Can Narracott hold on to win Australia’s first ever sliding medal?

Australia's Jaclyn Narracott competes in skeleton at the 2022 Winter Olympics
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BEIJING (AP) — The last time Australia won an Olympic medal in a sliding sport? That would be never.

Never even been close, with the country’s best result in any bobsled, skeleton or luge race being a 10th-place showing in 2010.

Jaclyn Narracott is now two runs away from changing everything.

MORE SKELETON COVERAGE: Women’s skeleton slides into spotlight at 2022 Winter Olympics

The 31-year-old Brisbane native — a distant 16th at her only other Olympic appearance four years ago — is the leader midway through the women’s skeleton event at the Beijing Games. Her first two runs on Friday were timed in 2 minutes, 4.34 seconds, putting her 0.21 seconds ahead of Germany’s Hannah Neise and 0.23 seconds ahead of another German, Tina Hermann.

“This field is ridiculously competitive,” Narracott said. “To be sitting on top of it is phenomenal. I knew it was going to be a good race and if I could put down two runs where I was calm and composed I’d be in the mix, but that doesn’t make it any less exciting to be No. 1.”

A lot is still up in the air.

There are eight women within 0.53 seconds of the lead heading into Saturday night’s final two runs, including five-time U.S. Olympian Katie Uhlaender. She finished Friday in 2:04.87, meaning she’s only three-tenths of a second behind Hermann right now for the bronze-medal position.

“I feel the best I’ve ever felt at an Olympics,” Uhlaender said. “I feel the most prepared, mentally.”

Uhlaender is using the same runners — the steel tubes that sit between the sled and the ice — that U.S. men’s Olympian Andrew Blaser is using in Beijing. It was a last-minute decision by Uhlaender to ask Blaser to share his runners, and it paid off.

A medal would be worth at least a $15,000 bonus from the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee for Uhlaender. If it happens, Blaser’s generosity won’t be forgotten, she promised.

“Oh, he’s getting a cut,” she said.

Kelly Curtis of the U.S. is 18th after two runs in her Olympic debut. China’s Zhao Dan, who epitomizes home-ice advantage by having more runs on this track than any other international slider — by a huge margin — is in fourth, squarely in the medal hunt.

The 19-year-old has appeared in the grand total of four World Cup women’s skeleton races, with an average finish of 19th. She’s never competed in the world championships. Her lone win in a sanctioned international race was in the equivalent of sliding’s minor leagues, the Intercontinental Cup circuit back in December. But she’s right there with the medal hopefuls.

“Every one of us obviously is very good, especially in the women’s,” Neise said. “It’s very tight. It’s been very tight in the whole season.”

Narracott wasn’t much of a contender this season, finishing 17th in the World Cup standings. She won the World Cup finale at St. Moritz, Switzerland, four weeks ago, saying she benefited there from having her husband and coach — Dom Parsons, who won a bronze for Britain at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games — alongside her for the first time since October.

MORE WINTER OLYMPICS: Why aren’t there more Black figure skaters at the Winter Olympics?

Parsons is with her in Beijing, too. The extra set of eyes is working wonders, she said.

“All year, we were doing it via FaceTime and with video,” Narracott said. “To have him by my side, seeing the ice as I’m seeing it … it’s huge.”

Almost all the golds won by Australia at the winter games have come in either alpine skiing or snowboarding. The last — and only — time an Australian won a gold medal in any ice sport was 2002. And that was only after everyone else crashed in a short-track speed skating race, allowing Steven Bradbury to prevail.

Bradbury was well back of the other four finalists in the 1,000-meter race at the Salt Lake City Games, a quarter-lap or so behind heading into the final turn. He had no chance, until those other four skaters — U.S. legend Apolo Ohno among them — took each other out. Bradbury simply cruised by the carnage and won gold by staying on his feet.

Narracott won’t need that kind of help on Saturday night, when the women’s medals are decided — and Olympic-crazed Australia might get a sliding champ for the first time.

“I think it’s just born into us,” Narracott said of Australia’s Olympic passion. “We all grow up knowing that representing the green and gold is the pinnacle, whether that’s the Olympics, world champs, whatever it is. There’s just that pride in the uniform.”

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.”