Jenise Spiteri is the hater-shaming, bao bun-loving, Olympic snowboarder we all want to be friends with

Jenise Spiteri took a bite of a bao bun - a red-bean-paste-filled bun - during qualifying in women's snowboard halfpipe.
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At the Opening Ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics, snowboarder Jenise Spiteri walked into National Stadium as the flag bearer and lone athlete for the Mediterranean island-state of Malta, sporting gorgeous, half neon pink/half blue-green, waist-length hair.

She went on to capture fans’ hearts during the women’s snowboarding halfpipe competition when she pulled a bao bun – a red-bean-paste-filled bun – out of her pocket and took a bite while waiting for her scores after her first run in qualifying. Olympians, they’re just like us – at least when they aren’t attempting gravity-defying feats.

“I actually eat six every day,” she explained to On Her Turf after finishing 21st and failing to qualify for the women’s halfpipe finals. “Two at breakfast, two with my lunch and two at dinner. This morning, I got my two buns, but I was way too nervous to eat. … I took a bite of one and put it in my pocket and kind of forgot I put it in there. As I was dropping in for the run I was like, ‘Oh! I think I still have that in my pocket!’”

But the California-born Spiteri cemented fans’ respect with her message in an iconic and charming TikTok video that was a dozen years in the making.

“Twelve years ago, I moved to Tahoe to pursue my dream of being a snowboarder, and some guys made a post talking all about how by the end of the season, ‘I guarantee she will crawl home to mommy and daddy,’” the 29-year-old Spiteri says in the video, standing in front of the Olympic Rings and holding a printout of the trolling post.

“I’ve waited 12 years to respond to this and now it’s finally the time, so: Dear guys who wrote this, I am not a ‘stupid, ignorant, spoiled, trendy, blind, naïve, helpless, little bitch.’

“Actually,” she adds, “I’m an Olympian,” upon which she crumbles the paper and tosses it through the rings.

It’s been a helluva ride for Spiteri, born just south of San Francisco in Redwood City, Calif., and a lifelong figure skater – a sport that’s also part of her family legacy. Following her grandparents’ emigration from Malta in the 1940s, family patriarch Joseph Spiteri would go on to found SP-Teri, an ice-skating boot manufacturer that has made boots for Olympians including two-time medalist Michelle Kwan.

But Spiteri fell in love with snowboarding at age 18, while attending Sierra Nevada University in the Lake Tahoe area. She grew up wanting to be an actor – something she still does as more of an odd job since choosing snowboarding, including working as an extra on the HBO series, “Euphoria.”

But it was 10 years ago – Jan. 29, 2012 – when she wrote a Facebook post that would change the course of her life, asking everyone and no one in particular: “Wanted: someone to teach me how to ride pipe tomorrow. Anyone available?”

The post got two likes, 10 comments and one share.

Fast forward exactly one decade and Spiteri is taking fans behind the scenes, where her social media highlights pin-trading with halfpipe legend Shaun White and gushing over the Olympic halfpipe silver medal won by good friend Queralt Castellet of Spain.

But Spiteri has been documenting her unlikely journey – which is largely self-funded – from the very beginning. She got the idea to capitalize on her Maltese heritage from a college teammate and garnered the support of the Maltese Olympic Committee, which delivered her opening ceremony outfit with a special message.

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“They said, ‘We know how hard you worked for this and that you really tried, and we want you to have this piece because we know bad you want it,’” she recently told Around the Rings.

While she does receive financial support from the Olympic Solidarity training program, which helps countries build their national sports programs, Spiteri survives on a modest budget, living out of a converted van to offset costs.

“It’s been a big mental struggle, but I just always kept finding a reason to keep going and keep trying,” she said.

The learning curve was … cold. When she woke up one morning to find her contacts suspended in frozen solution inside the case, Spiteri admits it was a “big surprise.”

“I learned how to survive in extreme cold,” she explained. “I toughened up a lot doing that, but I saved a lot of money that I was able to put into training.”

Ultimately, Spiteri hopes her journey is a hopeful example of inspiration, never-give-up grit and a never-too-late perseverance.

“One of my big things that I want to show [people is] no matter where they are in life or what situation they’re in, what opportunities they have or don’t have,” she says, “if they have some sort of dream or big goal or idea, if they stick to it and are tenacious and determined and never let the naysayers or the voice in their own head stop them, they really can achieve anything.”

ALSO FROM ON HER TURF: Women of Team USA lead the way at 2022 Winter Olympics

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)

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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.”