Lindsey Vonn
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Olympic Year in Review: Winter Sports

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OlympicTalk takes a look back at the year in Olympic sports this week. Today, we review winter sports.

Alpine Skiing

The year began with Lindsey Vonn chasing a record while coming back from two major knee surgeries. It will end with Vonn chasing another record as the healthiest elite U.S. Alpiner.

The 2010 Olympic downhill champion won 10 World Cup races in 2015 (so far), including breaking Annemarie Moser-Pröll‘s record of 62 women’s World Cup wins on Jan. 19. Vonn returned to her pre-2013 World Championships crash form, dominating the speed disciplines of downhill and super-G.

However, Vonn won zero races at the biggest event of the year, the World Championships near her Colorado home in February.

At Worlds, the most memorable U.S. story was Bode Miller, who at 37 may have competed for the final time, crashing in the super-G. Miller, though, has said there is a “good likelihood” he returns to racing, but a run for a sixth Olympics in 2018 is “really unlikely.”

Mikaela Shiffrin, who in 2014 became the youngest Olympic slalom champion, repeated as World champion in the slalom and three-peated as World Cup champion. However, Shiffrin suffered a torn MCL in a Dec. 12 crash and is unlikely to race again until next fall.

Ted Ligety three-peated as World champion in his best event, the giant slalom, but was kept from a third straight World Cup season title in March by Austrian rival Marcel Hirscher. Ligety looked to continue his competition with Hirscher this season, but hip and back injuries in the fall put him well behind as the winter begins.

Julia Mancuso, who earned medals at the last three Olympics, finished no better than sixth in any race in 2015. She was slowed by a hip injury last winter, cutting her season short, and underwent surgery in November, ruling her out this season.

That leaves Vonn as the major story heading into 2016. She has reached 71 World Cup victories, inching closer to the overall wins record of 86 held by retired Swede Ingemar Stenmark. If she continues on her recent healthy pace, Vonn would break the record in the 2017-18 Olympic season.

A more pressing matter is the World Cup overall title, the biggest prize this season with no Olympic or Worlds. Vonn seemed a heavy favorite for her fifth crown following Shiffrin’s injury (with past champions Anna Fenninger and Tina Maze already out), but that changed this past weekend.

MORE: Lindsey Vonn cedes World Cup standings lead

Yuzuru Hanyu
The ice is showered with gifts after Yuzuru Hanyu skates. (Getty Images)

Figure Skating

The singles skating power still lies with the Russian women and Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu.

This time last year, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva was en route to one of the most dominating seasons of all time, a World title and talk of adding a quadruple jump in March. While Tuktamysheva has struggled this fall, a new Russian teen ascended to win the Grand Prix Final two weeks ago — 16-year-old Yevgenia Medvedeva.

The Olympic champion Hanyu was upset for the World title by Spain’s Javier Fernandez in March. Hanyu rebounded to become untouchable this fall, breaking records for highest short program, free skate and total scores under the decade-old judging system in his last two competitions.

Medvedeva and Hanyu appear easy favorites heading into the World Championships in Boston in three months. Conversely, the pairs and ice dance pictures are less clear with injuries and breaks for past Olympic and World champions, including Meryl Davis and Charlie White.

U.S. singles skaters failed to reach the podium in 2015 at a global championship for a ninth straight year for the women and a fifth straight year for the men. But they were oh-so close.

Jason Brown was fourth and Gracie Gold and Ashley Wagner were fourth and fifth, the best efforts by Americans since Evan Lysacek took 2010 Olympic gold and Kimmie Meissner captured the 2006 World title.

Brown, 21, who last year became the youngest U.S. men’s champion since 2004, withdrew before his last competition in November with a back injury. He may be challenged at the U.S. Championships in January by Nathan Chen, a 16-year-old who won the Junior Grand Prix Final.

Gold and Wagner both qualified for the six-skater Grand Prix Final earlier this month, but neither reached the podium against skaters they will likely have to beat to earn medals at Worlds. They’ll go head-to-head at the U.S. Championships in January.

MORE: Ashley Wagner questioned her career at Grand Prix Final

Freestyle Skiing

Hannah Kearney, the most decorated U.S. freestyle skier of all time, tied the World Cup moguls wins record in her final competition before retirement in March.

Then, Canada’s Mikael Kingsbury capped his year by breaking the men’s moguls wins record on Dec. 12. Kearney and 1992 U.S. Olympic champion Donna Weinbrecht notched 46 victories. Kingsbury is at 29.

In aerials, first-grade classmates Kiley McKinnon and Mac Bohonnon recorded the first U.S. sweep of World Cup season titles since 1995.

In ski halfpipe, Olympic champions David Wise and Maddie Bowman continued to star. Bowman took her fourth straigth Winter X Games title in January. Wise’s bid for an X Games four-peat was denied, but he came back to win the Dew Tour Mountain Championships this month.

In slopestyle, Olympic bronze medalist Nick Goepper won X Games, while silver medalist Gus Kenworthy prevailed at Dew Tour, two months after coming out.

MORE: Big air ski/snowboard event set for Fenway Park

Nordic Skiing

The top recent U.S. stars in cross-country skiing, Nordic combined and ski jumping are not competing this season.

In cross-country, four-time Olympian Kikkan Randall is taking the campaign off to have a baby. In Nordic combined, 2010 Olympic champion Billy Demong retired following the 2014-15 season. And in ski jumping, 2013 World champion Sarah Hendrickson is out after undergoing another right knee surgery in August.

Outside of competition, U.S. skiers caused a buzz in February with their “Uptown Funk” music video.

MORE: U.S. Olympian wins Red Bull 400 up ski jumping hill

Luge
U.S. lugers Erin Hamlin (center), Emily Sweeney and Summer Britcher swept a World Cup race Dec. 5. (AP)

Sliding Sports

The year after the Olympics proved eventful for U.S. bobsledders, lugers and skeleton sliders.

In bobsled, Elana Meyers Taylor became the first U.S. woman to pilot a World Championship-winning sled in February, while Olympic champion Kaillie Humphries continued to break the gender barrier by competing in the four-man at Worlds.

Meyers Taylor was sidelined in December by long-term concussion effects. Humphries has been in a dispute this fall with the Canadian federation regarding competing in four-man bobsled. And U.S. Olympic driver Jazmine Fenlator announced she planned to compete for Jamaica moving forward in hopes of piloting the first Jamaican Olympic women’s bobsled in 2018.

In luge, the U.S. emerged as a world power this fall. Olympians Erin HamlinSummer Britcher and Chris Mazdzer all won World Cup races in the first half of the season. However, all of those victories came on North American ice, and the rest of the season, plus the World Championships, will take place in Europe.

Finally, in skeleton, three-time Olympian Katie Uhlaender took a run at track cycling in the summer before returning to the ice following 2014 hip and ankle surgeries.

MORE: Former NFL wide receiver makes U.S. bobsled team

Snowboarding

Shaun White finished fourth at the Winter X Games in January in his first competition since also taking fourth at the Sochi Olympics. Then, in his second competition since Sochi, he beat the riders who trumped him in Sochi and at X Games at the Dew Tour Mountain Championships in December.

While White is back atop the men’s pipe, the women’s picture changed drastically in 2015. Olympic champion Kaitlyn Farrington announced her retirement in January due to a congenital spine condition. One week later, Chloe Kim became the youngest Winter X Games champion by winning the women’s halfpipe at age 14.

Olympic slopestyle champions Sage Kotsenburg and Jamie Anderson were both beaten at X Games and missed Dew Tour.

Meanwhile, Lindsey Jacobellis continued a run of dominance dating to 2003 by sweeping X Games and the World Championships in snowboard cross. Jacobellis has won 13 gold medals in 18 career appearances at the Olympics, Worlds and X Games, yet she is missing an Olympic title.

In June, it was announced that ski and snowboard big air would be added to the Olympics in 2018, with snowboard parallel slalom being cut after it debuted in Sochi.

MORE: Shaun White talks Olympic skateboard, Air & Style, more

Brittany Bowe, Heather Richardson-Bergsma
Brittany Bowe (left) and Heather Richardson-Bergsma dominated women’s speed skating in 2015. (Getty Images)

Speed Skating

U.S. long-track skaters rebounded in a big way after going medal-less at the Sochi Olympics. Americans won more gold medals in Olympic events than any other nation — including host Netherlands — at the World Single Distance Championships in February.

Shani Davis re-emerged after questioning his future in the sport in 2014 to win the World 1000m title. Davis, though, went winless in World Cup competition in a calendar year for the first time in his career dating to 2005.

Heather Richardson-Bergsma and Brittany Bowe traded World titles in the winter and world records this fall, while the Netherlands’ Ireen Wüst, who won the most medals of any athlete at the Sochi Olympics, failed to make her nation’s World Cup team this fall.

In short track, three-time U.S. Olympic medalist J.R. Celski returned after a one-season break, though U.S. skaters earned zero World Cup medals in a calendar year for the first time since the tour started in 1997. Americans also missed the podium at the World Championships in March.

MORE: Dan Jansen explains recent flurry of world records

Team Sports

Canadian men dominated the World Hockey Championship in May, going 10-0 and outscoring opponents by a combined 51-goal margin. Sidney Crosby captained the team to its first gold since 2007, crushing Alex Ovechkin and Russia 6-1 in the final.

The U.S. women nearly collapsed against Canada in its gold-medal game, as it did in Sochi, but this time held on after squandering a 5-2 lead for a 7-5 victory at Worlds.

In curling, Sweden’s men and Switzerland’s women took World titles, while mixed doubles was added to the Olympic program for 2018.

And in sledge hockey, the U.S. men won their first World title on home ice, blanking Canada in the May final to follow up on a Sochi Paralympic title.

Olympic Year in Review: Winter Sports | Summer Sports | Photos | Social Media

Jordan Thompson, U.S. volleyball’s new weapon, took unique route to NCAA history

Jordan Thompson
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It was about this time last year that Jordan Thompson first appeared on the radar of U.S. women’s volleyball coach Karch Kiraly. Since, Thompson emerged as the youngest starter, and arguably a star, for the national team.

She goes into what could be her final weekend of college volleyball as one of the most dominant athletes in any sport. And one of the most unique stories in NCAA history.

Thompson plays not for a Big Ten or Pac-12 powerhouse, but for Cincinnati, a school that, before she arrived, never made it past the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

The unranked Bearcats upset second-ranked Pittsburgh in the second round last Saturday. They play Penn State, winner of six of the last 12 NCAA titles, in the Sweet 16 on Friday.

In 33 games this season, Thompson has registered a Division I-leading 768 kills, which is 143 more than the next most prolific attacker. That margin of 143 is the same number that separates No. 2 from No. 31.

Last season, she had 827 kills, which was 240 more than anybody else and a single-season record (by 112 kills) since NCAA match formats shifted from 30-point to 25-point sets in 2008.

She is a contender, if not a favorite, to be AVCA National Player of the Year. All of the previous winners dating to 1985 came from schools that reached at least one Final Four.

On Oct. 4, a UCF player’s face caught the wrong end of a Thompson attack. Cincinnati teammates watching from the bench dropped to the floor in astonishment.

Thompson tallied 50 kills in one match alone on Nov. 3, becoming the first D-I player to do so in 20 years.

That happened on Senior Day. Before that match, Thompson received a plaqued No. 23 jersey and flowers.

She posed for a photo standing with her husband, former Cincinnati offensive lineman Blake Yager, her mother, Mary, whose bribes helped Thompson develop into an attacker, and her father, 1990s Harlem Globetrotter Tyrone Doleman (and brother of Pro Football Hall of Famer Chris Doleman).

Mary has been most instrumental, raising Thompson as a single mom in Minnesota. Thompson, who is 6 feet, 4 inches now, was always tall for her age.

She played youth basketball against older girls and grew frustrated by the physical contact. Kneepads weren’t comfort enough. She decided to give volleyball a try in middle school.

“She was very timid,” Mary said of her daughter, who has since gotten 10 tattoos, including one of a hummingbird. “She would tell me she didn’t want to hurt anyone on the other side of the net. I told her I would give her a dollar for every time she would whack it. And I would give her $10 if she would actually hit someone on the other end of the court.”

It took a while, but Thompson was motivated by her love of horses. The payouts from her mom went toward a saddle and a bridal. A box with horse equipment remains in the family garage back home.

“She was trying to build up her supplies to be able to one day say to me, look, I’ve got a saddle, I’ve got all of my tack, I’ve got stuff to clean the hooves, can we get a horse now?” Mary said. 

After just two years of club volleyball, Thompson received her first Division-I scholarship offer. It came from Syracuse. Thompson was a high school sophomore.

“In the back of my head, I’m thinking, I’m never going to get another offer, so I better take this one,” she said.

Thompson was intent on Syracuse for a year before a coaching change led her to decommit. She wasn’t sure if many schools knew she had reopened her recruiting. A Minnesota club teammate had committed to Cincinnati and suggested Thompson take a visit.

The Bearcats went 3-29 the season before she committed.

“I said, Jordan, you can play D-I at Texas. You can go to Nebraska,” Mary said. “She was like, no, no, I want to play all four years. I actually want to get playing time, mom. She really struggled believing how good she could be.”

The biggest obstacle came junior year. In a preseason training session, Thompson collided with that Minnesota club teammate, Jade Tingelhoff, and tore the UCL in her dominant, right arm. She was in an armpit-to-wrist brace for two months post-Tommy John surgery, including three weeks with her arm locked in place.

She couldn’t brush her hair, had a hard time brushing her teeth and found it difficult showering and getting dressed.

She still went to every Bearcats game and traveled with the team. Cincinnati went from 22-10 her sophomore season to 13-19 that year without her on the court.

“It ended up being OK,” Tingelhoff said. “She came back that next season — I’m not kidding — 10 times as better than she was even the previous year.”

As a redshirt junior, Thompson and her 827 kills helped Cincinnati to a 26-8 record and its first NCAA Tournament win in seven years. She also caught the eye of Kiraly by the end of that 2018 season.

“She was one of the elite players in all of college volleyball,” he said. “Probably the only one who came from a conference other than the ones known for producing the most NCAA champions, like the Big Ten and the Pac-12.”

By last spring break, Thompson had become a favorite of U.S coaches at a camp to help select teams for summer international tournaments.

She had a one-on-one conversation with Kiraly, the only person to own Olympic indoor and beach gold medals. The legend told her she had potential to play at the Pan American Games. Later, he upped the praise to say she was ready for the top-level Nations League, a precursor to Olympic qualifying.

Thompson made her national team debut in May. By August, she came off the bench to help spur a comeback in a crucial Olympic qualifying match. The next day, she was in the starting lineup for the U.S.’ final Olympic qualifier, where the Americans clinched a Tokyo 2020 berth.

“I think a lot people don’t know she is still in college,” two-time U.S. Olympic outside hitter Jordan Larson said then. “She still has one more year left.”

Agents reached out, but Thompson had no intention of giving up her final year of NCAA eligibility. She wanted to make history at Cincinnati. That was secured with the Sweet 16 berth.

With the new year, she will trade the Cincinnati red and black for Team USA colors. She will keep in mind what the U.S. coaching staff told the team during Olympic qualifying and what she called a dream summer.

“My big goal in life was I just wanted to be in the USA gym,” said Thompson, who is working on her master’s in criminal justice. “To hear that we’re all working towards this goal of trying to make this roster, and we are being looked as potential players to make that roster, my jaw dropped. To know that it’s even a remote possibility is mind-blowing.”

VIDEO: Brazil volleyball star faints during courtside interview

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Tahiti chosen for Olympic surfing competition at 2024 Paris Games

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Paris 2024 Olympic organizers want the surfing competition to be held in Tahiti, an island in French Polynesia that is about 9,800 miles from Paris.

It would break the record for the farthest Olympic medal competition to be held outside the host. In 1956, equestrian events were moved out of Melbourne due to quarantine laws and held five months earlier in Stockholm, some 9,700 miles away.

The Paris 2024 executive board approved the site Thursday — specifically, the village of Teahupo’o — and will propose it to the IOC. It beat out other applicants Biarritz, Lacanau, Les Landes and La Torche, all part of mainland France.

“If, ever, we have two alternatives, and where one alternative gives the athletes of a particular sport more closeness to the heart of the Games and allows them to enjoy the magic and the spirit of the Games better, then in the interest of the athletes, we prefer this solution,” IOC President Thomas Bach said in June when asked about Tahiti’s interest in hosting surfing.

Surfing will debut at the 2020 Tokyo Games but is not on the permanent Olympic program. Surfing was among sports added to the Paris 2024 program in June and could be added for the 2028 Los Angeles Games.

MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics

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