2022 U.S. Olympic team could break record for most female competitors

The US women's hockey team at the 2018 Winter Olympics
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Update: On Monday night, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) revised some figures in its official release. The following story has been updated accordingly. 

With less than two weeks until the Opening Ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics (February 4), the U.S. Olympic team for the 2022 Beijing Winter Games was announced on Monday by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC).

Team USA’s 223-athlete roster includes 108 women after ski jumper Anna Hoffman was added on Monday evening. In Beijing, the U.S. could break the record for most women from any nation to compete at a single Winter Games. It’s a record the U.S. has broken at the previous 10 Winter Olympics, according to Olympedia.org. (Note: while 109 women were named to the U.S. Olympic team for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games, only 101 ultimately competed, thus solidifying their status as Olympians.)

A few facts about the women on the 2022 U.S. Olympic team:

The U.S. roster includes two women – Lindsey Jacobellis (snowboarding) and Katie Uhlaender (skeleton) – who will compete in a record-tying fifth Olympics. Jacobellis and Uhlaender will join retired snowboarder Kelly Clark and cross-country skier Kikkan Randall as the only American women to compete at five Winter Games.

Team USA also features eight athletes and five women – Hilary Knight (hockey), Ashley Caldwell (freestyle skiing, aerials), Faye Gulini (snowboard cross) and Elana Meyers Taylor and Kaillie Humphries (bobsled) – who will make their fourth Olympic appearance.

MORE ON THE 2022 U.S. OLYMPIC ROSTER: U.S. Olympic team has most female athletes in Winter Games history

Figure skater Alysa Liu – who will be 16 years, 6 months old in Beijing – is the youngest member of the 2022 U.S. Olympic team. That said, Liu is still older than the women’s gold medal favorite: 15-year-old Kamila Valiyeva of Russia.

Uhlaender, 37, will be the oldest woman on the U.S. team, while 40-year-old snowboarder Nick Baumgartner is the oldest American athlete of any gender. Still, neither Uhlaender or Baumgartner come close to German speed skater Claudia Pechstein. In Beijing, the 49-year-old will become the oldest woman to compete at a Winter Olympics and the second athlete — and only woman — to compete in eight Winter Games.

Finally, U.S. aerialist Winter Vinecki will become the first Winter Olympian  from any nation to be named “Winter” when she makes her debut in Beijing (according to Olympedia.org). At least six athletes with the first name of “Summer” have competed at previous Olympic Games, including three American women: retired swimmer Summer Sanders, Tokyo triathlete Summer Rappaport, and luge athlete Summer Britcher (who will make her third Olympic appearance in Beijing).

Why isn’t there greater gender balance at the Winter Olympics?

Team USA’s roster includes fewer women than men, a contrast to recent Summer Games. Last year’s Tokyo Olympics marked the third straight Summer Olympics in which women outnumbered men on the U.S. Olympic team.

Over 45 percent of athletes at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics will be women, a record for the Winter Olympic Games. In comparison: women comprised 41 percent of all international competitors four years ago in PyeongChang.

While the gender gap is closing, men still have more events on the Olympic Winter Games program (51), compared to 46 for women.

This is due in part to nordic combined, the only Olympic sport – summer or winter – that does not include women. Women also have fewer quota spots in bobsled, luge, ski jumping, and ice hockey.

Quick reminder: sports may exist on a gender binary, but society does not

While stories about gender equality in sports are often presented with men on one side, women on the other, that binary division isn’t representative of society. But that line is starting to blur thanks to a handful of pioneering athletes.

Case and point: at the upcoming Winter Olympics, figure skater Timothy LeDuc is set to become the first publicly out non-binary athlete to compete at a Winter Games.

“As a person that exists and really thrives outside of the binary, it can be very complicated sometimes navigating a gendered sport,” LeDuc explained on the NBCLX podcast My New Favorite Olympian. “They look at me, they see that I have a beard or they look at maybe my physical characteristics and say, ‘You’re a boy, act like a boy.'”

After winning the 2021 U.S. pairs’ title with partner Ashley Cain-Gribble, LeDuc offered some thoughts on the way they hope their story is told in Beijing.

“My hope is that when people see my story, it isn’t focused on me and saying, ‘Oh, Timothy is the first out non-binary person to achieve this level of success in sport.’ My hope is that the narrative shifts more to, ‘Queer people can be open and successful in sports.’ We’ve always been here, we’ve always been a part of sports. We just haven’t always been able to be open,” they said.

Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC

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

YEAR WINNER SCORE MARGIN RUNNERUP
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.