins. The funerals — or lack thereof.

Nobody who lived through the initial wave of the coronavirus pandemic in Bergamo — the first epicenter of COVID-19 in Europe — will ever forget it.

For Sofia Goggia and Michela Moioli, the city’s two Olympic champions — Goggia in skiing’s downhill and Moioli in snowboard cross — those dark days in March and April 2020 serve as a source of inspiration as they seek to honor the greater Bergamo area’s 6,000 dead by defending their gold medals at next month’s Beijing Games.

Since last season, Goggia has competed with the outline of Bergamo’s skyline drawn onto the back of her helmet.

“It was hard. I was home for two months. An ambulance would go by every 10 minutes,” Goggia said. “People had terror in their eyes. Terror was everywhere. We were all afraid.”

When Moioli’s grandmother died from COVID-19 in March 2020, the family couldn’t hold a traditional funeral because of a strict lockdown. Her grandfather was also hospitalized, for three months, before eventually recovering from the virus.

“We had a really bad time in 2020 and maybe in that time we learned something and we try to be better — as a person and as athletes,” Moioli said.

The same can be said for the entire Italian team, which is looking to duplicate the country’s unprecedented success at last year’s Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

Italy won a record 40 medals in Tokyo and came away with golds from some of the most high-profile events: Marcell Jacobs in the 100 meters, Gianmarco Tamberi in the high jump and the men’s 4×100-meter relay.

“The Tokyo Olympics gave us the motivation to deal with two endless months of training in the gym,” Goggia said of her preseason preparations.

A banner year for Italy also saw the country’s soccer team win the European Championship and Roman band Maneskin win the Eurovision Song Contest.

“Now it’s our turn,” said Marta Bassino, the defending World Cup giant slalom champion.

Goggia, Bassino and Federica Brignone, the 2019-20 overall World Cup champion, give Italy three legitimate medal contenders in skiing, while on the men’s side there’s a top downhiller in Dominik Paris and rising contenders in Luca De Aliprandini for giant slalom and Alex Vinatzer for slalom.

Goggia and Moioli have been selected to carry Italy’s flag at the opening and closing ceremonies, respectively, in Beijing.

When Italian President Sergio Mattarella handed over the green-white-and-red flag to Goggia at a ceremony last month, the skier recounted in an emotional speech the phone call that she received from the head of state after she was ruled out of last season’s world championships on home snow in Cortina d’Ampezzo after breaking a bone in her right knee.

“You encouraged me to look ahead toward distant goals, toward Beijing 2022,” Goggia told Mattarella. “You encouraged me to dig into my heart and to move forward despite the obstacles in my path and I believe that I’ve done that.”

Indeed, Goggia has bounced back to become the most dominant downhill skier since Lindsey Vonn at her peak, including a stretch when she won seven straight downhills that she entered.

“Sofia is determined. She knows exactly what she wants,” said Flavio Roda, the president of the Italian Winter Sports Federation and a former coach of Alberto Tomba. “Winning all of these races consecutively isn’t easy in terms of concentration.”

Whether it was a lack of concentration or just because of too much speed in a dark part of the course, Goggia’s winning streak came to an abrupt end in her most recent downhill in Austria on Saturday when she crashed into the safety netting. She came away without any major injuries, though, and was back racing in a super-G the next day.

Moioli, meanwhile, finished third in the World Cup test event on the Olympic course at Secret Garden in November, then posted a victory in Cervinia last month.

Moioli met Goggia while rehabbing her knee after she crashed in the 2014 Olympic final. At the age of 18, Moioli had just surged into third place and contention for a bronze medal when she touched edges with a competitor and fell.

“That moment helped me for my career,” Moioli said. “Step by step, we became really close.”

The close relationship was apparent in 2019 when Goggia and Moioli made a joint speech and dabbed in unison before nearly 100 members of the International Olympic Committee at the voting session for the 2026 Winter Games. Their presentation was later considered vital for Milan-Cortina’s successful bid — winning over voters with their positive energy.

So, naturally, both the skier and snowboarder would like to continue competing through the 2026 Games, when women’s skiing will be contested in Cortina on Goggia’s favorite course and snowboard cross will be held in Livigno on Moioli’s training slope.

Moioli’s duties for the closing ceremony mean that she’ll be involved in the official handover from Beijing to Milan-Cortina. It’s also the first time that Italy has named the flagbearer for a closing ceremony before an Olympics even start.

“It’s a huge honor,” Moioli said. “It’s going to be the link between Beijing and our Games in Milan-Cortina.”

Bergamo will be represented, too.

Justine Wong-Orantes’ atypical path to becoming one of the best liberos in the world

Justine Wong-Orantes hits the ball in the women's semi-final volleyball match between USA and Serbia during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
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It’s been 20 years since the same nation held both the Olympic and world volleyball titles at the same time, but libero Justine Wong-Orantes is looking to help lead Team USA accomplish that very feat at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championships in the Netherlands and Poland. Competition began on Friday and the U.S. is currently 2-0 after group play wins against Kazakhstan and Canada.

“We’re trying to win, for sure,” Wong-Orantes told On Her Turf. “I think, especially with the new turn of the program and the new year of the quad, we just have a really nice blend of veterans and also newcomers on the team.”

The 14-woman roster for Team USA, which is ranked No. 1 in the world and won its first Olympic title last summer, features six players from that gold-medal-winning team. And while Wong-Orantes is among the 2021 U.S. Olympic team veterans, she’s still a relative newcomer to international play.

The Southern California native enjoyed a notable junior career – she was 12 when she became the youngest female to ever earn an AAA rating in beach volleyball – and was a standout collegian at Nebraska, where she was a member of the 2015 NCAA championship team. But Wong-Orantes followed a different path upon graduation, initially choosing not to go overseas to play professionally.

While she was first selected for the U.S. national team in 2016 and played a handful of international tournaments in the following years, it wasn’t until she started playing professionally in Germany in 2019 that she saw the potential to elevate her position on the roster. In particular, the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics gave her an additional year of overseas experience, which she calls “a blessing in disguise.”

“I just felt like I was still in that developmental stage,” she said. “And a whole year postponement allowed me to go overseas and really get all the touches, all the repetitions, and just kind of expose myself to international volleyball another year. So I was, in hindsight, pretty thankful for that COVID season because I got an extra year under my belt, and I think that just gave me a ton of confidence.”

Ahead of the Olympics, Wong-Orantes earned “best libero” honors at the 2021 FIVB Volleyball National League in Rimini, Italy, which helped secure her spot on the Olympic roster. In Tokyo, she followed up with another standout performance and was named best libero of the Olympic tournament.

As to how the Wong-Orantes transformed into one of the world’s top liberos, she points to her background as a beach volleyball player. She began competing at age 8, and her first partner was Sara Hughes, a star on the AVP Pro Tour who also won two NCAA titles with USC.

“I think having that background and just the court awareness that beach volleyball forces you to have allowed me to really have a good read on the game,” said Wong-Orantes. “I think that’s what makes a great libero is just reading and always being reactive towards the ball.”

Wong-Orantes also credits the assistance of mental coach Sue Enquist, a former UCLA softball coach and U.S. national team coach, who now helps teams work on their culture and relationships. Enquist began working with the U.S. volleyball team during the pandemic and has continued in her role ever since.

“We just worked on a lot of stuff within ourselves, within our program, how to communicate with each other off the court, and I think that honestly propelled us into such a high, high level with how we worked with each other, and then that transferred onto the court,” explained Wong-Orantes, who noted the team has Enquist on speed dial while at the World Championship. “I really commend Sue. I just really give a lot of praise to her because I think our culture was never bad, but I think [she] just transformed into a different level.”

2022-09-26 - FIVB Volleyball Womens World Championship 2022 - Day 4
ARNHEM, NETHERLANDS – Justine Wong-Orantes (far right) poses for a photo with her U.S. teammates after defeating Canada at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship on September 26, 2022. (Photo by Rene Nijhuis/Orange Pictures/BSR Agency/Getty Images)

Wong-Orantes said she and her U.S. teammates are on their toes for the world championships, which features twice as many teams (24) as the Olympics and a “more grueling” format.

“It’s going to be a long tournament, and I think we’re really going to need all 14 of us that are here. I’m pretty certain that, at any given moment, someone’s going to be called on and someone’s going to need to step up in big moments.”

2022 Ascendant LPGA: How to watch, who’s playing in Texas’s annual signature event

Atthaya Thitikul of Thailand hits her second shot on the 16th hole during the final round of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.
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The LPGA make its annual stop in The Colony, Texas, this week for the 10th edition of the Ascendant LPGA benefiting Volunteers of America, where Thailand’s 19-year-old rookie Atthaya Thitikul comes in hot off her second career win and second playoff victory this season at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.

Leading the 132-player field at Old American Golf Club, located at Golf Clubs at The Tribute, are Texas residents and past champions Cheyenne Knight and Angela Stanford. They’ll compete for the $1.7 million prize purse alongside major champions Nelly KordaLydia Ko and Brooke Henderson. Last year’s Ascendant LPGA champion, world No. 1 Jin Young Ko, will not be defending her title after announcing earlier this month she would be missing several weeks due to a nagging wrist injury.

This past weekend in Arkansas, Thitikul took the lead with a 10-under 61 in the second round and shot 68 in the final round to finish regulation tied with Danielle Kang at 17-under 196. Thitikul, who won the JTBC Classic in March in a two-hole playoff vs. Nanna Koerstz Madsen, drained an 8-foot birdie putt on the second playoff hole to secure the win over Kang.

How to watch the 2022 Ascendant LPGA 

Coverage of the 2022 Ascendant LPGA from Old American Golf Club in The Colony, Texas, can be found on Golf Channel, with streaming options available any time on any mobile device and online through NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

  • Thursday, Sept. 29: 12:30-3:30 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Friday, Sept. 30: 12:30-3:30 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Saturday, Oct. 1: 1-4 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Sunday, Oct. 2: 1-4 p.m. ET, Golf Channel

Who’s playing in the 2022 Ascendant LPGA

Six of the top 10 players in the Rolex World Rankings are among the field in Texas, including:

  • No. 2 Nelly Korda
  • No. 4 Lydia Ko
  • No. 5 Atthaya Thitikul
  • No. 6 Brooke Henderson
  • No. 7 Lexi Thompson
  • No. 10 Nasa Hataoka

A number of local Texans also are in the tournament, headlined by past champions, Angela Stanford (2020) and Cheyenne Knight (2019), and two junior champions of the Volunteers of America Classic Girls Championship, who are playing on a sponsor exemption: Yunxuan (Michelle) Zhang (2022), a freshman at SMU, and Avery Zweig (2021), a high school sophomore from McKinney, Texas.

Past five champions of The Ascendant LPGA

2021 Jin Young Ko (South Korea) 16-under 268 1 stroke Matilda Castren
2020 Angela Stanford (USA) 7-under 277 2 strokes So Yeon Ryu, Inbee Park, Yealimi Noh
2019 Cheyenne Knight (USA) 18-under 266 2 strokes Brittany Altomare, Jaye Marie Green
2018 Sung Hyun Park (South Korea) 11-under 131 1 stroke Lindy Duncan
2017 Haru Nomura (Japan) 3-under 281 Playoff Christie Kerr

Last time at The Ascendant LPGA

South Korea’s Jin Young Ko carded a final-round 69 to maintain her 54-hole lead at Old American Golf Club and held on for a one stroke win at the 2021 Volunteers of America Classic, her eighth career LPGA tour title. Ko finished regulation at 16-under 268, edging Finland’s Matilda Castren by one stroke.

It kicked off a five-win season for Ko, who had just lost her No. 1 ranking to Nelly Korda the week prior after holding the top spot for 100 straight weeks. She regained the No. 1 ranking back in October 2021, after earning her fourth win in seven starts at the BMW Ladies Championship.

More about Old American Golf Club

Opened in 2010, the Old American Golf Club is one of two clubs at The Tribute, a lakefront resort community on Lewisville Lake in The Colony, Texas. Designed by Tripp Davis and 12-time PGA Tour winner Justin Leonard, Old American plays as a Par 71 and stretches to 6,475 yards on the tournament scorecard.