One of the themes of the 2022 Winter Olympics: Women supporting women

One of many examples of women supporting women: Gold medal winner Zoi Sadowski Synnott of New Zealand, silver medal winner Julia Marino of the United States and bronze medal winner Tess Coady of Australia celebrates after the Snowboard Slopestyle Final.
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New Zealand’s Zoi Sadowski-Synnott had just come up short in her bid for the gold medal in the Olympic women’s snowboard big air contest, but she didn’t even release her boots from her board before diving into a bear hug with winner Anna Gasser of Austria, who was waiting at the finish area.

The hug between the silver and gold medalists quickly turned into a heap of Olympians, who joyfully piled on top of each other, whether they had won a medal or not.

“I feel like it’s so special that we’re all so close together,” Gasser said of her fellow competitors afterward. “I felt the girls were so happy for me. Without them I wouldn’t be where I am today, as they inspire me every day in training. I can’t believe this happened and I’m so happy with where the sport has gone this last couple of years.”

Sportsmanship is as much a hallmark of the Olympics as winning a medal, endearing athletes to fans (hello, Brittany Bowe!) and searing heartwarming scenes that personify the Olympic ideals of excellence, friendship and respect into memory. But demonstrations of support between fellow women competitors in Beijing have provided a fresh take on those ideals, particularly in individual competitions.

In that same big air competition, Japan’s Iwabuchi Reira was mobbed at the finish line after coming up just shy of landing the first-ever frontside triple cork 1260 in women’s Olympic competition. The 20-year-old finished off the podium in fourth, but the celebration was just as effusive as for the medalists.

“We were on top and we were freaking out,” said Gasser, who clinched gold with a cab 1260 and a 95.50 on her final run.

“[Iwabuchi] went all out, and she didn’t look at how much more points she needed for the podium – she just wanted to progress the sport,” she added. “I wish – even though maybe that meant I wouldn’t be on top of the podium – but I wish she landed it.”

This display of unwavering joy in women’s snowboarding started early in the Games, when Sadowski-Synnott won gold in the women’s slopestyle event. All the finals riders gathered in an epic group hug, jumping up and down in a circle of celebration at the finish.

“Snowboarding is so much about progression, you can see the riders here are so happy for her,” said women’s halfpipe legend and NBC Olympics analyst Kelly Clark after Iwabuchi’s triple-cork attempt and subsequent rush of finalists to congratulate her. “It’s honestly just about the snowboarding. It’s about pushing one another.”

Such scenes didn’t unfold only at snowboarding, but also at women’s freeskiing, speed skating, aerials and even alpine racing, where an international support system between current U.S. star Mikaela Shiffrin, Italy’s 2018 downhill gold medalist Sofia Goggia and retired alpine racing great Lindsey Vonn emerged as an ultimate triumvirate of girl power.

“(Lindsey) is the first one I have called, right now,” said an excited Goggia following her silver medal in the Olympic women’s downhill in Beijing. “I want to say thank you, Lindsey! We all love you and I’m your biggest fan and you’ll always be my idol and your support in the last days means everything, but also Mikaela was pretty nice to me.”

Vonn returned the compliment with a selfie of her crying tears of happiness, while Goggia, in turn, sent supportive vibes to Shiffrin ahead of the U.S. racer’s downhill portion of the Olympic combined race. The Italian, who was not competing in the combined event, wrote a personal message on a sticky note and secured it to a pair of her downhill skis that Shiffrin used to ski into fifth place after the downhill.

“I saw it in the start, and I almost started crying,” Shiffrin said of the note, which read: “Fly Mika, you can.”

When Shiffrin skied out in the slalom portion of the combined and recorded a DNF, Switzerland’s gold medalist Michelle Gisin offered some consolation in the form of a compliment: “I told her I feel pretty badass about winning one slalom in my career, but she has 47 so she is 47 times as badass as I am.”

China’s Xu Mengtao was overcome with ecstatic emotion after securing the first-ever Olympic gold medal for her country in women’s aerials. And despite finishing just off the podium in fourth, U.S. skier Ashley Caldwell made sure to celebrate Xu’s success.

“Taotao has been pushing triples for longer than I have, and I respect her wholeheartedly,” said Caldwell, who won team aerials gold for the U.S. earlier in the Games. “For her to win the gold medal in her own country is an incredible accomplishment and it brought tears to my eyes just as much as sadness did.

“I respect what everyone does out here. I know how hard this is, I face it every day. Why shouldn’t I be excited for their success?”

Freestyle Skiing - Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics Day 10
ZHANGJIAKOU, CHINA – FEBRUARY 14: Gold medalist Xu Mengtao of China is embraced by Team USA’s Ashley Caldwell (fourth place) at the conclusion of the women’s aerials competition at the 2022 Winter Olympics. (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)

U.S. speed skaters Brittany Bowe and Erin Jackson have been supporting each other for over a decade; both athletes grew up in Ocala, Florida, where they got their start in inline skating. Their mutual respect and longtime friendship was on full display last month at the U.S. Olympic Trials, where Bowe gave up the spot she earned in the 500m to teammate Jackson, who was considered the favorite.

When Jackson won gold, becoming the first U.S. Olympic speed skating champion in 12 years, she wrote on Twitter: “You are a mentor. A friend. A teammate. A sister. Thank you for playing a huge part in my journey to gold, [Brittany Bowe]. I know you and [Kimi Goetz] are going to turn the ice to fire today.”

Jackson was right. Bowe extended her own record as oldest U.S. woman to win an Olympic speed skating medal by four years, winning bronze in the 1000m at age 33, and she also became the oldest U.S. woman to win an individual Olympic speed skating medal. Bonnie Blair previously held the honor, winning 1000m gold in 1994 just two weeks shy of her 30th birthday.

In a sweet cyber moment between biathlon athletes, American Clare Egan got a shoutout from Sweden’s Mona Brorsson, a two-time Olympic medalist who captured gold in the women’s biathlon 4x6km relay. After Egan posted just one top 10 in five events in Beijing, she thanked her supporters on Twitter but she couldn’t hide her disappointment.

“I think having success at the Olympics is fun (tho [sic] I wouldn’t know) but I can tell you that falling short is extremely un-fun,” wrote the 34-year-old Egan, who has served as chair of the International Biathlon Union Athletes’ Committee since 2018. “Delighted to put these races behind me and try to reset for my final month of World Cup racing!”

Brorsson was the first to respond to Egan with a what-matters-most show of support, writing, “I want to celebrate you for everything you do also beside the tracks! Standing up for every athlete out there and doing a great job as a representative for all of us. A true role model!”

ALSO FROM ON HER TURF: How close are the Winter Olympics to being gender equal?

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.”

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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.