For Olympic gymnasts, turning pro a complicated choice

Jordyn Wieber
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The end of her gymnastics career hit Jordyn Wieber suddenly. Too far removed from high-intensity training and ineligible to compete in college because she turned pro in high school, the 2011 world champion and 2012 Olympic gold medalist needed a place to vent.

So Wieber — at the time a student manager for the UCLA women’s program — made her way to the office of Bruins’ coach Valorie Kondos Field and wept.

“She kept asking, ‘Is there a way to give the money back?'” Kondos Field said.

Wieber insists the reaction was the byproduct of the emotional decision to formally retire nearly three years after helping her “Fierce Five” teammates overwhelm the field in London. Though she understood what she was giving up when she opted to turn professional at 17, that doesn’t necessarily mean she believes it’s fair.

“It’s kind of a bummer,” said Wieber, now a 21-year-old volunteer assistant coach with the Bruins. “Gymnastics should be the exception. It’s too bad girls can’t do both because gymnastics is so unique.”

The dilemma Wieber faced five years ago — one current U.S. Olympic women’s gymnastics team members Laurie Hernandez and Madison Kocian also face as they prepare for Rio de Janeiro next month — is different than the one other young athletes wrestle with when deciding whether to sign away their amateur status.

For top football and basketball players, turning pro means a chance at a signing a lucrative contract and competing at the highest level. Many aren’t finished products but are drafted based on raw ability that can be molded as they mature.

It’s not the same for elite female gymnasts like Wieber, who typically reach their prime in their late teens and who view the team-oriented nature of college gymnastics as a fun escape after years of trying to survive the sometimes lonely grind of training for the national team. Their biggest paydays as professionals don’t come from player contracts or performance bonuses, but endorsements.

There’s money to be made if you end up standing atop the podium at the Olympics with “The Star Spangled Banner” playing and your sport’s most coveted prize draped over your neck. The key is figuring out whether it’s worth sacrificing a college scholarship.

It’s a leap three-time world champion and heavy Olympic favorite Simone Biles opted to make last year when she pulled out of an offer from UCLA to sign with an agent. Biles was committed to joining the Bruins — there was even a plaque in the gym her family owns that featured Biles wearing a blue UCLA-inscribed polo — before the math became blatantly one-sided. The coach pleaded her case to the Biles family, but figured it’s akin to a college basketball coach asking LeBron James to do the same back in 2003.

“I had to try,” Kondos Field said. “With what she’s looking at, though, you can’t blame her.”

Biles is already pitching everything from Nike to United Airlines as part of a pre-Olympic rollout that could make her one of the faces of the 2016 Games if she heads back home in August with her backpack stuffed with gold.

The choice also was easy for reigning Olympic champion Gabby Douglas and three-time medalist Aly Raisman, who both turned pro before the 2012 Games and have created a healthy living for themselves since London while also carving out return trips to the Olympics.

For their less heralded teammates, things are dicier. The window to cash in is short. For those that turn pro but don’t have a breakthrough moment at the games, any potential windfall can be meager by comparison to those who repeatedly have their triumphs broadcast into living rooms across the world. How much? At least $1 million in the first year after the games.

“When you’re No. 1 or No. 2 it’s absolutely something you should do,” said agent Sheryl Shade, who has spent more than 20 years representing high-profile Olympic athletes, including 2008 all-around champion Nastia Liukin and four-time medalist Shawn Johnson. “When you’re No. 5, the opportunity might not be there.”

Liukin and Johnson became household names after they combined for eight medals in Beijing in 2008, each appearing on “Dancing With The Stars” and carving out comfortable post-Olympic lifestyles while also saving enough money to pay for college. Liukin just completed her degree at NYU; Johnson is working toward one of her own.

Yet the risk/reward balance is better measured by the path of one of their Olympic teammates.

Bridget Sloan earned a team silver in Beijing as 16-year-old then captured the all-around title at the 2009 world championships — a big accomplishment, but not one that’s going to have agents trying to friend her on Facebook in a non-Olympic year. Her parents told her she could explore her options. She just needed to be sure she was going to earn enough to pay for college … twice.

“I mean, I was never a superstar. I was good but I’d gone to the Olympics just once,” Sloan said. “In the real world, I was still a 17-year-old. You have to look at the big picture. At 17 that’s really hard to do.”

So she remained an amateur, and the only “payment” she ever received was the 2008 Jeep Patriot her parents paid for as a reward for a world title. Her bid to make the 2012 Olympic team ended due to a hand injury at Olympic Trials, though she hardly pouted. Sloan practically sprinted to Gainesville, Florida, where she led the Gators to three NCAA titles while earning two all-around crowns for herself before graduating this spring.

Looking back, Sloan believes turning pro would have been “the biggest mistake of my life” even though she understands not accepting money put her parents on the hook for a large portion of the financial burden it takes to train at the elite level, a bill that can soar into the tens of thousands a year in coaching fees and travel costs. Then again, it can look like wise investment considering the value of a college gymnastics scholarship can reach well into six figures.

The futures for this year’s team are still forming. Kocian, an 18-year-old Texan, says she has no plans to change her mind on joining UCLA, no matter how high she flies in Rio. Hernandez, a 16-year-old from New Jersey, verbally committed to Florida but has several years before she’ll be heading to college and is in no hurry to figure out her path until after the Olympics.

“I’m sure maybe we’ll talk about it soon but I haven’t given any thought into the future,” Hernandez said after Olympic Trials.

Smart move. The vast majority of the pre-Olympic marketing money has already been spent. The coffers may open, however, if Hernandez makes the podium multiple times in Rio. If that happens, the crossroads await.

MORE: Jordyn Wieber announces gymnastics retirement

Kerri Walsh Jennings is back for one more beach volleyball run

Kerri Walsh Jennings
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It wasn’t long after the Tokyo Olympics, the first Games that Kerri Walsh Jennings missed since 1996, that the beach volleyball legend finally made the phone call.

Walsh Jennings, now 44, dialed now-41-year-old Logan Tom, her teammate at Stanford in 1999 and on the U.S. Olympic indoor volleyball team in 2000. “She’s like a sister,” Walsh Jennings said.

Walsh Jennings asked Tom, who played indoors at four Olympics and at the club level at least into 2019, with a beach stint in 2006-07, if she’d like to be her new partner.

“She was like, ‘Kerri, you’re bat— crazy,'” Walsh Jennings recalled Tuesday.

It took a while — Walsh Jennings called the last year-plus “a saga” — but Tom agreed to a six-week tryout period that took place late last year (video here). Their first official practice as a team was last week, Walsh Jennings said. They hope to play their first international tournament together in March, though trying to get into an event is tricky with their collective lack of ranking points.

“For my last go around competing, I want it to feel really good and feel really special,” Walsh Jennings said. “Logan brings that.

“She’s someone I’ve loved since I met her at Stanford, and she’s just one of my favorite teammates ever. She’s such a champion. So the thought of us getting together just makes us both smile, which is why we’re doing this.”

Walsh Jennings is the most decorated beach volleyball player in history with Olympic gold medals in 2004, 2008 and 2012 with Misty May-Treanor and bronze in 2016 with April Ross.

But she is not hyping up trying to qualify as one of two U.S. women’s beach teams for the 2024 Paris Games. At least not yet.

“Paris is in the background, right?” said Walsh Jennings, who last played a tournament in June 2021. “That’s obviously out there. That would be the ultimate goal, but we’re really taking this one phase at a time.”

Tom has not replied to messages seeking comment to an email address that was used to schedule a 2016 interview.

Qualifying for the Paris Games is based on international results from now until June 2024. For any American looking to get in, it would require unseating at least one of the world’s top young teams.

Kelly Cheng and Sara Hughes have won all four tournaments they’ve played since teaming up last fall, including beating the reigning world champions from Brazil in last week’s World Tour Finals. Taryn Kloth and Kristen Nuss won five times between the domestic AVP and international FIVB tours in 2022.

“I’m very comfortable being a very long shot, because I know we’ll put in the time,” Walsh Jennings said. “On paper it makes no sense to do, this late in the game with no points and everything. But I just feel like it’s in my heart, it’s in her heart, and we’re gonna give it a whirl.”

Alix Klineman, who won Tokyo Olympic gold with Ross, announced last week that she is pregnant. Klineman, 33, may come back from childbirth for a late 2024 Olympic run.

Ross, 40, last competed in March, then withdrew before June’s world championships, where she was entered with Emily Day, with an unspecified injury. She has not announced if or when she plans to return to competition.

Walsh Jennings and her last partner, Brooke Sweat, were in position to qualify for the Tokyo Games when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. After the Olympics were postponed by one year, the younger Cheng and Sarah Sponcil made a late charge and grabbed that last spot from them.

“All of 2021 was tougher than anything in my career,” said Walsh Jennings, speaking while promoting Firefly Recovery, which is helping her come back after the longest competition break of her career. “I lost myself. I didn’t know how to play anymore. Brooke and I were disconnected but trying so hard.”

In their last two tournaments, Walsh Jennings and Sweat didn’t win a main draw match. They were two of the three lowest finishes in Walsh Jennings’ career spanning more than 250 domestic and international events, according to BVBinfo.com.

“I’m like, ‘Is this the end? Am I literally going to go out limping?'” Walsh Jennings said. “In my heart and in my body, that just didn’t feel good.”

Walsh Jennings can break the record of oldest Olympic beach volleyball player since the sport debuted at the 1996 Atlanta Games. Come 2024, Tom will be older than all but two previous Olympic beach players, according to Olympedia.org.

“To create this pressure and this energy around qualifying doesn’t make sense for us right now,” Walsh Jennings said, adding that her six-times surgically repaired right shoulder is feeling “awesome.” “Let’s just take it one step at a time.”

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Alpine skiing TV, live stream schedule for 2022-23 World Cup season

Mikaela Shiffrin, Marco Odermatt
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NBC Sports and Peacock combine to air live coverage of the 2022-23 Alpine skiing season, including races on the World Cup.

Coverage began with the traditional season-opening stop in Soelden, Austria.

The first of four stops in the U.S. — the most in 26 years — was Thanksgiving weekend with a women’s giant slalom and slalom in Killington, Vermont. The men’s tour visited Beaver Creek, Colorado the following week, with stops in Palisades Tahoe, California, and Aspen, Colorado after February’s worlds in Courchevel and Meribel, France.

NBC Sports platforms air all four U.S. stops in the Alpine World Cup season, plus four more World Cups in other ski and snowboard disciplines, and every world championships race. All Alpine World Cups in Austria stream live on Peacock.

Mikaela Shiffrin, who last year won her fourth World Cup overall title, is the headliner. Shiffrin, who began the season with 74 career World Cup race victories, is now up to 85, passing Lindsey Vonn for the female record and now one behind Ingemar Stenmark‘s overall record.

On the men’s side, 25-year-old Swiss Marco Odermatt returned after becoming the youngest man to win the overall, the biggest annual prize in ski racing, since Marcel Hirscher won the second of his record eight in a row in 2013.

2023 World Alpine Skiing Championships Broadcast Schedule

Date Event Time (ET) Platform
Mon., Feb. 6 Women’s Combined Super-G Run 5 a.m. Peacock
Women’s Combined Slalom Run 8:30 a.m. Peacock
Tues., Feb. 7 Men’s Combined Super-G Run 5 a.m. Peacock
Men’s Combined Slalom Run 8:30 a.m. Peacock
Wed., Feb. 8 Women’s Super-G 5:30 a.m. Peacock
Thu., Feb. 9 Men’s Super-G 5:30 a.m. Peacock
Sat., Feb. 11 Women’s Downhill 5 a.m. Peacock
Highlights 2:30 p.m.* NBC, Peacock
Sun., Feb. 12 Men’s Downhill 5 a.m Peacock
Highlights 3 p.m.* NBC, Peacock
Tue., Feb. 14 Team Parallel 6:15 a.m. Peacock
Men’s/Women’s Parallel Qualifying 11 a.m. Peacock
Wed., Feb. 15 Men’s/Women’s Parallel 6 a.m. Peacock
Thu., Feb. 16 Women’s Giant Slalom Run 1 4 a.m. Peacock
Women’s Giant Slalom Run 2 7:30 a.m. Peacock
Fri., Feb. 17 Men’s Giant Slalom Run 1 4 a.m. Peacock
Men’s Giant Slalom Run 2 7:30 a.m. Peacock
Sat., Feb. 18 Women’s Slalom Run 1 4 a.m. Peacock
Women’s Slalom Run 2 7:30 a.m. Peacock
Highlights 2:30 p.m.* NBC, Peacock
Sun., Feb. 19 Men’s Slalom Run 1 4 a.m. Peacock
Men’s Slalom Run 2 7:30 a.m. Peacock
Highlights 3 p.m.* NBC, Peacock

*Delayed broadcast
*All NBC coverage streams on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app for subscribers.

2022-23 Alpine Skiing Season World Cup Schedule
Schedule will be added to as the season progresses. All NBC Sports TV coverage also streams live on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

Date Coverage Network/Platform Time (ET)
Sat., Oct. 22 Women’s GS (Run 1) – Soelden (PPD) Peacock 4 a.m.
Women’s GS (Run 2) – Soelden (PPD) Peacock 7:05 a.m.
Sun., Oct. 23 Men’s GS (Run 1) — Soelden Peacock 4 a.m.
Men’s GS (Run 2) – Soelden Peacock 7 a.m.
Sat., Nov. 12 Women’s Parallel (Qualifying) — Lech (PPD) Peacock 6 a.m.
Women’s Parallel (Finals) — Lech (PPD) Peacock 12 p.m.
Sun., Nov. 13 Men’s Parallel (Qualifying) — Lech (PPD) Peacock 4 a.m.
Men’s Parallel (Finals) — Lech (PPD) Peacock 10 a.m.
Sat., Nov. 19 Women’s SL (Run 1) — Levi Skiandsnowboard.live 4 a.m.
Women’s SL (Run 2) — Levi Skiandsnowboard.live 7 a.m.
Sun., Nov. 20 Women’s SL (Run 1) — Levi Skiandsnowboard.live 4:15 a.m.
Women’s SL (Run 2) — Levi Skiandsnowboard.live 7:15 a.m.
Fri., Nov. 25 Men’s DH — Lake Louise (PPD) Skiandsnowboard.live 2:30 p.m.
Sat., Nov. 26 Women’s GS (Run 2) — Killington NBC, Peacock 12:30 p.m.
Men’s DH — Lake Louise Skiandsnowboard.live 2:30 p.m.
Sun., Nov. 27 Women’s SL (Run 2) — Killington NBC, Peacock 12:30 p.m.
Men’s SG — Lake Louise Skiandsnowboard.live 2:15 p.m.
Fri., Dec. 2 Women’s DH — Lake Louise Skiandsnowboard.live 2 p.m.
Sat., Dec. 3 Women’s DH — Lake Louise Skiandsnowboard.live 2:30 p.m.
Men’s DH — Beaver Creek NBC, Peacock 5 p.m.*
Sun., Dec. 4 Women’s SG — Lake Louise Skiandsnowboard.live 1 p.m.
Men’s SG — Beaver Creek NBC, Peacock 5 p.m.*
Sat., Dec. 10 Men’s GS (Run 1) – Val d’Isere Skiandsnowboard.live 3:30 a.m.
Women’s GS (Run 1) – Sestriere Skiandsnowboard.live 4:30 a.m.
Men’s GS (Run 2) — Val d’Isere Skiandsnowboard.live 6:30 a.m.
Women’s GS (Run 2) – Sestriere Skiandsnowboard.live 7:30 a.m.
Sun., Dec. 11 Men’s SL (Run 1) – Val d’Isere Skiandsnowboard.live 3:30 a.m.
Women’s SL (Run 1) – Sestriere Skiandsnowboard.live 4:30 a.m.
Men’s SL (Run 2) — Val d’Isere Skiandsnowboard.live 6:30 a.m.
Women’s SL (Run 2) – Sestiere Skiandsnowboard.live 7:30 a.m.
Thu., Dec. 15 Men’s DH — Val Gardena Skiandsnowboard.live 6 a.m.
Fri., Dec. 16 Women’s DH — St. Moritz Skiandsnowboard.live 4:30 a.m.
Men’s SG — Val Gardena (PPD) Skiandsnowboard.live 5:45 a.m.
Sat., Dec. 17 Women’s DH — St. Moritz Skiandsnowboard.live 4:30 a.m.
Men’s DH — Val Gardena Skiandsnowboard.live 5:45 a.m.
Sun., Dec. 18 Men’s GS (Run 1) — Alta Badia Skiandsnowboard.live 4 a.m.
Women’s SG — St. Moritz Skiandsnowboard.live 5:30 a.m.
Men’s GS (Run 2) — Alta Badia Skiandsnowboard.live 7:30 a.m.
Mon., Dec. 19 Men’s GS (Run 1) — Alta Badia Skiandsnowboard.live 4 a.m.
Men’s GS (Run 2) — Alta Badia Skiandsnowboard.live 7:30 a.m.
Thu., Dec. 22 Men’s SL (Run 1) – Madonna Skiandsnowboard.live 11:45 a.m.
Men’s SL (Run 2) — Madonna Skiandsnowboard.live 2:45 p.m.
Tue., Dec. 27 Women’s GS (Run 1) – Semmering Peacock 4 a.m.
Women’s GS (Run 2) – Semmering Peacock 7:05 a.m.
Wed., Dec. 28 Women’s GS (Run 1) — Semmering Peacock 4 a.m.
Men’s DH — Bormio Skiandsnowboard.live 5:30 a.m.
Women’s GS (Run 2) – Semmering Peacock 7:05 a.m.
Thu., Dec. 29 Men’s SG — Bormio Skiandsnowboard.live 5:30 a.m.
Women’s SL (Run 1) – Semmering Peacock 9 a.m.
Women’s SL (Run 2) – Semmering Peacock 12:30 p.m.
Wed., Jan. 4 Women’s SL (Run 1) — Zagreb Skiandsnowboard.live 6:30 a.m.
Men’s SL (Run 1) — Garmisch Skiandsnowboard.live 9:40 a.m.
Women’s SL (Run 2) — Zagreb Skiandsnowboard.live 10:30 a.m.
Men’s SL (Run 2) — Garmisch Skiandsnowboard.live 12:45 p.m.
Thu., Jan. 5 Women’s SL (Run 1) — Zagreb (PPD) Skiandsnowboard.live 9 a.m.
Women’s SL (Run 2) — Zagreb (PPD) Skiandsnowboard.live 12 p.m.
Sat., Jan. 7 Women’s GS (Run 1) — Kranjska Gora Skiandsnowboard.live 3:30 a.m.
Men’s GS (Run 1) — Adelboden Skiandsnowboard.live 4:30 a.m.
Women’s GS (Run 2) — Kranjska Gora Skiandsnowboard.live 6:30 a.m.
Men’s GS (Run 2) — Adelboden Skiandsnowboard.live 7:30 a.m.
Sun., Jan. 8 Women’s GS (Run 1) — Kranjska Gora Skiandsnowboard.live 3:30 a.m.
Men’s SL (Run 1) — Adelboden Skiandsnowboard.live 4:30 a.m.
Women’s GS (Run 2) — Kranjska Gora Skiandsnowboard.live 6:30 a.m.
Men’s SL (Run 2) — Adelboden Skiandsnowboard.live 7:30 a.m.
Tue., Jan. 10 Women’s SL (Run 1) — Flachau Peacock 12 p.m.
Women’s SL (Run 2) — Flachau Peacock 2:45 p.m.
Fri., Jan. 13 Men’s SG — Wengen Skiandsnowboard.live 6 a.m.
Sat., Jan. 14 Women’s SG — St. Anton Peacock 5 a.m.
Men’s DH — Wengen Skiandsnowboard.live 6:30 a.m.
Sun., Jan. 15 Men’s SL (Run 1) — Wengen Skiandsnowboard.live 4:15 a.m.
Women’s SG — St. Anton Peacock 5:30 a.m.
Men’s SL (Run 2) — Wengen Skiandsnowboard.live 7:15 a.m.
Fri., Jan. 20 Women’s DH — Cortina d’Ampezzo Skiandsnowboard.live 4:15 a.m.
Men’s DH — Kitzbühel Peacock 5:30 a.m.
Sat., Jan. 21 Women’s DH — Cortina d’Ampezzo Skiandsnowboard.live 4 a.m.
Men’s DH — Kitzbühel Peacock 5:30 a.m.
Men’s DH — Kitzbühel NBC 5 p.m.*
Sun., Jan. 22 Men’s SL (Run 1) — Kitzbühel Peacock 4:30 a.m.
Women’s SG — Cortina d’Ampezzo Skiandsnowboard.live 5:30 a.m.
Men’s SL (Run 2) — Kitzbühel Peacock 7:30 a.m.
Tue., Jan. 24 Women’s GS (Run 1) — Kronplatz Skiandsnowboard.live 4:30 a.m.
Women’s GS (Run 2) — Kronplatz Skiandsnowboard.live 7:30 a.m.
Men’s SL (Run 1) — Schladming Peacock 11:45 a.m.
Men’s SL (Run 2) — Schladming Peacock 2:45 p.m.
Wed., Jan. 25 Women’s GS (Run 1) — Kronplatz Skiandsnowboard.live 4:30 a.m
Women’s GS (Run 2) — Kronplatz Skiandsnowboard.live 7:30 a.m.
Men’s GS (Run 1) — Schladming Peacock 11:45 a.m.
Men’s GS (Run 2) — Schladming Peacock 2:45 p.m.
Sat., Jan. 28 Women’s SL (Run 1) — Spindleruv Mlyn Skiandsnowboard.live 3:30 a.m
Men’s SG — Cortina d’Ampezzo Skiandsnowboard.live 5:10 a.m.
Women’s SL (Run 2) — Spindleruv Mlyn Skiandsnowboard.live 6:30 a.m
Sun., Jan. 29 Women’s SL (Run 1) — Spindleruv Mlyn Skiandsnowboard.live 3:15 a.m.
Men’s SG — Cortina d’Ampezzo Skiandsnowboard.live 4:15 a.m.
Women’s SL (Run 2) — Spindleruv Mlyn Skiandsnowboard.live 6:15 a.m.
Sat., Feb. 4 Men’s SL (Run 1) — Chamonix Skiandsnowboard.live 3:30 a.m.
Men’s SL (Run 2) — Chamonix Skiandsnowboard.live 6:30 a.m.

*Delayed broadcast.

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