Women’s slopestyle athletes put 2018 in rearview mirror, look to dazzle in Beijing

Slopestyle Snowboarding at the 2022 Winter Olympics
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Halfpipe legend Kelly Clark knows exactly which Winter Olympics event she’s most looking forward to watching in Beijing, and it’s probably not what you think.

Yes, it’s a women’s snowboarding discipline, but no, it’s not Team USA’s charge into the women’s halfpipe competition led by reigning gold medalist Chloe Kim.

It’s women’s slopestyle.

“That specific aspect of snowboarding is so progressive and exciting that I’m really looking forward to seeing them get a really good opportunity to put on a good show,” said Clark, who won Olympic gold in 2002 and bronze in 2010 and 2014.

Slopestyle will be contested as an Olympic event for the third time in Beijing, but Clark told On Her Turf that she can’t help but give pause when remembering the 2018 competition in PyeongChang. She referred to the women’s slopestyle as a “tough, tough experience,” marred by what’s been described as “one of the most unpleasant, dangerous days snowboarding has ever seen.”

Frigid temperatures and gusty, bitter winds that spit ice turned the competition into a war of attrition, with American Jamie Anderson, from South Lake Tahoe, Calif., capturing her second straight slopestyle gold following a 75-minute weather delay. But the dangerous conditions dominated the headlines, and organizers were called into question for staging the contest in the first place. Only five of 25 athletes made it through their first runs without a stumble or crash and only four landed a clean second run.

“I’m not extremely proud of my run – back 5, cab 5, front 7 is pretty mellow,” said Anderson, who’s looking to unleash significantly bigger tricks in Beijing, including her frontside and Cab double cork 1080s. “That would barely get into finals in some events, but considering the conditions and everything, I feel pretty good.”

Concerns over putting riders in physical jeopardy was compounded by questions regarding whether FIS was prioritizing its skiing events – Alpine, in particular – above others. That same day as the women’s slopestyle, the International Ski Federation (FIS) canceled the women’s giant slalom because of high winds. The day prior, FIS canceled the women’s slopestyle qualifying round as well as the men’s downhill for the same reason.

“FIS always aims for the athletes to be able to stage their best performances, which some athletes have expressed was not the case today, but the nature of outdoor sports also requires adapting to the elements,” the federation said in a statement, acknowledging the concerns.

To that end, 2018 competitors expressed disappointment at not being able to showcase the progression women’s slopestyle had achieved since its debut in Sochi.

“You can still hear it when you when you talk to the athletes,” Clark, who will commentate snowboarding for NBC Olympics during the Beijing Winter Games. “You know, it was such a difficult experience that I’m looking forward to them getting a great opportunity to represent this sport, because not only was it disappointing for the women in South Korea, but it was a poor reflection of their ability as well.”

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Even though Anderson walked away with a gold medal, she described the event as “traumatic.”

“All the girls I competed with thought that I wanted the competition to happen because I’m good at competing in sh**** weather,” she told NBC Olympics last fall. “I think I’m just good at competing, period. But it was really pretty traumatic. Like I remember being so pissed. … I don’t want to sound cocky, but like, ‘I got this sh**.’ Whether or not there’s good weather, I was still gonna go out there and do my best.”

Anderson said she channeled the negativity into her silver-medal performance in big air 10 days later: “I think kind of all that negativity and judgment and things that were out of my control — I kinda decided to use it to my advantage and say like, ‘Screw everyone for hating.'”

Yet, despite her two-medal haul, Anderson said she went home from South Korea “in tears.”

“It took me a lot to even be proud of myself,” she said. “I believed what the media said, and I believe what these girls were saying behind my back, and being really rude. And it wasn’t until I got back to California and got to reflect on the whole experience and talk to one of my mentors, and he was like, ‘I think showing up and being able to perform in a gnarly wind storm, in a snowstorm, in those elements, just shows really strong character for like working with the elements and just flowing with what is and not letting it psych you out.’

“And now, looking back at it, although I do have like sad memories of it, I also have so much respect for myself and know that that wasn’t easy.”

There was no talk of second chances, however, when Anderson, fellow 2018 U.S. teammates Hailey Langland and Julia Marino, and 18-year-old rookie Courtney Rummel met the media ahead of the Olympic slopestyle competition in Beijing, but there was a definite mix of anticipation and adjusted expectations ahead of their next turn in the Olympic spotlight.

“I feel still really passionate about pushing my riding,” said the 31-year-old Anderson, who could become the first snowboarder to win three consecutive gold medals in any event. “I think I’m capable of more, progression-wise, in my own runs. That’s why I’m still here.”

Langland, who hails from San Clemente, Calif., was just 17 in PyeongChang when she finished sixth in the slopestyle (and 14th in big air). She said she “wasn’t excited” about her run there, admitting the whole experience “kinda made me fall out of love with snowboarding a little bit.” But she brings a new perspective with her to Beijing.

“My goals are completely different at this Games; I just want to put down the run I came here to do,” said Langland, noting she put too much pressure on herself in 2018. “These last four years have not only changed my perception on what I want out of life – I wanted to be the best and I wanted medals, but my focus has definitely shifted. … I’m just trying to make the most out of every experience. I wish I could have given that advice to myself when I was 17 in a pretty crazy position in Korea.”

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Marino, from Westport, Conn., finished 11th in 2018 (and 10th in big air) and expressed a similar sentiment: “I’ve learned a lot in the four years from the past (Olympics), and I’m trying to take some of those lessons and apply them here. I’m coming in with a little bit less expectations and just trying to enjoy the experience.”

Also returning to compete in Beijing are 2018 silver medalist Laurie Blouin of Canada and bronze medalist Enni Rukajarvi of Finland. However, it’s New Zealand’s Zoi Sadowski-Synnott who may pose the biggest threat to Anderson’s bid for a three-peat.

Sadowski-Synnott, who captured big air bronze in 2018, won consecutive world championships in 2019 and 2021, and in January she won X Games gold while becoming the first woman to land back-to-back double cork 1080s in a slopestyle run.

WOMEN’S SLOPESTYLE UPDATE: Zoi Sadowski-Synnott becomes New Zealand’s first winter Olympic gold medalist

2022 Winter Olympics: Women’s Slopestyle Snowboarding Schedule

Event  Date/Time (U.S. Eastern Time) Date/Time (Beijing, China)
Women’s Slopestyle Qualification 2/4/22 9:45 PM 2/5/22 10:45 AM
Women’s Slopestyle Final 2/5/22 8:30 PM 2/6/22 9:30 AM

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.