Jessie Diggins wins Olympic silver in gritty 30km, final medal for Team USA

Team USA's Jessie Diggins win silver in the women's 30km mass start at the 2022 Winter Olympics
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Much like the glitter she wears on her cheeks, Team USA‘s Jessie Diggins’ first and second career Olympic medals came with sparkling fashion marked by furious sprints.

Her third Olympic medal, however, required a long slog. But the result is just as shiny.

MORE WINTER OLYMPICS COVERAGE: The most memorable and historic moments in women’s sports

On the final day of the 2022 Winter Olympics, Diggins won Team USA’s final medal in Beijing: a silver in cross-country skiing’s women’s 30km (equivalent to 18.6 miles). Norway’s Therese Johaug won the race, while Finland’s Kerttu Niskanen claimed bronze.

“That might have been the best race of my entire life, I’m not going to lie. It was also maybe the hardest race of my whole life,” said Diggins.

She revealed that she has been dealing with food poisoning for the last 30 hours, “Which is why I thought I was going to die at the finish line.”

After waking up on Saturday morning “pretty much everything was coming right out of me,” she spent most of the day in bed, forcing herself to eat food ahead of the grueling marathon race.

“I was talking to my parents and my mom said, ‘Don’t decide how you feel right now, just go out there and ski because you love to race.’ And she was right.”

MORE JESSIE DIGGINS COVERAGE: Jessie Diggins’ legacy extends far beyond her historic Olympic gold

Diggins now has a “complete set” of Olympic medals, thanks to her historic gold from PyeongChang and her individual sprint bronze from earlier at these Beijing Winter Games.

If anyone knows how to do hard things, it is Jessie Diggins

Already the only American in history to win two Olympic medals in the sport, Diggins’ third career medal further solidifies her record as the greatest U.S. cross-country skier of all-time. She also becomes the sixth member of Team USA to win two medals in Beijing, joining Nathan Chen, Madison Hubbell, Zach Donohue, Elana Meyers Taylor and Lindsey Jacobellis.

Just three kilometers into the 30km event, the quartet of Diggins, Johaug, Sweden’s Ebba Andersson and France’s Delphine Claudel had separated themselves from the rest of the pack.

By 10 kilometers, the trio of Johaug, Diggins, and Andersson had separated themselves from each other. For the next 20 kilometers – nearly one hour of racing – that’s how the race continued. It was not a pretty race, but it was certainly a gritty one.

Johaug managed to hang on to win gold, crossing the line in 1:24:54. The Norwegian skier – who missed the 2018 Winter Olympics while dealing with a doping-related suspension – won three gold medals at these 2022 Winter Olympics, bringing her career total to six.

Diggins was also too quick to be caught. The 30-year-old from Afton, Minn., finished a minute and 43 seconds behind Johaug to claim silver.

But the chase pack caught up with Andersson. In the dying moments of the 30km event, she was passed by Finland’s Niskanen, who claimed bronze. Andersson went on to finish eighth.

“My legs were cramping the whole last 17km. I don’t know how I made it to the finish,” Diggins said on the NBC broadcast, also noting the support she felt from other Team USA athletes at the venue.

“That was so hard, but it was so special, because I felt like we had so much love out there. So I just want to say ‘thank you.'”

In addition to Diggins, her U.S. teammates Rosie Brennan (sixth), Sophie Laukli (15th), and Novie McCabe (18th) also had strong performances, marking the first time four American athletes finished in the top 18 of any Olympic cross-country skiing event. Today’s 30km marked the 21-year-old Laukli’s Olympic debut.

Video of Jessie Diggins winning the women’s 30km at the 2022 Winter Olympics:

Even without a medal, Rosie Brennan’s performance at the 2022 Winter Olympics was remarkable

In Beijing, Brennan finished in the top-15 of all six cross-country skiing events, including a fourth-place result in the individual sprint and sixth-place finish today (just 5.4 seconds off the podium after an hour and 27 minutes of racing).

It’s a remarkable performance for the 32-year-old, who says she needed a few extra years to reach her prime.

Four years ago, the then-28-year-old Brennan made her Olympic debut in PyeongChang, where she competed in one event – the skiathlon – finishing 58th. She was cut from the U.S. team after those Winter Olympics – she would later discover that she had been competing with an undiagnosed case of mononucleosis – and spent the next year funding her own training and racing. She eventually made her way back onto the U.S. national cross-country skiing team and had a breakout 2020-21 season on the World Cup circuit.

A note for the cross-country skiing record books:

At the Olympics and world championships, it is tradition that the longest men’s cross country race is 50km long, while the longest women’s event is 30km.

“On principle, it really bothers me a lot,” Diggins told NBC Olympics last spring. “Not only can we ski 50km, but we can ski more.”

While the women didn’t ski 50km in Beijing, the men didn’t either. Due to extreme weather conditions, including strong winds, the men’s 50km event on Saturday in Beijing was shortened. While it was called a 30km, it technically only clocked in at 28.4km.

The women’s race on Saturday, however, went the full 30km.

Even though the result was unintentional, it is still a significant moment in the Games called the “most gender balanced ever” that women skied farther than men for the first time ever at an Olympic Games.

Looking ahead, Diggins believes races could be organized so that men and women’s events take the same amount of time, even if they aren’t the same distance.

“Do we need to race the exact same length? Maybe not. Do we need to race the same amount of time on course? Yeah, I think that’s absolutely reasonable,” she said.

Cross-Country Skiing Women’s 30km – Top 10 Finishers at the 2022 Winter Olympics:

Result Nation Athlete Time Time Behind
1 NOR Therese JOHAUG 1:24:54.0 0
2 USA Jessie DIGGINS 1:26:37.3 +1:43.3
3 FIN Kerttu NISKANEN 1:27:27.3 +2:33.3
4 SWE Jonna SUNDLING 1:27:29.4 +2:35.4
5 ROC Tatiana SORINA 1:27:31.2 +2:37.2
6 USA Rosie BRENNAN 1:27:32.7 +2:38.7
7 FRA Delphine CLAUDEL 1:27:34.0 +2:40.0
8 SWE Ebba ANDERSSON 1:27:35.5 +2:41.5
9 ROC Mariya ISTOMINA 1:28:00.1 +3:06.1
10 FIN Krista PARMAKOSKI 1:28:35.0 +3:41.0

 

On Her Turf writer Lisa Antonucci and the NBC Olympics research team contributed to this report. 

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.”