Slopestyle gold medalist Zoi Sadowski-Synnott charges into X Games with big new trick and World Cup momentum


New Zealand snowboarder Zoi Sadowski-Synnott made history last February when she won slopestyle gold at the Beijing Olympics, marking the first-ever gold medal for her country in a Winter Games. But perhaps even more memorable was the scene that broke out after the Kiwi’s medal-clinching run: Upon receiving her results from the judges, Sadowski-Synnott’s ecstatic competitors tackled the champion to the snow, working their way up to their feet for a jumping group hug with all the finalists.

“I think probably in a decade when I look back at my career, I think that’s one of the most special moments that I’ll ever have,” the 21-year-old told On Her Turf about that rare site in individual competition. “For us to all come together and celebrate an amazing day showcasing women’s snowboarding was super special. And to have that camaraderie in the squad and know that you have friends that you compete against who also support you is like — you don’t see that in any other sport, so feels pretty amazing.”

Just two starts into the competition season, Sadwoski-Synnott has picked right back up where she left off in her history-making career. She opened with a second-place finish in a Big Air World Cup in Kreischberg, Austria, on Jan. 14, where she became the first woman to land a switch backside 1260 with a weddle grab.

“It’s a super technical trick, and one of the really big tricks at the moment,” explained Sadowski-Synnott, who hopes to unleash the trick again this week when she defends her X Games title in Aspen, Colo. “So to learn that, and then put it into competition was huge, because it means that, you know, people now know it’s possible. Those girls that are coming up, they’re going to be like, ‘We need to learn this trick to be in the game.’ And that’s what makes it so exciting.”

But the three-time Olympic medalist – she also boasts 2018 bronze and 2022 silver in Big Air – upped the stoke level even more this past week in Laax, Switzerland, where she captured her second career World Cup win in slopestyle and third World Cup victory overall.

“The Laax Open has so much history and it’s such a prestigious event,” she said regarding the win. “So many of the famous snowboarders that I’ve looked up to have won that event — and for a reason: because they’re just so good and put down the best runs. Jamie Anderson and Christy Prior and Anna Gasser. So, to come away with that one means a lot.”

Sadowski-Synnott seemed almost destined to become a slopestyle and big air specialist, after spending the bulk of her childhood on the trails at the now-defunct Snow Park New Zealand, the country’s largest terrain park where her mother worked as the general manager.

“[The resort area] was completely focused on having the best terrain park in the world during in the Northern Hemisphere summer, where no one could train there,” she remembered of her childhood in Wanaka, N.Z. “So everyone would come down, and I got hang out with all the pros and watch them train and compete and have so much fun snowboarding. I got to snowboard almost everyday thanks to my mom being the GM, and that’s when things really kicked off. I was about 10 when I set the goal that I wanted to go to X Games, wanted to go the Olympics. There wasn’t really any turning back at that point.”

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She also found motivation in keeping up with her four siblings – two older brothers and two younger sisters, all of whom participate in sports. But she notes her parents, dad Sean Synnott and mom Robin Sadowski, are her greatest source of encouragement and support, a fact not lost on anyone who witnessed her father’s reaction following her gold-medal win.

“My dad is a pretty funny dude; he always thinks he’s telling the best jokes,” she said about his now-viral interview laced with celebratory “F bombs.” “After winning at the Olympics, I’m sure that it was time to fully let loose and have a couple of drinks, and I think he got a bit too carried away before the interview. It was so funny. But my youngest sister was [so embarrassed] that she didn’t talk to him for days, even though the whole country thought it was the best thing ever.”

New Zealand recently honored Sadowski-Synnott with the prestigious Lonsdale Cup this past December, awarded by the New Zealand Olympic Committee to the athlete (or team) who’s made the most outstanding contribution to an Olympic or Commonwealth sport during the previous year. Over the Cup’s 61-year history, she was the first winter sports athlete to receive the honor.

However, collecting accolades isn’t the only way she gives back to her country and community. Each year, Sadowski-Synnott donates an item for auction to help fundraising efforts for the Wanaka Snowsports Club. Most recently she donated her gold medal-winning snowboard from Beijing, which she also signed, to the club’s “Snowmelt” fundraiser.

“I thought this year, give them something from the Olympics and it just came about that I had the board kicking around,” she said. “I know how it feels being an up-and-coming athlete, how hard it is to get support to head overseas and for training and all that. So I thought it would be good to contribute something really special to help fundraise for those kids coming up and support the grassroots.”

Away from the competition season, Sadowski-Synnott still chases the snow. She says you can find her home snowboarding in New Zealand, filming in the backcountry or competing on the Travis Rice-designed Natural Selection Tour, where riders compete on ungroomed, natural terrain.

But for now, her attention is squarely focused on X Games, where she’s already collected seven medals since her rookie appearance in 2018. She earned double gold at X Games Aspen 2022, where she became the first woman to land back-to-back double corks in either a ski or snowboard contest. She’s earned two other X Games gold, both in slopestyle, at X Games Norway in 2020, and X Games Aspen in 2019.

“X Games is definitely one of the biggest accolades to get into snowboarding because there is so much history behind it,” she said. “And it’s where all the new tricks go down. The best riders perform their best. Everyone’s been training for the whole year for this event, so it’s definitely the most special to win or podium this week. I’m hoping to do my best and that I worked hard enough this last year to defend my titles.”

MORE FROM ON HER TURF: Paula Moltzan talks first World Cup podium, being Mikaela Shiffrin’s teammate and unconventional path to the U.S. Ski Team

2023 LPGA Drive On Championship: How to watch, who’s playing in season’s first full-field event

Jin-young Ko of South Korea and Nelly Korda on the 17th tee during the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship.
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The LPGA Tour makes its return to the Arizona desert this week at the 2023 LPGA Drive On Championship at Superstition Mountain Golf and Country Club. The season’s first full-field event features eight of the world’s top 10 players plus a slew of fresh faces as this year’s rookie class gets its first taste of competition as tour members.

This week’s event features 144 players (plus two Monday qualifiers) competing for the $1.75 million prize purse in a 72-hole tournament that will implement the LPGA’s new cutline policy for the first time. Beginning this week, the 36-hole cut will change from the top 70 players and ties to the top 65 and ties advancing to weekend action. The LPGA says it hopes to “establish a faster pace of play” with the change.”

Arizona last hosted the LPGA for the 2019 Bank of Hope Founders Cup at Wildfire Golf Club, where Jin Young Ko earned her first of four LPGA titles that season. The tour last played at Superstition Mountain in the Safeway International from 2004 to 2008, where Hall of Famers Annika Sorenstam (2004, 2005) and Lorena Ochoa (2007, 2008) each won twice, and Juli Inkster won in 2006.

The tournament marks the first of four events over the next five weeks (taking off the week of the Masters, April 7-10) and kicks off the crescendo that’s building to the LPGA’s first major of the season, The Chevron Championship, April 20-23 in its new location at The Woodlands, Texas. The 72-hole LPGA Drive On Championship features 144 players, in addition to two Monday qualifiers, who will compete for a $1.75 million purse.

How to watch the 2023 LPGA Drive On Championship

You can watch the 2023 LPGA Drive On Championship on Golf Channel, Peacock, and the NBC Sports app. Check out the complete TV and streaming schedule:

  • Thursday, March 23: 9-11 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Friday, March 24: 9-11 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Saturday, March 25: 6-10 p.m. ET, live stream; 7-9 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Sunday, March 26: 6-10 p.m. ET, live stream; 7-9 p.m. ET, Golf Channel

Who’s playing in the 2023 LPGA Drive On Championship

Sitting out this week are world No. 1 Lydia Ko and No. 5 Minjee Lee, but No. 2 Nelly Korda and No. 3 Jin Young Ko are back in action following Ko’s return to the winner’s circle two weeks ago in Singapore, where she held off Korda by two strokes. Also in the field this week are:

  • No. 4 Atthaya Thitikul
  • No. 6 Lexi Thompson
  • No. 7 Brooke Henderson
  • No. 8 In Gee Chun
  • No. 9 Hyo-Joo Kim
  • No. 10 Nasa Hataoka
  • 2022 major winners Ashleigh Buhai, Jennifer Kupcho, Chun, Henderson

Rookies and Epson Tour graduates making their first starts as LPGA members include 20-year-old Lucy Li, a two-time Epson Tour winner who might be best known for playing the 2014 U.S.  Women’s Open as an 11-year-old; South Korea’s Hae Ran Ryu, who took medalist honors at LPGA Q-Series; and 18-year-old Alexa Pano, who finished tied for 21st at Q School to earn her card but might be best known from her role in the 2013 Netflix documentary, “The Short Game.”

Past winners, history of the Drive On Championship

The Drive On Championship was initially created as a series of LPGA events that marked the tour’s back-to-competition efforts following the pandemic. Each tournament used the “Drive On” slogan in support of the tour’s resilience, beginning with the first series event in July 2020 at Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio, where Danielle Kang won by one stroke over Celine Boutier. The second event, held in October 2020, replaced the three stops originally scheduled in Asia, and was held at Reynolds Lake Oconee Great Waters Course in Greensboro, Georgia. Ally McDonald captured her career first LPGA title by one stroke over Kang.

The last two “Drive On” events were staged in Florida, at Golden Ocala Golf Club (Ocala) in March 2021 and at Crown Colony Golf Club (Fort Myers) in February 2022. Austin Ernst cruised to her third career title at the 2021 edition, beating Jennifer Kupcho by five shots. The 2022 tournament marked a fresh start for the event (no longer including results or records from the 2020 and 2021 events), where Leona Maguire became the first Irish winner on tour with her victory in 2022.

Last year at the Drive On Championship

Ireland’s Leona Maguire gifted her mom and early birthday present with her first career win at the 2022 LPGA Drive On Championship. A 27-year-old Maguire, a standout at Duke and former No. 1 amateur, carded a final-round 67 to finish at 18-under 198 and won the 54-hole event by three strokes over Lexi Thompson. She became the first woman from Ireland to win on tour, and her 198 tied her career-best 54-hole score.

More about Superstition Mountain

Superstition Mountain’s Prospector Golf Course opened in 1998 and was a combined design effort by Jack Nicklaus and his son Gary. The course plays as a par-72 and stretches to 7,225 yards in length, with the women playing it at 6,526 yards. The course was home of the LPGA Safeway International from 2004-08, and was recently selected by Golfweek as one of the “Top 100 Residential Courses.”

Of note, Superstition Mountain is a female-owned facility, originally purchased in 2009 by Susan Hladky and her husband James, who died in 2011. Hladky has made a point of opening her courses to women and college players, twice hosting U.S. Women’s Open qualifying and the site of a 2025 NCAA women’s regional tournament. She’s also given membership to eight LPGA players, who play out of the club: Carlota Ciganda, Mina Harigae, Dana Finkelstein, Jaclyn Lee, Charlotte Thomas, Caroline Inglis, Jennifer Kupcho and Brianna Do.

MORE FROM ON HER TURF: 2023 March Madness — Utah Utes engineer dramatic turnaround for third-ever Sweet 16 appearance

2023 March Madness: Utah Utes engineer dramatic turnaround for third-ever Sweet 16 appearance

Members of the Utah Utes celebrate their win over the Princeton Tigers in the second round of the NCAA Womens Basketball Tournament.
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SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The No. 2-seeded Utah (27-4) women’s basketball team held off a pesky 10th-seeded Princeton squad on Sunday, winning 63-56 to advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championships for the first time since 2005-06 and just the third time in the program’s history.

“I’m proud of our team,” said eighth-year head coach Lynne Roberts after the second-round win at Utah’s Hunstman Center. “We set out to do this a year ago. We lost in this game at University of Texas and the goal was to be able to host (this year) so that we could have that home-court advantage and it made a difference.”

Utah’s fourth-year junior Alissa Pili backed up her recent second-team All-American honor with another 20-plus-point performance, scoring 28 on 8-for 13 shooting with 10 rebounds and going 11-for 13 on free throws. Sophomore forward Jenna Johnson added 15 points and six rebounds.

There’s been a lot of talk this weekend about how the Utes’ previous few seasons have ended – beginning with a rough 14-17 season that was cut short in 2020 due to the pandemic, followed by an abysmal 5-16 record in 2020-21. But the tide turned last year, as Utah rebounded with a 21-12 season that ended with a 78-56 loss to Texas in Austin in the second round of the NCAA tournament one year ago.

So, what changed?

“Last year, everyone was new to the NCAA tournament, so I think everyone was just experiencing it for the first time,” mused Johnson. “Losing in the second round last year, we’re definitely a lot hungrier this year, and then obviously hosting in Salt Lake, it’s fun just being in your own environment, to be around your own fans. I think it gives us an elevated level of confidence, both knowing what it’s like to play in this tournament and also getting to be at home.”

“Yeah, freshman year was kind of rough,” added third-year sophomore Kennady McQueen, who chipped in nine points Sunday. “We did experience losing a lot. … Coach Roberts, she said we are not going to have another season like that. We all stood behind her — the people that stayed — and brought in great people like starting last year with Jenna and Gi (Gianna Kneepkens) and people like that who have had a huge impact in helping us to where we are today. …

“When you get together a group of people that have the same goal in mind and will do make anything to make it happen, I think that’s where we have seen our success rate going up. This past offseason, we just kept getting better, and of course, the addition of the Alissa Pili really helped. When you bring a group of girls that have the same dream and same goal at the end of the year and doesn’t care about personal stats more than winning, I think we get the season that we have today, and it prepares us for deep run in March.”

In particular, McQueen believe it was Utah’s improvement in their defense that was crucial to the turnaround. “Everyone knows how good we are on offense, but if we can’t get stops, it doesn’t matter how good you are on offense,” she said. “So that’s just been a key the whole past off-season and all of this season — just getting better on defense.”

MORE FROM ON HER TURF: Alissa Pili revives her love of basketball with record season at Utah

Roberts credits their defensive improvement with a “philosophical mindset change,” explaining, “We worked on [defense] a lot differently, a lot more intentionally. Strategically we made some changes of how we are going to defend, and I won’t bore you with that. But there was a lot, just different things because you have to play to your strengths. You can’t be a run-and-jump pressing team if you don’t have the depth and athletes to do it. You can’t be a zone team if you are not super big. You have to figure out what fits your personnel, and so that’s what we did.”

There’s also the undeniable impact of Pili, a transfer from USC who has found her stride as a Ute, where she recently was named the Pac-12 Player of the Year.

“She kind of is the straw that stirs the drink for us right now,” Roberts said regarding the 21-year-old Alaska native. “She’s a nightmare to defend because she can shoot the three, and she’s also really athletic and mobile, so it doesn’t matter who we are playing. I think you have to gameplan for her. But then with her three-point shooting, you know, you have to pick your poison.”

But Roberts also gave plenty of kudos to Johnson, whom she describes as “phenomenal.”

“She’s 19 going on 40,” Roberts said of Johnson. “She’s the most mature, even-keeled consistent player we have. What I love about her is she is who she is. She’s confident in who she is. She knows who she is. She also is incredibly busy off the court.

“We were talking as we were getting ready to watch film, just shooting the breeze a bunch of us, we were talking about movies. And she was like, Oh, I don’t watch movies. Why not? I don’t have time. I get bored. What do you mean you don’t have time? Do you watch shows? No, I don’t ever watch TV. It is because she is doing all of these other extracurricular activities.”

As for guiding the Utes to becoming a championship program, Roberts still sees it as an uphill battle – but one that she and her players are ready for.

“I always use the analogy of pushing the boulder up the hill,” she said. “And doing things for the first time, you have to have that mindset. You have to keep pushing. It’s been incredibly fun to see the support, and I think the swell is a perfect word for it. Most importantly, our players feel it.

“This is why you play, right? And it means so much. I know I say it over and over, but this is not going to be a flash-in-the-pan [season]. This isn’t going to be a ‘Oh, remember that year they had such an incredible year?’ We are going to keep doing it.”

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