Paraguayan skier’s long road to Sochi

Leave a comment

SOCHI, Russia — Julia Marino doesn’t speak fluent Spanish. She went two decades without stepping foot in her native country.

Yet she is embraced in Paraguay as the nation’s first Winter Olympian.

It is very fitting that on Friday night she will wave a national flag that has different images on the front and back at the Opening Ceremony.

“I’m so excited to have the honor to be the first to represent where I’m from for the Winter Games,” Marino, 21, said in a telephone interview from her Olympic Village room. “It’s a really unique way to give back to where I’m from and reconnect.”

Marino is a slopestyle skier from Winchester, Mass., Boulder, Colo., and, for the first several months of her life, the village of Bahia Negra, Paraguay, about 500 miles north of the capital of Asuncion.

A Boston area couple adopted her and then a boy named Mark, who is seven months younger and from Asuncion, and essentially raised twins. Her adoptive father died of a heart attack in 2007.

She started skiing at age 2 or 3 and began excelling in freestyle skiing as a teenager, competing as an American with the likes of 2014 U.S. Olympians Julia Krass and Annalisa Drew.

When she was 19, the International Olympic Committee added slopestyle skiing to the Olympic program for 2014.

A dual citizen, Marino got to thinking about what it meant to represent a nation in an Olympics and decided Paraguay was where she was from. Even though she had been competing as an American.

That triggered her to Google “Paraguay” and “Olympics,” which yielded few results. Snow is foreign to this nation of no Winter Olympic history. Its only Summer Olympic medal was a men’s soccer silver in 2004.

She spent a year delving, researching and pursuing. Her godmother, who lives in Paraguay, had connections with the National Olympic Committee to get the process rolling.

The U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association supported her switch to Paraguay a year ago, the beginning of a long, logistical road to Sochi.

Marino and Paraguay’s Olympic Committee started a ski association from scratch to be eligible to compete in the Olympics. The International Ski Federation recognized Paraguay three months ago, clearing the way for her to go to Sochi.

She sketched out her national ski suit, but there was still work to be done.

MORE: Mexico’s Olympic mariachi ski prince

She returned to Paraguay for the first time in 20 years in November, spending 10 days in Asuncion. She met with the National Olympic Committee, the sports ministry and possible sponsors.

Her mission was acceptance. She had to prove she was not just switching countries for an easier path to the Olympics with less domestic competition for a berth.

She took a week to prepare an introductory speech, in Spanish, to tell the story of her humble village roots, adoption to America and pride to be from Paraguay.

After she finished, an audience of reporters and sports governing body presidents stood and applauded.

“It took a lot of work to make my athletic dream possible,” Marino said. “It’s been a really special process.”

Marino has persevered with her skiing, too, coming back from a torn ACL in 2009 and a broken collarbone last year.

Now, at the Olympic Village, she introduces herself with pride to athletes from some 200-member delegations. When she says, “Paraguay,” the reaction is usually the same.

“I see their faces,” Marino said. “They’re impressed.”

Marino expects the best moment of her first Olympics will not come in competition but in Fisht Stadium on Friday night during the Parade of Nations. Her adoptive mother and brother will be in the crowd.

“I don’t think I can prepare myself enough for that moment,” she said.

She won’t be alone on the stadium floor. A Paraguayan official, coach and trainer Erik Kaloyanides will be at her side as she carries the flag between Pakistan and Peru. Kaloyanides played left guard at Syracuse from 1998 to 2002.

The people of Paraguay will watch her, too. Marino said the nation is streaming or broadcasting both the Opening Ceremony and her competition Tuesday.

“I’m seeing the most support and love,” she said. “I felt that right away when I was down there … explaining my story and reasoning for all of this.”

On Tuesday, she will perform tricks racing down a venue deemed unsafe by slopestyle snowboarders this week. The top 12 from qualifying advance to the final later that day.

“There’s some dangerous options [on the course], but I don’t think it’s nothing that anybody, both men and women snowboard and skiing, can’t handle,” said Marino, who took second in her final World Cup race as an American last season and 17th and 18th in her first two for Paraguay this season. “I really don’t have any complaints about the course.”

Marino’s post-Olympic plans include finishing her psychology degree from the University of Colorado in spring 2015. Before that, she wants to return to Paraguay and maybe visit her birthplace for the first time since she was an infant.

There is some risk in going back to Bahia Negra, a poor village that is not easy to fly or drive into, she said. Marino has no interest in finding her birth parents, who are unknown to her due to a closed adoption. She says several people have claimed to be her mother and father on Facebook and Twitter, posting pictures.

That’s been disheartening, but if she knew who the real ones were, she would like to relay a positive message.

“I would wish them nothing but thanks and so much gratitude for giving me this opportunity and allowing me to live in the United States,” Marino said, “but I don’t really have any strong motivation to find who my parents are.”

Marino may be the only athlete from her nation, the only option to carry the Paraguayan flag Friday and sans roommate in the village, but she sees familiarities across the Games.

She knows a Chilean slopestyle skier, and she empathizes with the formerly cash-strapped Jamaican Bobsled Team.

“Everybody has a story,” Marino said. “There’s something unique about every athlete you talk to.”

Anna van der Breggen is first cyclist to sweep road world titles in 25 years

Anna van der Breggen
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Dutchwoman Anna van der Breggen added the road race crown to her time trial victory at the world road cycling championships, becoming the second rider in history to win both events at the same edition.

“This is, for me, pretty good so far,” she said.

Van der Breggen, the Rio Olympic road race champion, won after a solo attack with more than 25 miles left of an 89-mile course in Imola, Italy, on Saturday.

She prevailed after more than four hours of racing by 80 seconds over countrywoman Annemiek van Vleuten, the 2019 champion. Van Vleuten raced nine days after breaking her left wrist in a Giro Rosa crash.

Italian Elisa Longo Borghini took bronze in the same time as van Vleuten after losing a photo-finish sprint. Lauren Stephens was the top American in 11th.

Full results are here.

The race lacked American standout Chloé Dygert, who crashed out of the time trial while leading on Thursday and required leg surgery.

Van der Breggen joined Frenchwoman Jeannie Longo as the only male or female cyclists to sweep the time trial and road race at a single worlds. Longo did so in 1995 at age 36.

Van der Breggen, 30, said in May that she will retire after the 2021 Olympic season.

It will be the end of one of the great cycling careers. She is now a three-time world champion and nine-time world medalist to go along with her road race gold and time trial bronze in her Olympic debut in Rio.

Worlds conclude Sunday with the men’s road race. A TV and stream schedule is here.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: A more equal future for women’s cycling? Lizzie Deignan has high hopes

2020 French Open TV, live stream schedule

Leave a comment

Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams can each tie Grand Slam singles titles records at the French Open, with daily live coverage among NBC Sports, Peacock and Tennis Channel.

NBC coverage starts Sunday with first-round action at Roland Garros, its 38th straight year covering the event. Tennis Channel airs the majority of weekday coverage. Peacock, NBC Universal’s new streaming service, has middle weekend broadcasts.

All NBC TV coverage alo streams on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

Nadal is the primary men’s storyline, favored to tie Roger Federer‘s male record of 20 major titles and extend his own record of 12 French Open crowns. Federer is absent after knee operations earlier this year.

The Spaniard’s primary competition is top-ranked Novak Djokovic, the 2016 French Open champion whose only defeat in 2020 was a U.S. Open default for hitting a ball that struck a linesperson in the throat.

Williams bids again to match the overall Grand Slam singles mark of 24 held by Australian Margaret Court. Williams, a three-time French Open champion, lost in the third and fourth round the last two years and is coming off a U.S. Open semifinal exit.

The women’s field is led by 2018 champion Simona Halep but lacks defending champion Ash Barty of Australia, not traveling due to the coronavirus pandemic. Also out: U.S. Open winner Naomi Osaka, citing a sore hamstring and tight turnaround from prevailing in New York two weeks ago.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: How Jay-Z, Beyonce helped Naomi Osaka come out of her shell

French Open TV Schedule

Date Time (ET) Network Round
Sunday, Sept. 27 5 a.m.-3 p.m. Tennis Channel First Round
12-3 p.m. NBC
Monday, Sept. 28 5 a.m.-3 p.m. Tennis Channel First Round
Tuesday, Sept. 29 5 a.m.-3 p.m. Tennis Channel First Round
Wednesday, Sept. 30 5 a.m.-3 p.m. Tennis Channel Second Round
Thursday, Oct. 1 5 a.m.-3 p.m. Tennis Channel Second Round
Friday, Oct. 2 5 a.m.-3 p.m. Tennis Channel Third Round
Saturday, Oct. 3 5 a.m.-12 p.m. Tennis Channel Third Round
11 a.m. Peacock
Sunday, Oct. 4 5 a.m.-12 p.m. Tennis Channel Fourth Round
11 a.m. Peacock
Monday, Oct. 5 5 a.m.-3 p.m. Tennis Channel Fourth Round
11 a.m. Peacock
Tuesday, Oct. 6 6 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tennis Channel Quarterfinals
Wednesday, Oct. 7 6 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tennis Channel Quarterfinals
Thursday, Oct. 8 5 a.m.-2 p.m. Tennis Channel Women’s Semis
11 a.m. NBC, NBCSN
Friday, Oct. 9 5 a.m.-4 p.m. Tennis Channel Men’s Semis
11 a.m. NBC, NBCSN
Saturday, Oct. 10 9 a.m. NBC Women’s Final
Sunday, Oct. 11 9 a.m. NBC Men’s Final