Women’s ski jumping still faces uphill battle ahead of third Olympics

U.S. ski jumper Anna Hoffman competes at the FIS Ski Jumping Women's World Cup Hinzenbach
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A new mixed team competition will expand opportunities for women ski jumpers to compete at the Winter Olympics, but eight years after the women’s event was added, athletes are still scratching their heads over the vast disparities that exist between the women’s and men’s programs.

“It’s eight years later; let’s step some stuff up and get some more equality,” American ski jumper Anna Hoffmann recently told the Wisconsin State Journal. “The women’s side of the sport has been showing that our level and our competitiveness is there. There are so many athletes that are super capable. There’s no reason to have discriminations between the two.”

Chief among those discrepancies is the 40 spots allowed for for the women’s individual normal hill event compared to 65 for the men’s. Additionally, the men have an individual large hill competition (another shot at gold for 65 men)despite the fact that women compete on the large hill on the World Cup and at Nordic Skiing World Championships. There’s also a men’s team event where 12 countries compete with four-man teams (and another 12 men take home Olympic medals).

The 21-year-old Hoffman personally felt the crunch of the numbers. She was originally sixth on the alternate list for Beijing but made it in after other countries passed on using some quota spots. After qualifying three women for both the 2014 and 2018 Games (the max quota is four), the U.S. did not initially qualify a single spot in the women’s ski jumping competition for 2022.

Norwegian jumper Silje Opseth, 22, said recently she was envious of the men getting to use “the big, beautiful hill” in Beijing, and on Thursday several  Norway team members shared their support.

“There is no doubt that they are ready for a large hill in the Olympic program,” said fellow jumper Halvor Egner Granerud, according to EuroSport.

Norway’s team manager Clas Brede Brathen pointed out that men and women competed on the same large hill at a World Cup in Willingen, Germany, just last weekend.

“It will be a difficult job for those who will argue against the girls jumping on all the slopes after what happened in Willingen,” he said. “There, the girls showed what many of us have said for a long time, that they will show it when they get the opportunity.”

MORE WINTER OLYMPICS COVERAGE: For ski jumper Ursa Bogataj, first major win is Olympic gold

An NPR report on Thursday details other inequities women ski jumpers face, including taking home approximately 75-percent less prize money than men and a weird, now-defunct requirement that made women include additional hip panels in their ski suits. The International Ski Federation (FIS) had claimed the panels were for fit, but two-time U.S. Olympic ski jumper Sarah Hendrickson believes it was all aesthetic.

“They were trying to come up with ways that accentuated our hips and our curves a little bit more,” Hendrickson told NPR.

FIS removed the requirements in 2020, reportedly saying the change made it easier to sew and alter the suits.

There’s also the fact that women still don’t compete in Nordic combined, the only Olympic sport – summer or winter – that is only for men.

While Nordic combined is contested separately from ski jumping, given that Nordic combined includes both ski jumping and cross-country skiing, it was assumed that a women’s Nordic combined event would be added after women’s ski jumping debuted in 2014.

Originally, women’s nordic combined targeted the 2022 Beijing Winter Games, but when the official Olympic program was revealed, there was no women’s event.

“Nordic combined, and women’s in particular, still needs to be developed further in terms of universality [the number of countries with Olympic-caliber athletes], in terms of the level of the athletes,”  IOC sports director Kit McConnell said in 2018.

Who’s favored to win women’s ski jumping in Beijing?

There will not be a repeat gold medalist in women’s ski jumping after defending Olympic champion Maren Lundby opted out of competing this past season. The two-time world champion said she was not willing to “sacrifice everything” to meet the demands her sport required.

“Ski jumping is a sport with a lot of demands, weight is part of it,” she told Norway’s NRK TV in October. “My body has changed naturally lately and for this reason I don’t want to sacrifice everything to be at the best level in Beijing.”

Lundby has since sparked conversation regarding disordered eating in her sport, advocating for younger athletes “to not make stupid decisions and to suffer.”

Austria’s Sara Marita Kramer was considered a medal favorite heading into the Games, but she was forced to withdraw Wednesday after testing positive for COVID-19.

Japan’s Sara Takanashi arrives in Beijing as the most successful women’s ski jumper in history, having recorded 61 wins with 110 podium finishes overall in 167 World Cup starts. Yet, in two previous Olympic appearances, her best finish was bronze in PyeongChang, and in six world championships, her best was silver in 2013 and bronze in 2017 and 2021.

Slovenia’s Ursa Bogataj will make her second Olympic appearance after finishing 30th in 2018, but she’s riding the momentum of a podium-filled season after finishing second twice and third three times in nine World Cup starts.

Like Bogataj, Germany’s Katharina Althaus comes in with five podiums in nine World Cup starts. She’s also the defending Olympic silver medalist and reigning world champion. A podium in Beijing would make Althaus the first woman to win two Olympic medals in ski jumping.

ALSO FROM ON HER TURF: In a change, figure skaters are now ‘women’ instead of ‘ladies’

What’s the mixed team ski jumping event?

Twelve four-person teams – two men and two women – will compete in the inaugural mixed team event, which includes two scored rounds and is staged on the normal hill. Starting with the women, the genders alternate jumps until all four athletes on each team have competed. All four scores for each team are combined after the first round and the top eight teams advance to the final round.

Germany has won the mixed event in the last four world championships, with Austria finishing second in 2019 and third in 2021. Expect the Germans to be represented by Karl Geiger and Markus Eisenbichler, both of whom are ranked top six on the World Cup and were part of the last two world championship teams. Althaus is probably for one of the women’s spots with Pauline Hessler likely to fill the other.

The Austrians have some depth with Jan Hoerl, Stefan Kraft and Daniel Huber all having World Cup wins this year, while on the women’s side, they’ll choose from 2014 Olympic silver medalist Daniela Iraschko-Stolz, worlds medalists Eva Pinkelnig and Jacqueline Seifriedsberger.

With only one U.S. woman qualifying for Beijing in the individual event, Team USA is unable to part in the mixed team event.

2022 Winter Olympics: Women’s Ski Jumping, Mixed Team Schedule

Event  Date/Time (U.S. Eastern Time) Date/Time (Beijing, China)
Women’s Individual Normal Hill (First Round, Final) 2/5/22 5:45 AM 2/5/22 6:45 PM
Mixed Team Normal Hill (First Round, Final) 2/7/22 6:45 AM 2/7/22 7:45 PM

MORE FROM ON HER TURF: 2022 Winter Olympics Schedule – How to watch every women’s event

On Her Turf editor Alex Azzi and the NBC Olympics Research team contributed to this report.

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.