Jessie Diggins adds Olympic bronze to already golden cross-country resume

Jessie Diggins wins bronze in the Olympic Cross-Country Skiing individual sprint freestyle.
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Jessie Diggins added another couple of “firsts” to her already golden Olympic cross-country resume Tuesday, winning the bronze medal in the women’s individual sprint freestyle at Zhangjiakou National Cross-Country Skiing Center.

The 30-year-old Diggins, who raced to an historic gold with teammate Kikkan Randall in the 2018 Olympic team sprint, became the first Team USA athlete to win an individual medal in any cross-country event and the first U.S. cross-country athlete to win multiple Olympic medals.

“It’s overwhelming, but in a good way,” said Diggins, a three-time Olympian from Afton, Minn. “It’s just really emotional for me because this really belongs to the whole team. And I think it’s taken so many years to get here, to have a U.S. woman have an individual medal.”

Diggins came into Beijing among the favorites in the sprint, which was contested in the freestyle technique – the same technique used to win team sprint gold in 2018. She’s since built off that momentum from PyeongChang, where she also finished sixth in the 2018 sprint classic, and in December she won a freestyle sprint in a Tour de Ski stage.

But Diggins admitted she hasn’t heard much of the hype surrounding her – or her medal chances – prior to Beijing, and instead offered an insight into her priorities at the Games.

“I don’t read the news ever,” she said. “I have to make sure that I’m focused on my team, and I have to make sure I’m focused on being a good teammate and being a good roommate and being considerate. And part of that is just really focusing on, ‘Hey, how am I doing in training today? Did I eat enough? Did I drink enough? How can I make sure that I’m doing the best I can today?’”

MORE WINTER OLYMPICS: Eileen Gu wins debut of freeski big air at 2022 Winter Olympics

Her personal accountability is undoubtedly what makes Diggins so successful on and off the snow, where she’s become an outspoken advocate for climate change and an ambassador for The Emily Project, a national leader for eating disorder recovery. Diggins sought treatment with The Emily Project as an 18-year-old in an intensive day program. Now 30, she wears the program’s logo on her hat during every competition. She’s also helped educate members of the media on the importance of body image education.

“The last four years I’ve really found my voice, I’ve really found a lot of my purpose, and I feel like I’ve grown a lot,” said Diggins, who shared her story in her 2020 memoir, “Brave Enough.” “But also, I’m exactly the same person in pretty much every other way.”

Sweden’s Jonna Sundling, the 27-year-old reigning world champion in the sprint classic, took gold after dominating her three qualifying races before the final and won by nearly three seconds. Fellow Swede Maja Dahlqvist, 27, took silver, beating Diggins by a stride. Park City, Utah’s Rosie Brennan, 33, finished fourth in her second Olympics appearance.

“I came into this as prepared as I could be, which was one of my biggest goals,” said Diggins regarding her performance. “The second goal: Cross the finish line with nothing left. And the third goal is to just have fun and keep focusing on the process because that’s what gets me where I am today.”

MORE WINTER OLYMPICS COVERAGE: Lindsey Jacobellis wins Team USA’s first gold in fifth Winter Olympics

Jessie Diggins’ Potential Remaining Schedule at the 2022 Winter Olympics

Event  Date/Time (U.S. Eastern Time) Date/Time (Beijing, China)
Women’s 10km Classic 2/10/22 2:00 AM 2/10/22 3:00 PM
Women’s 4x5km Relay 2/12/22 2:30 AM 2/12/22 3:30 PM
Women’s Team Sprint Classic (Semifinals, Final) 2/16/22 4:00 AM 2/16/22 5:00 PM
Women’s 30km Mass Start Freestyle 2/20/22 2:00 AM 2/20/22 3:00 PM

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

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.”