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

Diana Flores looks to break down gender barriers with turn as AFC defensive coordinator in 2023 Pro Bowl

Courtesy Diana Flores
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Diana Flores admits she was surprised when she became a viral sensation last spring, courtesy of a 15-second slow-motion clip showcasing her evasive maneuvers and fancy footwork while leaving at least three defenders in the dirt during Mexico’s 2022 national collegiate flag football championship.

“I never expected someone to record that moment,” said Mexico City native Flores, who led her team – the Monterrey Tech Borregos – to their third consecutive national title as a senior last May. “I was just having fun. I was just playing the game I love and then days later to see that it was viral on the internet — it was crazy. But at the same time, it was exciting because I remember when I was younger, I didn’t have a lot of flag football role models to follow. So now, for me to be a role model for many boys and girls that play my sport is something that really makes me happy and proud and also motivates me to keep getting better.”

Flores, who led the Mexico Women’s National Flag Football Team to a gold medal at the 2022 World Games, will have the chance to promote her sport on one of the world’s biggest stages this weekend when she serves as the AFC defensive coordinator for the NFL’s 2023 Pro Bowl Games, featuring the first-ever AFC vs. NFC Flag football games on Sunday in Las Vegas.

Organized in partnership with RCX Sports, the NFL’s flag football operating partner, and the International Federation of American Football (IFAF), Sunday’s Pro Bowl event will feature three 7-on-7 AFC vs. NFC flag games. Each game will be 20 minutes in length (two halves) and played on a 50-yard field with 10-yard end zones. Flores will be joined by Peyton Manning as the AFC head coach and Ray Lewis as defensive coordinator. On the NFC side, U.S. Women’s National Flag Football team quarterback Vanita Krouch will serve as offensive coordinator, with Eli Manning as NFC head coach and DeMarcus Ware as defensive coordinator.

“I think that this has been one of the best things in my life,” she recently told On Her Turf about her Pro Bowl appointment. “It is like a dream. I mean, I grew up watching football, watching the NFL, playing flag football. And now to be able to be part of all of this — it is bigger than my biggest dreams.”

Flores’ football dreams began as when she was just 8 years old. Her father — who played quarterback for the perennial football powerhouse Monterrey Tech program — took her to a practice and she fell in love with the sport. But as the time there were no teams for girls her age, so she played with girls twice her age and used it to her advantage, focusing on her own abilities and sharpening her skills. By age 14 she was playing NFL Flag in Mexico, where she was the only girl in the league, and at 15 she started playing NFL Flag in the U.S, where she finally played on an all-girls team.

ALSO FROM ON HER TURF: U.S. flag football star Vanita Krouch ‘living the dream’ ahead of NFL Pro Bowl debut as NFC coordinator

“I remember when I started playing, I used to receive a lot of like comments, directly and indirectly from other people, like, ‘Why do you play that sport? That’s not a girls’ sport, that sport is for boys, you’re get injured, you’re going to get hurt, don’t play with boys, that’s too rude.’ And the list keeps going. But my mom and dad were so supportive. They always encouraged me not to listen to anybody, to just follow my passion.

“And I think thanks to them, I’ve always had this mentality that gender doesn’t matter. It just matters how passionate you are about your dreams, how hard you work for what you want to achieve. And that you will always demonstrate what you’re made for, depending on the hard work you do. So, I’ve lived through that [negativity], I have experienced that. And I think that it has been one of my biggest blessings to be able to experience — for myself — what sport can do and how gender barriers get broken when you follow your dreams and you connect with other people through your passion.”

At just 16 years old, Flores made Mexico’s national team, playing in the first of four Flag Football World Championships – so far. Last summer at the World Games in Birmingham, Alabama, the 24-year-old Flores led Mexico to a 6-0 record, which included two wins over the U.S. women, who took silver. In the gold medal game against the United States, she completed 20 of 28 pass attempts for 210 yards and four touchdowns in Mexico’s 39-6 victory. She finished the tournament with 23 touchdown passes, the third-most among women’s teams, and she was the only starting quarterback to beat USA’s star QB, Krouch, who is 19-1 in international tournament play.

All that international experience so early in her career has given Flores a wise-beyond-her-years approach to playing flag football, a sport where she was frequently the only female player on the field and often the only Latin American as well.

“When I first came to the U.S., it was a little shocking to notice that I was probably the only Latin American girl playing,” she recalls. “But I think that it was easy for me because I got all the support from my coaches and my teammates. And since a young age, I think that I started to realize that sometimes what you do is for something bigger than yourself. That’s why you have to always give your best, in any situation. Even at that young age, I understood that I was representing more than myself on the field, I was representing Latin American people, Latin American girls in a sport that [many people thought] was meant to be for boys.”

RELATED: NFL still pushing for Olympic flag football with a chance ahead

One door Flores hopes to help open is the one leading to the Olympics. Flag football is on the short list being considered for inclusion in Los Angeles in 2028 Los Angeles. As an ambassador for flag football for the NFL and the International Federation of American Football (IFAF), she’s participated in talks with the International Olympic Committee, and just last month she was joined by First Lady Dr. Jill Biden in Mexico City where they joined forced to promote women’s empowerment and inclusion.

“I think for me, that experience is one of my top three,” she said of spending time with Biden. “I call them gifts from life, something that you didn’t expect it to happen, and somehow, one day, you’re right there in front of the First Lady. I admire her for what she does for boys and girls, for empowering woman and giving opportunities for everybody to achieve their dreams. So it was truly an honor to meet her, and also to be able to keep impacting my sport, not only on the field, but [off] the field, and have the opportunity keep inspiring others and keep impacting the world.”

As for what she hopes fans at the Pro Bowl and viewers at home take away from Sunday’s flag football showcase, Flores hopes they’ll see the characteristics that made her fall in love with flag in the first place: creativity, speed, agility, teamwork, passion and a lot of heart.

“I hope to show to all little girls and women that dreams come true, that nothing is impossible, to keep inspiring and opening opportunities and doors for women in sports, especially in the world of the NFL and football and flag football,” she says. “We’re going to make history, and I am so proud and happy for that. I’m really hoping that it is just the first step, not only for me, but for all the women that are coming after me.”

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Flag football star Vanita Krouch ‘living the dream’ ahead of NFL Pro Bowl debut as NFC coordinator

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When Vanita Krouch got the news that she was named NFC defensive coordinator for the 2023 Pro Bowl Games, featuring the first-ever AFC vs. NFC Flag football games on Sunday, the U.S. Women’s National Flag Football team quarterback admits her jaw nearly hit the ground.

And then she realized something even more profound.

“For the longest time, thinking about the moment, everything, you’re like, ‘Oh, my gosh, this is a dream come true. Is this really happening?’” said the 42-year-old Krouch, known as the “Tom Brady of flag football” with a 19-1 record as USA’s starting quarterback in international tournaments since 2018.

“But then I started thinking to myself: You know what? None of us grew up thinking of this as a dream to obtain. So really, it’s kind of reversed where I’m living a dream. I get to be a pioneer in this growth of flag football for all and inclusion for all, youth and adults, [women and men]. It’s such an inclusive sport, and I get to be a part of this growth and still actively play. It’s exciting. I’m literally living the dream. I’m very much like, ‘Guys, don’t pinch me. Let me keep sleeping.’”

Organized in partnership with RCX Sports, the NFL’s flag football operating partner, and the International Federation of American Football (IFAF), Sunday’s Pro Bowl event will feature three 7-on-7 AFC vs. NFC flag games. Each game will be 20 minutes in length (two halves) and played on a 50-yard field with 10-yard end zones. Krouch will be joined by Eli Manning as NFC head coach and DeMarcus Ware as NFC defensive coordinator. On the AFC side, Mexico Women’s National Flag Football quarterback Diana Flores will serve as offensive coordinator, with Peyton Manning as head coach and Ray Lewis as defensive coordinator.

But Krouch’s journey to the Pro Bowl stage began under the unlikeliest of circumstances and was inspired by her own family odyssey, which began in Cambodia during the horrific regime of the Khmer Rouge in the late 1970s. Krouch’s mother, Phonnary Krouch, fled the country with three young sons in tow, running by night and hiding by day to escape, finding safety initially at a refugee camp in the Philippines. That’s where she welcomed Vanita, in September 1980, and two months later the family made its way to the United States. Krouch’s father exited the picture upon their arrival in America, leaving Phonnary to raise four children alone.

“In a nutshell, my mom is an amazing woman,” said Krouch, who first found sports via an elementary school flyer advertising youth soccer in Carrollton, Texas. “On the journey, she had a lot of trials, tribulations, … and after our dad left us, it was just mom and four kids in this little one-bedroom apartment. So, it was a challenge. I’m just so amazed by her strength and will to never give up.”

She also credits her mom for standing up to then-stereotypical notions that Asian girls should not play sports.

“I’m just thankful, honestly, that my mom allowed me to break the Asian culture barriers of a woman playing sports because that’s not easy,” she said. “She faced a lot of backlash from the community. But she said, ‘Hey, my child’s making good grades. She’s healthy, she’s good. She’s staying off the streets. I don’t see a problem.’ And she just let me do it. I was just lucky to have a mom that let me spread my wings.”

Krouch also had a few mentors along the way. Her elementary school PE teacher, Toni Neibes, stepped in to pay for those initial soccer fees and continued her support as Krouch transitioned to basketball in the fourth grade. She fell in love with the sport and excelled at it as well, eventually earning a full scholarship to play college basketball at Southern Methodist University. She wears the No. 4 to this day in honor of Niebes, who wore the same number as a young athlete. She also credits her fourth-grade teacher, Judy Ward, as having a lasting impact after the teacher made a habit out of showing up for her youth basketball games.

She pays tribute to them both through her clothing line, 4Ward Apparel, which features ever-changing collections emblazoned with relevant slogans encouraging female empowerment, inclusion and her personal mantra of “paying it forward” – something she does with the line itself. Each month, Krouch donates a portion of the sales to individuals, families or organizations in need.

After graduating SMU in 2003, Krouch continued to play basketball in semi-pro and adult leagues, but she was still searching for something to satisfy her competitive drive. She and a former college teammate stumbled on flag football during a Google search for local Dallas-area activities, and the rest – as they say – is history.

“It was like I drank the Kool Aid and I never looked back,” she says of her start in flag in 2006. “It’s just like every game, every play is a new challenge, and it’s addictive for a competitor, so I just fell in love with flag. I actually think I’m way better at flag than I was at basketball.”

She moved into the quarterback position through some sly maneuvering by current USA Women’s Flag Football head coach Chris Lankford. They were playing together in a local tournament when he “tricked” her into the QB position, despite Krouch knowing “zero football language.”

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“One day I showed up for a tournament and I asked, ‘All right, guys, who’s our quarterback?’ And he says, ‘We’re looking at her,’” she remembers. They kept the plays simple, and her team made it to the playoffs that season. Krouch has been a QB ever since.

Krouch joined the national team in 2016 and was inducted into the National Flag and Touch Football Hall Fame that same year. Last year at the 2022 World Games in Birmingham, Alabama, a 41-year-old Krouch set a new mark as the oldest Flag football player, man or woman, in the games, and she ranked second among women with 25 touchdown passes at the tournament where USA won silver.

She aims to bring that expertise to the field at the Pro Bowl games, where she’s looking forward to seeing NFL players take on the flag football style type of plays. “Flag is a very finesse, quick game, a lot of footwork, and these guys can’t grab or hold, no downfield contact or downfield block or anything off the line,” she explains. “So it’s going to be exciting just to see skill for skill, footwork for footwork, defense to offense, and to see flag football language with those type of elite athletes.”

As for the biggest challenge, Krouch believes it will be crafting a concise playbook and language that puts everyone on the same page. “A challenge for me is getting a coach’s mindset,” she adds, “I have to actually come up with plays ahead of time and I don’t usually have premeditated plays in my head. I just read it so for me to tell Kirk Cousins or Geno Smith [what to do], it will be different, you know?”

But beyond the Pro Bowl, Krouch is excited that flag is being considered for inclusion as an exhibition sport in the 2028 Summer Olympics. While she’s keeping a hopeful eye on that development, she’s also working to shape the next generation of potential athletes as a physical education teacher at La Villita Elementary in Irving, Texas.

RELATED: NFL still pushing for Olympic flag football with a chance ahead

“It’s an honor to be a role model – for other youth flag football players, for my students, both boys and girls,” says Krouch. “Then at my campus and in my community, it’s amazing to be able to break the barrier of like, ‘Asian women can’t do this.’ And then to be at my age, still doing this, I feel very lucky and blessed. …I think I still got some years in me.”

As for what she hopes viewers and fans walk away with after watching the Pro Bowl flag games this weekend, Krouch feels confident folks will walk away enlightened by the show.

“I just hope that they have fun with it,” says Krouch. “And for those who don’t know flag to be like, ‘Wow, that’s really amazing. Maybe that’s something I really can get my son or daughter into at a young age.’ So I just hope that they see that the sport is real – it’s not just something we play at recess. It’s a real thing now. I think they’ll see that the world loves it, the world can play it and is playing it.”

Be sure to check back with On Her Turf later this week when we catch up with AFC coordinator and Mexico Women’s National Flag Football Team quarterback Diana Flores.  

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