Nonbinary figure skater Timothy LeDuc makes Winter Olympic history

Figure skater Timothy LeDuc, who competes in the pairs' event with Ashley Cain-Gribble, became the first publicly out nonbinary Winter Olympian
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Competing in the pairs’ short program at the 2022 Winter Olympics, figure skater Timothy LeDuc made history. Skating alongside partner Ashley Cain-Gribble, LeDuc became the first publicly out nonbinary athlete to compete at the Olympic Winter Games.

“I watched the Olympics 20 years ago, that’s why I started skating,” they said. “Skating around before the program and seeing the rings, it was like, I can’t believe we’re here. We worked so hard and we finally made it.”

LeDuc and Cain-Gribble’s short program – skated to selections from The White Crow soundtrack by Ilan Eshkeri – earned them 74.13 points, a season-best score for the duo. They head into the free skate ranked seventh overall. China’s Sui Wenjing and Han Cong currently lead the pairs’ event, while the other American duo of Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier are in sixth with 74.23 points. (If you didn’t wake up in time to watch the pairs’ short program this morning, it will air again tonight on NBC’s primetime show.)

MORE FIGURE SKATING NEWS: Could we see same-sex figure skating pairs at the Olympics?

Two days before the short program, Cain-Gribble sustained an injury in training.

“For it to happen right before the short program was tough, but I just relied on my team and on Timothy,” Cain-Gribble said.

“When it happened we weren’t even really worried,” LeDuc added. “I didn’t feel any anxiety because – in the last six years – I’ve seen the way she’s such a fighter and the way she overcomes adversity.”

Timothy LeDuc, the first publicly out nonbinary figure skater, and Ashley Cain-Gribble compete in the pairs' short program at the 2022 Winter Olympics
BEIJING, CHINA – Team USA figure skaters Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy Leduc compete in the pairs’ short program at Capital Indoor Stadium on day 14 of the 2022 Winter Olympics. (Photo by Amin Mohammad Jamali/Getty Images)

After winning the 2022 U.S. title in January, LeDuc offered some thoughts on the way they hope their story is told.

“My hope is that when people see my story, it isn’t focused on me and saying, ‘Oh, Timothy is the first out non-binary person to achieve this level of success in sport,'” they said. “My hope is that the narrative shifts more to, ‘Queer people can be open and successful in sports.’ We’ve always been here, we’ve always been a part of sports. We just haven’t always been able to be open.

“I know that me being here – and being able to be out now – is only possible because of the many great people who came before me. I stand on the shoulders of so many amazing queer people that have pushed their way through this sport, allowing me to be open now.”

Since teaming up in 2016, LeDuc and Cain-Gribble have brought a new perspective to pairs’ skating, an event that has historically relied on a narrow set of gender and romantic stereotypes.

“When Timothy and I teamed up, we never wanted to be what was looked at as the traditional team,” Cain-Gribble explained on a recent episode of the NBCLX podcast My New Favorite Olympian (embedded below). “We want people to look at our skating and know that they don’t have to change who they are in order to be a part of this sport… You shouldn’t have to fit a mold.”

“As a person that exists and really thrives outside of the binary, it can be very complicated sometimes navigating a gendered sport,” LeDuc said as part of that same episode.

The pairs’ figure skating competition at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics concludes with the free skate, which will take place on Saturday at 6am ET in the United States (7pm in Beijing).

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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.”