Winter Olympics: Eileen Gu wins halfpipe gold, makes freeskiing history

Eileen Ailing Gu won gold in women's ski halfpipe at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China
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On Friday at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Eileen Gu won gold in the women’s freeskiing halfpipe final, marking Gu’s third medal in Beijing. On Her Turf provided live updates and highlights as competition at Genting Snow Park unfolded.

Women’s Freeskiing Halfpipe – Live Updates:

8:30pm ET: And we’re off! Twelve athletes qualified into the final (start list below). Each athlete will take three runs, with their best score counting towards their final ranking.

8:32pm ET: Oof. VERY GUSTY conditions that athletes are detailing with today at Genting Snow Park. It’s also a mild 0 degrees Fahrenheit.

8:34pm ET: Here comes Team USA’s Carly Margulies, who has had such a journey just to reach these 2022 Winter Olympics. She has had a total of seven procedures to fix ACL tears, damaged meniscus and even one to fill existing holes in her knee. Her most recent surgery was just two months ago. Not the best run from Margulies, who falls midway through, but she has another two chances.

8:36pm ET: And here is Margulies’ U.S. teammate Hanna Faulhaber. Faulhaber has actually looked up to Margulies, who is seven years older, for most of her career. A few years ago, Margulies wrote her a note of support, and Faulhaber tacked it up on her wall to serve as inspiration. Both athletes are making their Olympic debut in Beijing. Faulhaber moves into first place with a strong first run (video below).

8:45pm ET: Wow. Very strong run from Canada’s Cassie Sharpe, the defending Olympic champion in this event, who has dealt with a knee injury in the last year. She moves into first with a score of 89.00.

8:50pm ET: A great run from Estonia’s Kelly Sildaru, who really showcases her trick repertoire. Sildaru, along with China’s Eileen Gu, are the only freeskiers competing in three events in Beijing (halfpipe, slopestyle, big air). Sildaru won silver in slopestyle earlier this week, marking her nation’s first ever winter Olympic medal in a sport other than cross-country skiing.

MORE WINTER OLYMPICS COVERAGE: Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto captures Olympic bronze with empowering free skate

8:53pm ET: Super solid run from Canada’s Rachael Karker. She moves into second with a score of 87.75.

8:56pm ET: Eileen Guwho was born in San Francisco but competes for her mother’s homeland of China – appears on her way to win her third medal in her third event at these 2022 Winter Olympics. She moves into first place with a score of 93.25. “Let’s go!” Gu shouts when her score comes down.

Video of Eileen Gu’s strong first run in the women’s halfpipe final at the 2022 Winter Olympics:

8:57pm ET: Here are the top five after the first run. If the standings hold, Eileen Gu will become the first freestyle skier to win three medals at a single Olympics.

  1. Eileen Gu (CHN) – 93.25
  2. Cassie Sharpe (CAN) – 89.00
  3. Rachael Karker (CAN) – 87.75
  4. Hannah Faulhaber (USA) – 85.25
  5. Li Fanghui (CHN) – 81.75

9:03pm ET: Carly Margulies stalls halfway through the pipe on her second run. Appears she’s having issues with her skis; a binding broke on her first run.

9:06pm ET: Another really strong run from Hanna Faulhaber of the United States. But it’s not enough to move her up in the standings. The 17-year-old remains in fourth with one run remaining.

9:07pm ET: Team USA’s Brita Sigourney, who claimed bronze in this event in 2018, has a decent run, but bobbles on two landings. The 32-year-old American, who is competing at her third Olympics in Beijing, isn’t able to improve upon her first run score.

9:15pm ET: Canada’s Cassie Sharpe with a big 1080 in the middle of her run! Wow. What a technical performance. She improves on her first run score, but only by one point. (89.00 to 90.00). Sharpe remains in silver-medal position behind Gu.

9:22pm ET: Estonia’s Kelly Sildaru improves with a strong second run, but is still off the podium in fourth.

9:25pm ET: Wow. Eileen Gu. In her first two events in Beijing, she came from behind to finish on the podium. In big air, she was in bronze-medal position heading into the final run – and then landed a massive double cork 1620 for the first time in her career to win gold. In slopestyle, she moved from seventh to silver in her final run. But heading into the third run of the women’s halfpipe final, it seems very unlikely Gu will need to come from behind. A massive second run earns her 95.25 points, increasing her lead over the field. That said, with a best-run-counts format, it is still anyone’s game.

Video of Eileen Gu’s second run in women’s freeski halfpipe at the 2022 Winter Olympics:

9:27pm ET: Here are the top five with one run remaining:

  1. Eileen Gu (CHN) – 95.25
  2. Cassie Sharpe (CAN) – 90.00
  3. Rachael Karker (CAN) – 87.75
  4. Kelly Sildaru (EST) – 87.00
  5. Li Fanghui (CHN) – 86.50

9:35pm ET: Time for run #3… Team USA’s Carly Margulies with her best run of of the final, but will still finish well off the podium. Still, what a remarkable journey for Margulies, who had seven knee surgeries to get here. The 2022 Winter Olympics actually marked her first competition in TWO YEARS. Wild.

9:40pm ET: And with falls from both Hannah Faulhaber and Brita Sigourney, the U.S. won’t finish on the podium today.

9:45pm ET: Cassie Sharpe has improved on every run today – but it won’t be enough to defend her Olympic gold in freeski halfpipe. Sharpe still seems pumped about her performance, and she should be given the injuries she overcame just to compete in Beijing. Sharpe didn’t compete for most of 2021 after suffering a torn ACL at the 2021 X Games on her final halfpipe run (though she still won silver in that competition). She made her return to competition in December, just in time for the Olympics. Sharpe is also not the only member of her family in Beijing; her brother Darcy – who competes in snowboarding, not freeskiing – made his Olympic debut earlier this month, finishing 12th in big air and 23rd in slopestyle.

9:53pm ET: Tough day for Zoe Atkin, who competes for Great Britain but lives in Park City, Utah. The 19-year-old freeskier wasn’t able to put a run together until her third and final attempt, but she’ll finish off the podium.

9:56pm ET: Estonia’s Kelly Sildaru, in fourth heading into the run, puts down a solid run, but isn’t able to break onto the podium.

9:57pm ET: Guaranteed at least a bronze, Canada’s Rachael Karker takes her final run, but it is far from her best of the day.

9:59pm ET: Victory lap for Eileen Gu. With a gold medal secured, the 18-year-old has fun on her final run (video below). She becomes the first freestyle skier to win three medals at a single Winter Olympics. Even more impressive? She is the first freeskier – or snowboarder – to win a medal in both halfpipe AND big air or slopestyle. Not just at the same Olympics, but ever. Given how different halfpipe is from the other two events, its a real testament to Gu’s versatility.

11:00pm ET: “It has been two straight weeks of the most intense highs and lows I’ve ever experienced in my life,” Eileen Gu said of her experience in Beijing. “The second I landed the last 16 in big air I knew my life was never going to be the same.” Asked about her fun victory lap, Gu said, “I was literally this close to doing a cork 10…. But Zhang Kexin fell right before me on the right 10 and it kinda woke me up. I’ve never taken a victory lap before in my entire life, so I felt like, ‘You know what, last event at the Olympics it feels like I finally deserve it’. I’m really happy.”

Final Standings – Women’s Freeski Halfpipe at the 2022 Winter Olympics:

  1. Eileen Gu (CHN)
  2. Cassie Sharpe (CAN)
  3. Rachael Karker (CAN)
  4. Kelly Sildaru (EST)
  5. Li Fanghui (CHN)
  6. Hanna Faulhaber (USA)
  7. Zhang Kexin (CHN)
  8. Amy Fraser (CAN)
  9. Zoe Atkin (GBR)
  10. Brita Sigourney (USA)
  11. Carly Margulies (USA)
  12. Sabrina Cakmakli (GER)

Women’s Freeskiing Halfpipe Final – Start List:

1 – GER – Sabrina CAKMAKLI
2 – CAN – Amy FRASER
3 – USA – Carly MARGULIES
4 – USA – Hanna FAULHABER
5 – USA – Brita SIGOURNEY
6 – CHN – LI Fanghui
7 – CAN – Cassie SHARPE
8 – CHN – ZHANG Kexin
9 – GBR – Zoe ATKIN
10 – EST – Kelly SILDARU
11 – CAN – Rachael KARKER
12 – CHN – Eileen Ailing GU

Freeski Halfpipe – Competition Format for the 2022 Winter Olympics:

The final will include the top 12 athletes from qualification. Athletes start in reverse order of their score from qualification (the top-ranked athlete goes last).

During the final, each athlete takes three runs. The best score of the three counts towards the final standings.

How is it judged?

Athletes are judged based on five criteria: execution, difficulty, amplitude, variety, and progression. Judges score each run on a scale from 0-100.

Halfpipe Details – 2022 Winter Olympics:

  • Course Name: Secret Garden Olympic Halfpipe
  • Halfpipe Length: 220 meters
  • Halfpipe Width: 22 meters
  • Inner Height of Walls: 7.2 meters

The NBC Olympics research team contributed to this report. 

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.”

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

YEAR WINNER SCORE MARGIN RUNNERUP
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.