Ski jumping suit drama: ‘I think they have destroyed women’s ski jumping’

Ski jumping at the 2022 Winter Olympics
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Women’s ski jumping grabbed the headlines Tuesday at the Winter Olympics, although not for reasons the athletes might have liked after five women were disqualified from the new mixed team event.

Among them were Germany’s Katharina Althaus, a two-time Olympian who captured her second consecutive silver medal in the individual normal hill event just two days prior.

“I have no words for the decisions that were made today — our sport was damaged as a result,” wrote Althaus on Instagram after she, Japan’s Sara Takanashi, Austria’s Daniela Iraschko Stolz and Norway’s Silje Opseth and Anna Odine Stroem were disqualified for suit violations, wearing suits deemed to be too loose and thus capable of extra loft.

“We were so happy to have a second event (for women) here at the Olympics,” said Althaus, via German sports agency SID. “The FIS destroyed everything with this operation. I think they have destroyed women’s ski jumping. I don’t know what they’re trying to do.”

“It is just strange that they have been using the same suits yesterday and there was no problem,” said German coach Stefan Horngacher. “It is annoying that this happens at the Winter Olympic Games. This should all be cleared before.”

Norwegian ski jumping chief of sports Clas Brede Braathen emphasized the gravity of the situation, saying, “I am sorry on behalf of ski jumping. This is something we should have cleaned up in before the Olympics. The sport of ski jumping has experienced one of its darker days today.”

The addition of the mixed team event was supposed to be an advancement for women’s ski jumping. But at the 2022 Winter Games, the disparities between the men’s and women’s programs are still glaring.

The women’s competition had just 40 spots for the individual normal hill event compared to 65 for the men. Additionally, the men have an individual large hill competition and a men’s team event where 12 countries compete with four-man teams. Women compete on the large hill on the World Cup and at Nordic Skiing World Championships.

Althaus, who’s also the reigning world champion, had five podiums in nine World Cup starts heading into the Winter Games, and her silver medal over the weekend made her first woman to win two Olympic medals in ski jumping. Takanashi, the 2018 bronze medalist, finished fourth after arriving at the Olympics as the most successful women’s ski jumper in history, with 61 wins and 110 podium finishes overall in 167 World Cup starts.

MORE SKI JUMPING COVERAGE: In ski jumping, where thin flies far, this Olympian aims to prevent eating disorders

According to an NPR report Tuesday, Takanashi’s coach “said her suit was supposedly too big around the thighs, even though she wore it in the women’s normal hill event on Saturday. He added that the extreme dry weather may have affected her body’s moisture content.” Opseth reportedly told Norwegian media she also wore the same suit in the women’s competition, but what changed was the way it was measured.

The report, however, adds that FIS official Aga Baczkowska told Norwegian public broadcaster NRK that the equipment inspection followed the rules, noting that it’s the team’s responsibility to ensure all suits comply.

FIS guidelines, which were updated in November, state that “the jumping suit must in all places and parts be tight-fitting the athlete’s body.” The rules are meant to prevent “suit doping” – when ski jumpers try to become more aerodynamic by increasing the sag and permeability of their suits.

Ursa Bogataj earned Slovenia’s first-ever ski jumping Olympic gold on Saturday when she won the women’s individual title, and she teamed with 2022 women’s bronze medalist Nika Kriznar, Timi Zacj and Peter Prevc to claim the mixed team gold on Monday. Slovenia was the only team among the top five seeds to record eight legal jumps and won by more than 100 points, with Russian Olympic Committee taking silver and Canada winning bronze.

“Equipment is very important in sport and disqualifications happen,” said Abigail Strate, part of Canada’s bronze-medal squad. “It’s a very common thing to happen in ski jumping and the fact that it happened at the Olympics just goes to show that they were taking the rules pretty strictly and seriously because it is the absolute highest level of sport.”

Strate’s teammate, Alexandria Louititt expressed a similar sentiment after having been disqualified from the women’s individual competition for ski length. Austria’s Sophie Sorschag, however, was disqualified from the women’s event because of her suit.

“I had the same thing happen the other night when I was disqualified, so there’s no exceptions,” said Louititt.

MORE WINTER OLYMPICS: Ester Ledecka – the best Olympic snowboard racer is still an alpine skier

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.”