In ski jumping, where thin flies far, this Olympian aims to prevent eating disorders

Olympic gold medalist Maren Lundby has emerged as an advocate for change in ski jumping, a sport in which disordered eating is prevalent.
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Editor’s Note: If you are struggling with an eating disorder and are in need of support, please call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. For a 24-hour crisis line, text “NEDA” to 741741.


Maren Lundby was the world’s best female ski jumper for three years, starting in 2018 when she won Olympic gold in South Korea.

At the Beijing Games, the Norwegian had a chance to become the first two-time Olympic champion in her sport. Instead, she decided to skip the World Cup season and a trip to China for the Olympics in order to make her physical and mental health a priority.

“I decided to not compete because I gained some weight,” Lundby said Tuesday in an interview with The Associated Press. “I feel like I can’t compete on the level I want to.”

Over the last few months, Lundby has emerged as an advocate for change in a sport that has historically had athletes develop eating disorders as teenagers, all in a quest to be as light as possible to squeeze a few more meters out of their flights through the air.

USA Nordic executive director Billy Demong, a five-time Olympian in Nordic combined, said ski jumping is “one of the most eating-disorder plagued sports” because of the desire to keep pounds off.

“Fat don’t fly, things like that. That’s not something I’m ever going to let a coach say, but the athletes talk to each other and they see it on TV,” Demong said earlier this season during training in Lake Placid, New York. “Some guys took it too far, back in the day, in my era from 2000 to 2005 is when it was really bad.

“We’re talking 6-foot guys that we’re like 105 to 110 pounds. Wildly light. Some guys could do it and somebody else would starve themselves the wrong way and they would end up in the hospital.”

The 27-year-old Lundby is the latest athlete to spark conversation about the intensity of high-level competition — and what’s not working anymore for athletes concerned about their health, physical and otherwise.

U.S. star gymnast Simone Biles withdrew from the Tokyo Olympics for the sake of her well-being following a similar move at the French Open by Naomi Osaka. U.S. skiing stars Mikaela Shiffrin and Jessie Diggins have talked about personal struggles; the latter also wrote a book about struggles female athletes face while dealing with unrealistic pressures to have a certain body type.

ALSO FROM ON HER TURF: Jessie Diggins on body image education, why sports journalism needs more women

“Simone Biles, Mikaela Shiffrin, Jessie Diggins — the ones that have shared their stories with mental health — have been great,” said U.S. ski jumper Casey Larson, who will compete in his second Olympics in coming days. “It definitely helped us raise the awareness for the athletes that are struggling out there. It’s a definitely a great story.

“But at the end of the day, ski jumpers got to be skinny if you want to go far,” Larson added.

The International Ski Federation has attempted to prod athletes make wise choices when managing their weight.

If jumpers have a body mass index of 21 or more, they can have skis as long as 145% of their height. The more ski surface they have, the farther they fly. But FIS requires jumpers to use shorter skis if their BMI falls below 21, which is considered a relatively healthy number for men and women.

Chika Yoshida, the FIS race director for women’s ski jumping, said those rule changes that were made nearly 20 years ago were necessary and have been effective.

“We had a big problem because athletes were having problems with their eating behavior,” Yoshida said Thursday in a telephone interview. “At the moment, we are OK and there is no big issue. But after the season, we will also discuss this issue again.

“But aerodynamics is one of the biggest factors in our sport and the athletes must be fit, and they’re like airplanes. If you’re lighter, you have an advantage.”

One of the sport’s greats, Finland’s Matti Nykanen, was listed at 5-foot-8 and 120 pounds for the 2010 Olympics; his BMI would be an “underweight” 18.5 with those numbers. Four years later, Sara Takanashi of Japan was all of 5 feet tall and barely 100 pounds but a “healthy” BMI of 19.

Lundby said she believes it is important to speak up about the issue of weight and added that it’s “really good to tell all the young athletes to not make stupid decisions and to suffer.”

“The changes made it easier for everybody to have the the right weight, but for some, it’s still hard and quite challenging for your health in the long term,” Lundby said. “I wish it was possible to jump at higher weights, but at the moment that’s not how it is. I wish there could be some changes in the rules that would makes it easier for every every athlete to be a ski jumper.”

Ski jumpers tend to be tall and slender, taking advantage of their height to have longer skis and lighter weight to help in the battle against gravity. They’re not the only athletes that face pressure to watch their weight, joining gymnasts, wrestlers and jockeys to name just a few.

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USA Nordic, which develops American ski jumpers and Nordic combined athletes, is trying to stop eating disorders before they start. The organization has partnered with NYU Langone Health in part to educate jumpers on the dangers of cutting weight.

“There will be consequences to not fueling your body how it should fueled, maybe not right away, but over time,” said Nicole Lund, a NYU Langone Health clinical nutritionist who works with USA Nordic athletes. “They’re young and they may not understand that quite yet, but that is something to kind of keep in mind.”

Even though Lundby is taking a break from competing, she is staying connected to the sport. She’s training in the hopes of making a comeback next winter while traveling around Europe as a ski jumping TV analyst.

“I really want to be there,” she said of the Games. “I’m an athlete and I want to win a gold medal. To not be there, it’s hard so I am looking forward to the closing ceremony.”

Lundby will have to wait another four years to have a chance to compete for Olympic gold, but some say it’s time to celebrate the courage she has shown by sharing her story.

“She’s a person that a lot of women, a lot of athletes, have looked up to,” Demong said. “I respect her a lot for having that kind of foresight six months out from the Olympics that she was going to win, potentially.”

ALSO FROM ON HER TURF: A complete schedule to every women’s event at the 2022 Winter Olympics 

Crystal Dunn returns to USWNT roster five months after giving birth

Nigeria v USWNT
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Crystal Dunn was named to the USWNT roster for two upcoming friendlies against England and Spain, marking her first official selection since giving birth to son Marcel in May.

Dunn made her NWSL return with the Portland Thorns earlier this month and also trained with the U.S. team as a non-rostered player ahead of friendlies vs. Nigeria.

In addition to Dunn, the 24-player roster features a veteran core of Alyssa Naeher, Becky Sauerbrunn, Rose Lavelle, Lindsey Horan, Mallory Pugh, and Megan Rapinoe.

Alex Morgan was not named to the USWNT roster due to a knee injury. While U.S. head coach Vlatko Andonovski did not provide details of the injury, he noted that “if this was a World Cup final, Alex was going to be on this trip and was going to play, no question.”

Other roster highlights include 17-year-old Alyssa Thompson, who becomes the first player born in 2004 to receive a USWNT call-up. Thomas, a high senior, plays club soccer for the U-17 Total Futbol Academy boys’ team.

“We are very excited for her, very excited about her potential and qualities and looking forward to seeing how she will turn out in our environment,” Andonovski said of Thompson. “This camp is not make it or break it. It’s a first experience for her, it’s just something that she shouldn’t even worry about.”

The USWNT also includes a handful of players who have made their USWNT breakthrough this season — thanks in part to both strong NWSL play and injuries to more veteran players. That list includes the likes of Naomi Girma (7 caps), Taylor Kornieck (5 caps), Hailie Mace (5 caps), Sam Coffey (1 cap), and Savannah DeMelo (0 caps).

Andonovski on Thursday called Coffey, a midfielder for the Portland Thorns, a candidate for NWSL MVP.


USWNT Roster for October 2022 Friendlies vs. England and Spain

Goalkeepers (3):

  • Aubrey Kingsbury (Washington Spirit)
  • Casey Murphy (North Carolina Courage)
  • Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars)

Defenders(7):

  • Alana Cook (OL Reign)
  • Crystal Dunn (Portland Thorns FC)
  • Emily Fox (Racing Louisville FC)
  • Naomi Girma (San Diego Wave FC)
  • Sofia Huerta (OL Reign)
  • Hailie Mace (Kansas City Current)
  • Becky Sauerbrunn (Portland Thorns FC)

Midfielders (8):

  • Sam Coffey (Portland Thorns FC)
  • Savannah DeMelo (Racing Louisville FC)
  • Lindsey Horan (Olympique Lyon, FRA)
  • Taylor Kornieck (San Diego Wave FC)
  • Rose Lavelle (OL Reign)
  • Kristie Mewis (NJ/NY Gotham FC)
  • Ashley Sanchez (Washington Spirit)
  • Andi Sullivan (Washington Spirit)

Forwards (6):

  • Ashley Hatch (Washington Spirit)
  • Mallory Pugh (Chicago Red Stars)
  • Megan Rapinoe (OL Reign)
  • Trinity Rodman (Washington Spirit)
  • Sophia Smith (Portland Thorns FC)
  • Alyssa Thompson (Total Futbol Academy)

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.”