Women’s skeleton slides into spotlight at 2022 Winter Olympics

Tina Hermann from Germany in action in skeleton in Beijing.
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Women’s skeleton celebrates the 20th anniversary since its debut in the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, and this year marks the first time the same number of women as men – 25 – will compete in the event.

While Germany’s women have captured the last five skeleton world titles, they’re still searching for their first Olympic gold in the women’s competition and are in prime position to capitalize on the retirement of 2014 and 2018 Olympic champion Lizzy Yarnold (GBR). Germany boasts the medal favorite in four-time world champion Tina Hermann, who won the last three worlds (2019-21) to go along with her 2016 title.

MORE SKELETON COVERAGE: Can Narracott hold on to win Australia’s first ever sliding medal?

Before taking a closer look at the other medal contenders, as well as an introduction to the U.S. women, On Her Turf offers a head-first look (wink!) at women’s skeleton.

What’s the difference between skeleton and luge again?

Skeleton is considered the “slowest” of the three sliding sports, which include bobsled and luge, with speeds reaching more than 80 miles per hour as athletes lie prostrate on a small sled and slide head-first down an icy racecourse.

Like bobsled, skeleton athletes get a running start before diving onto their sleds, while luge is the only sliding discipline where athletes begin their runs already in the sled. To start a run, athletes are seated in the sled and use their hands to push against the ice and move forward to start their run. Luge athletes lay with their back against the sled and race feet first down the course with speeds reaching as high as 90 mph.

Skeleton and luge are similar in that all competitors get three runs before the field is cut to the top 20 for the fourth and final run. The racers with the lowest aggregate time over all four runs wins.

And why is skeleton called skeleton?

The name “skeleton” may be derived from the incorrect translation of the Norwegian word “kjelke,” or “sled,” while others believe it came from the appearance of a new metal sled said to resemble a skeleton.

How does the skeleton track compare to other venues?

Skeleton races (as well as bobsled and luge) take place at the Yanqing National Sliding Center on the Xiaohaituo Bobsled and Luge Track, known as “The Snow Dragon.” It’s one of just three tracks in all of Asia and the first of its kind China, built specifically for the 2022 Winter Olympics.

The track is considered long, measuring roughly a mile (1.6 km) and dropping 397 feet in elevation with the steepest section being a fierce 18-percent grade. It also features 16 curves highlighted by a 360-degree turn, known as a “Kreisel.”

In the women’s trials event held during the international training weeks, Germany’s Hermann took the win over teammate and Junior Worlds champion Hannah Neise, with Russian Olympic Committee’s Yelena Nikitina finishing third.

Meet the U.S. women competing in skeleton at the 2022 Winter Olympics:

The U.S. women are led by five-time Olympics veteran Katie Uhlaender, the 2012 world champion and two-time World Cup overall champion. Her best Olympic result was fourth in 2014, when the Colorado natvie just missed the podium after finishing four one-hundredths of a second behind Russia’s Nikitina, who was stripped of her bronze medal in 2017 for doping violations. Ultimately, Nikitina’s medal was reinstated in 2018, and Uhlaender, 37, has been a vocal advocate across the Olympic movement for “penalties for countries that skirt doping laws.” She finished fifth in the October test event.

She’s joined by 33-year-old Kelly Curtis, who is making her Olympics debut and finished 18th in the test event. The Princeton, N.J., native was an heptathlete in college and competed in bobsled in graduate school and didn’t make her debut in skeleton until 2016 at age 27. Curtis made her World Cup debut in January 2021, three days before her 32nd birthday, and has recorded three career top-10 World Cup finishes this season. Her best was a sixth in the final race of the season in St. Moritz, Switzerland, which clinched her Olympic spot. She will become the first Black athlete to represent the U.S. in the sport of skeleton.

“I didn’t really have too many people to look up to in the skeleton world, but I did in bobsled,” Curtis said. “I’m standing on the shoulders of giants and trying to inspire the next generation.”

The only Olympic skeleton medals for U.S. women came in 2002, when Tristan Gale won gold and Lea Ann Parsley won silver.

Who is favored to win gold in women’s skeleton?

Germany has won three Olympic medals in skeleton, but they’re aiming for a first-ever women’s gold behind Hermann, who has won two World Cup races this season. But so have her closest competitors, Netherlands’ Laura Deas and ROC’s Nikitina.

Kimberley Bos captured the 2022 World Cup title to become the first Dutch slider to do so, finishing on the podium in six of eight races. Great Britain’s Laura Deas, the 2018 bronze medalist, is looking to extend her country’s streak in skeleton: Team GB has won a skeleton medal at every Olympic Winter Games since the sport was reintroduced at Salt Lake City in 2002.

Will China have an advantage as host nation?

In men’s skeleton, there is a long history of host nation success: a South Korean athlete (Yun Sung-Bin) won at the 2018 PyeongChang Games, a Russian athlete (Aleksandr Tretiyakov) won at the 2014 Sochi Games, a Canadian athlete (Jon Montgomery) won at the 2010 Vancouver Games, and an American (Jim Shea) won at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.

On the women’s side, however, the host nation has only won gold once: American Tristan Gale in 2002.

The 2022 Winter Olympics mark the first time that China is fielding a women’s Olympic team, but little is known about their medal potential. The pre-Olympic World Cup was cancelled due to travel restrictions caused by the pandemic, and no Chinese athletes took part in the races held there during the international training weeks last October.

In training runs earlier this week, 19-year-old Zhao Dan finished in the top-three in three of six training runs. Zhao, a Youth Olympian who was one of the flag bearers for Team China at the Opening Ceremony, made her World Cup debut this season, with a best finish of 15th. China’s other entrant, Li Yuxi, was much less consistent in this week’s training runs.

While Zhao and Li may not have much experience themselves, they’ve got a veteran in coach Andy Schmidt, who coached Great Britain to the last three consecutive Olympic women’s skeleton gold medals.

How to watch women’s skeleton at the 2022 Winter Olympics:

For viewers in the United States, you have some options:

  • Peacock will be the streaming home of the 2022 Winter Olympics. Live streaming coverage and full replays of every event will be available on Peacock’s premium tier. Click here to watch.
  • You can also stream events via NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports app.
  • Games will also air on NBC, USA Network, and CNBC. Preliminary TV listings can be found here and the most up-to-date schedule with TV and streaming info can be found here.

You can also keep up-to-date on how to watch every women’s and mixed gender event using On Her Turf’s official guide to the Winter Games.

Women’s Skeleton Schedule at the 2022 Winter Olympics

Event  Date/Time (U.S. Eastern Time) Date/Time (Beijing, China)
Women’s Skeleton (Runs 1 & 2) 2/10/22 8:30 PM 2/11/22 9:30 AM
Women’s Skeleton (Runs 3 & 4) 2/12/22 7:20 PM 2/13/22 8:20 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.