18 U.S. Olympic hopefuls to watch for PyeongChang 2018

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The U.S. may be better equipped than ever to, for the first time, top the medal standings at a Winter Olympics held outside North America.

Three primary reasons. First, that the Winter Games are being held far away from traditional European powers Germany and Norway. Second, that rival Russia is dealing with a doping scandal that could limit (or eliminate) the participation of some of its stars in PyeongChang. Third, a continued American stronghold on new freestyle events on the Olympic program.

If the U.S. is to win the most medals in PyeongChang, these 18 are among the likeliest athletes to contribute:

Mikaela Shiffrin, Alpine Skiing: Became the youngest Olympic slalom champion in Sochi. Currently leads the standings for the World Cup overall title, which annually crowns the world’s best all-around skier. Should contend for at least two medals in PyeongChang.

Lindsey Vonn, Alpine Skiing: 2010 Olympic downhill champion and winningest female Alpine skier missed the Sochi Winter Games due to knee surgery. Returned to the top of the podium again this season after more knee and arm fractures.

Elana Meyers Taylor, Bobsled: Bronze in 2010 and silver in 2014. Now the world’s best female driver, looking to win the first U.S. Olympic women’s bobsled title since the sport’s debut in 2002.

Jessie Diggins, Cross-Country Skiing: Two World Cup wins this season, looking to become the first U.S. Olympic women’s cross-country skiing medalist and second overall after Bill Koch in 1976.

John Shuster, Curling: Skipped the U.S. to its first men’s or women’s Olympic or world championships medal since 2007 last year. Shuster skipped the U.S. to 2-7 records at both the 2010 and 2014 Olympics.

Nathan Chen, Figure Skating: Won the U.S. title at age 17 last month by becoming the first skater to land seven quadruple jumps in a competition. Beat the reigning Olympic and world champions in the Grand Prix Final free skate in December.

Ashley Wagner, Figure Skating: In 2016, snapped a 10-year U.S. women’s medal drought by taking silver at the world championships. Might be the biggest threat to a possible Russian podium sweep.

Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani, Figure Skating: Siblings are the new top U.S. couple in ice dance with Sochi gold medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White absent from competition the last three years. Two straight U.S. titles with a 2016 World silver medal in between.

Maddie Bowman, Freestyle Skiing: Sochi ski halfpipe champion has earned medals in all eight of her X Games appearances (Aspen and Europe) dating to 2012 despite knee surgeries in 2014 and 2015.

Gus Kenworthy, Freestyle Skiing: Sochi ski slopestyle silver medalist earned X Games medals in halfpipe and slopestyle in 2016 and could make the PyeongChang team in both disciplines.

Amanda Kessel, Hockey: After silver in Sochi, came back from life-altering post-concussion effects to become the highest-paid player in the new National Women’s Hockey League and rejoin the national team.

Patrick Kane, Hockey: First U.S.-born player to win the Hart Trophy figures to lead the U.S. attack in PyeongChang, should the NHL decide to participate in the Olympics for a sixth straight time.

Erin Hamlin, Luge: In Sochi, became the first U.S. Olympic singles medalist with a bronze. Won medals in all three events at the world championships last month and said she hopes to make her fourth Olympics the last competition of her career.

J.R. Celski, Short Track Speed Skating: Took a year off after winning his third Olympic medal in Sochi. Last weekend, earned his first individual World Cup medal since 2013.

Jamie Anderson, Snowboarding: Sochi slopestyle gold medalist could go for two medals in PyeongChang with the addition of big air to the Olympic program. Pushed by two potential U.S. Olympic rookies — Hailey Langland and Julia Marino.

Chloe Kim, Snowboarding: Too young for Sochi at age 13, has since won two X Games titles and became the first woman to score a perfect, 100-point run and to land back-to-back 1080s. The daughter of South Korean immigrants.

Shaun White, Snowboarding: Changed coaches and dropped an event (slopestyle) since finishing fourth in Sochi. Now focused wholly on halfpipe and no longer playing guitar in a band. Won last the U.S. Grand Prix at Mammoth Mountain, Calif., on Sunday after finishing 11th at the Winter X Games.

Heather Bergsma, Speed Skating: Part of a disappointing, medal-less U.S. speed skating effort in Sochi. Has been on a tear since, breaking world records in the 1000m and 1500m, winning the 500m world title in 2015 and winning all five of her World Cup 1000m starts this season. Married to Dutch Olympic 10,000m champion Jorrit Bergsma.

PYEONGCHANG 2018
Storylines | 18 US Stars | 18 Global Stars | Strange Olympic Hopefuls | Key events
Oldest US Olympian? | Youngest US Olympian? | Venue Photo Gallery | North Korea

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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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