Lindsey Jacobellis wins Team USA’s first gold in fifth Winter Olympics

Winter Olympics: Lindsey Jacobellis won gold in women's snowboard cross to claim Team USA's first gold medal of the 2022 Winter Olympics
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Lindsey Jacobellis won gold in women’s snowboard cross – also known as ‘boardercross’ – to claim Team USA’s first gold medal of the 2022 Winter Olympics.

With the win, the 36-year-old Jacobellis becomes the oldest American woman to win a medal of any color – in any sport – at the Winter Olympics. She is also the oldest snowboarding medalist of any gender, according to Olympedia.org. Beijing also marks a record-tying fifth Olympic appearance for the Connecticut native.

“Don’t count the old girl out,” Jacobellis said.

“Racing with these girls definitely keeps me young, and they just keep getting younger.”

Video of Lindsey Jacobellis winning gold in women’s snowboard cross at the 2022 Winter Olympics: 

After posting the fifth-fastest time in qualifying, Jacobellis nearly saw her Olympics come to an end in her first heat of the day.

“I completely blew the start and I had to go on the hunt,” Jacobellis said. “It helped bring my momentum back to start doing well on the starts again.”

Just to reach the final, she had to defeat a stacked semifinal field that included reigning Olympic gold medalist Michela Moioli of Italy.

Once that was out of the way, “I actually felt like I was already a winner that I just made it into finals,” she said. “It’s been a long road for myself, ups and downs, injuries.”

That’s an understatement.

During her two-decade international career, Jacobellis developed into one of the most dominant snowboarders of all-time, in any discipline. She won 10 X Games titles before snowboard cross was nixed from the competition in 2016, plus five individual world titles (the last one came in 2017).

“I’m really happy that I’ve been now shaping this sport for women over the last two decades,” Jacobellis said. “That’s a pretty rare thing and it’s an honor to have been representing the U.S. team for that amount of time as well.”

But Jacobellis has had less success on the Olympic stage, with her only medal until now (a silver) coming at the 2006 Torino Games when she infamously lost her lead in the final after going for a celebratory board grab.

“I definitely have put 2006 obviously in the past and have done a lot of soul-searching to realize that (what happened in 2006) doesn’t define me as an athlete, as an individual,” she said after winning gold in Beijing.

“I can be upset with, you know, how I rode in that moment, but sometimes the opportunities or variables that are placed in front of me, I have no control over.”

RELATED: Snowboarder who beat Jacobellis in 2006: ‘I’m so happy for her’

One of the differences between Jacobellis’ first four Olympic appearances and Beijing is that – for the first time in her career – she did not enter the Games as the favorite for gold.

While Jacobellis had remained competitive in recent years, her last World Cup win came in 2019 and she finished off the podium in the individual snowboard cross event at both the 2019 (fifth) and 2021 World Championships (ninth).

An elbow injury and surgery in November 2021 caused her to miss several qualifying events in the lead-up to Beijing. She ultimately qualified after recording back-to-back podium finishes at a January 2022 World Cup stop.

France’s Chloe Trespeuch claimed the silver, while Canada’s Meryeta Odine earned bronze.

MORE WINTER OLYMPICS COVERAGE: Chloe Kim taking nothing for granted at the 2022 Winter Olympics

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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.”