Eileen Gu wins debut of freeski big air at 2022 Winter Olympics

Eileen Gu (also known as Ailing Gu) wins gold for China in the Olympic debut of freeski big air
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The debut of women’s freeski big air at the 2022 Winter Olympics featured perhaps the best showing of women’s freeskiing in history.

The first hint of what was going to be unleashed came in the first run when Eileen Guwho was born in San Francisco but represents China – landed a massive 1440.

But she wasn’t done impressing. And neither were her competitors.

In freeski big air, athletes are ranked based on their two best scores in three runs, though the two scoring runs must be different tricks.

After Gu, Tess Ledeux – the reigning X Games champion in both freeski big air and slopestyle – landed a double cork 1620 for the second time in her career. That’s four-and-a-half rotations, the most rotations ever seen in women’s freeskiing.

In the second run, Switzerland’s Mathilde Gremaud elevated the gauntlet with a huge double cork 1440.

At the end of two runs, Gu found herself in bronze-medal position with nothing to lose and Ledeux and Gremaud still to come.

“I was thinking, ‘Should I improve on my previous one and go for the silver, or should I whip out this random trick I’d never done before and go for gold?” Gu recounted. “I wanted to represent myself and this competitive style that I really take pride in – and that desire to push myself and push the sport.”

So Gu attempted her own double cork 1620 – for her first time ever in competition – and stomped it.

“I am not crying, I am definitely not crying,” she said in the finish area while waiting for her scores to come down.

Video of Eileen Gu’s massive double cork 1620 in the final run of women’s freeski big air at the 2022 Winter Olympics:

https://twitter.com/NBCOlympics/status/1490884208616787968?s=20&t=6Ae00dRT8ZMJGyuSXp-G9Q

Ledeux wasn’t able to match it and the 20-year-old French skier was clearly distraught in the finish area after her silver medal was confirmed.

Gremaud claimed bronze, her second Olympic medal after winning slopestyle silver in PyeongChang.

“Everyone was just giving it all, and it ended up being the sickest event that there ever was in women’s big air,” the Swiss skier said. “Everyone was pushing, and coming up with new things.”

Gu credited her competitors with pushing her to attempt the 1620.

“I landed [my final attempt] because of them,” she said. “We all have the same goal to push the sport and do our personal best on that day.”

Freestyle Skiing - Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics Day 4
BEIJING, CHINA – China’s Eileen Gu (also known as Gu Ailing) competes in the final of women’s freestyle skiing big air at the 2022 Winter Olympics. (Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

Gu is the first woman to win gold for China in a freestyle skiing event. At age 18, 158 days, she is also the youngest athlete from China to win a gold medal at the Winter Olympics, according to Olympedia.org.

The win is also a major full circle moment for Gu – who is known as Gu Ailing in China.

“When I was nine years old I pitched the idea of a slopestyle competition in China,” she said after big air qualifying. “I competed in it and won it and now I’m competing in the first big air in Olympic history in China, so it really is a full circle moment.”

Gu is also expected to be a top medal threat in women’s slopestyle and halfpipe at these 2022 Winter Olympics.

Full Results from the Women’s Freeskiing Big Air Final at the 2022 Winter Olympics: 

Rank Name Run 1 Run 2 Run 3 Best 2 Scores
1 Eileen Gu (CHN) 93.75 (2) 88.50 (4) 94.50 (1) 188.25
2 Tess Ledeux (FRA) 94.50 (1) 93.00 (2) 73.50 (6) 187.50
3 Mathilde Gremaud (SUI) 89.25 (4) 93.25 (1) 26.00 (10) 182.50
4 Megan Oldham (CAN) 85.00 (6) 89.25 (3) 88.75 (2) 178.00
5 Kirsty Muir (GBR) 90.25 (3) 78.75 (5) 15.50 (12) 169.00
6 Sarah Hoefflin (SUI) 82.50 (7) 53.00 (9) 76.25 (5) 158.75
7 Johanne Killi (NOR) 87.75 (5) 58.50 (7) 65.50 (7) 153.25
8 Olivia Asselin (CAN) 62.00 (10) 60.25 (6) 85.50 (3) 147.50
9 Anni Karava (FIN) 81.00 (8) 54.00 (8) 82.50 (4) 136.50
10 Anastasia Tatalina (ROC) 75.50 (9) 22.25 (11) 47.00 (9) 122.50
11 Darian Stevens (USA) 56.75 (11) 50.75 (10) 18.25 (11) 75.00
12 Sandra Eie (NOR) 17.00 (12) 19.00 (12) 64.50 (8) 64.50

This story will continue to be updated.

Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC

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.”