Getty Images

Six months out: PyeongChang Olympic daily events to watch

Leave a comment

Six months out, a daily look at key PyeongChang Olympic events set in the Eastern time zone. Some of the listed events will actually take place on the following day in South Korea, given the 14-hour time difference.

Wednesday, Feb. 7 — Day -2

Curling: Olympic competition begins with the debut of mixed doubles. The opening games will take place on Thursday morning in South Korea, which is of course Wednesday evening in the U.S. Mixed doubles will include one man and one woman per team, with seven nations plus host South Korea in the field. The U.S. won the 2016 World bronze medal.

Thursday, Feb. 8 — Day -1

Figure Skating: The team event, which debuted in Sochi, returns and kicks off with the men’s and pairs short programs. This could mark the Olympic debut of U.S. champion Nathan Chen, the 17-year-old who landed a record seven quadruple jumps at nationals in January.

Friday, Feb. 9 — Opening Ceremony

The first Winter Games in South Korea will officially open at the Olympic Stadium in the mountain cluster of venues at Alpensia Sports Park. The Opening and Closing Ceremonies were initially slated at the ski jumping venue, but the move to the open-air stadium was announced in 2012.

The favorite to be the final torch bearer has to be Yuna Kim, the beloved 2010 Olympic figure skating champion who retired after taking silver in Sochi. Kim is a PyeongChang 2018 ambassador and spoke on the bid’s behalf at the 2011 session where IOC members voted PyeongChang as the host over Munich and Annecy, France.

Saturday, Feb. 10 — Day 1

Alpine Skiing: Men’s downhill. One of the Winter Olympics’ marquee events helps kick off medal competition on the opening weekend. The top U.S. downhiller at the moment is Travis Ganong, the 2015 World Championships silver medalist, though six-time Olympic medalist Bode Miller has not ruled out a return.

Figure Skating: The team event continues with the short dance, women’s short program and pairs free skate. The U.S. has current world bronze medalists in ice dancers Maia and Alex Shibutani as well as 2016 World silver medalist Ashley Wagner.

Snowboarding: The first snowboard medals will be handed out in men’s slopestyle. There will be a new champion. Sage Kotsenburg retired at age 23.

Sunday, Feb. 11 — Day 2

Alpine Skiing: Women’s giant slalom. Mikaela Shiffrin is best at slalom, but she improved in giant slalom since finishing fifth in Sochi. She is the world silver medalist. Lindsey Vonn may make her PyeongChang debut here, too.

Figure Skating: The team event finishes with the men’s and women’s free skates and free dance. The medals should come down to Russia, Canada and the U.S., who made up the Sochi podium. Canada is the only nation currently with medal contenders in all four figure skating disciplines.

Luge: In the men’s event, German Felix Loch could become the second luger to win three straight gold medals. The U.S. has two men in Chris Mazdzer and Tucker West who have won World Cup races since Sochi. The U.S. has never earned an Olympic men’s singles medal.

Snowboarding: Women’s slopestyle. American Jamie Anderson took gold in Sochi and earned silver behind three different riders at the last three X Games. The newest X Games champion is another American, Julia Marino.

Monday, Feb. 12 — Day 3

Ski Jumping: Women’s competition. The event debuted in Sochi with American Sarah Hendrickson as the first jumper. Hendrickson underwent another right knee surgery in 2015 but has returned to her place as the top U.S. medal hope in the sport.

Snowboarding: Women’s halfpipe. The U.S. still has the talent to sweep the medals with 2002 Olympic champion Kelly Clark, 2006 Olympic champion Hannah Teter and the last two X Games winners, Chloe Kim and Elena Hight, all trying to make the team of four riders.

Speed Skating: Women’s 1500m. If current form holds, this is where the U.S. wins its first Olympic women’s speed skating medal since the 2002 Winter Games. Heather Bergsma is the world-record holder and world champion. Of course, Bergsma also entered Sochi as a medal favorite and came home with nothing as part of a desultory U.S. speed skating performance. She has since married Dutch Olympic 10,000m champion Jorrit Bergsma and moved to the Netherlands.

Tuesday, Feb. 13 — Day 4

Alpine Skiing: Women’s slalom. Mikaela Shiffrin became the youngest Olympic slalom champion in Sochi at age 18 and has continued to dominate with more world titles, making her one of the biggest favorites for gold one year out from the Games.

Curling: Mixed doubles medal matches. The first curling medals awarded in PyeongChang will also be the first Olympic medals ever in mixed doubles.

Luge: Women’s singles runs 3 and 4. Erin Hamlin became the first U.S. Olympic singles medalist with her bronze in Sochi. She followed that up with silver at the world championships in January, plus gold in the sprint (not an Olympic event). Hamlin, who plans to retire after the PyeongChang Winter Games, could be the top rival to the dominant Germans.

Snowboarding: Men’s halfpipe. Eyes will be on Shaun White, the 2006 and 2010 Olympic champion who finished fourth in Sochi, as he tries to regain his title at age 31. Sochi Olympic gold and silver medalists Iouri Podladtchikov and Ayumu Hirano could again be his top rivals.

Wednesday, Feb. 14 — Day 5

Figure Skating: Pairs free skate. A Soviet or Russian pair prevailed at 13 of the last 14 Olympics, but Canadian and Chinese pairs dominated the last three world championships. Sochi gold medalists Tatyana Volosozhar and Maksim Trankov are taking a break due to Volosozhar’s recent childbirth.

Speed Skating: Women’s 1000m. Heather Bergsma is the gold-medal favorite here as world champion. Countrywoman Brittany Bowe is the world-record holder, but she missed most of last season due to a concussion sustained last summer.

Thursday, Feb. 15 — Day 6

Figure Skating: Men’s short program. Three men who have combined to win every Olympic and world title since 2011 should be part of this field — Canadian Patrick Chan, Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu and Spain’s Javier Fernandez. American Nathan Chen, 17, outscored all of them in the Grand Prix Final free skate in December but was not at his best at worlds.

Snowboarding: Women’s snowboard cross. Lindsey Jacobellis is one of the greatest winter sports athletes of all time without an Olympic gold medal — winning all nine of her combined X Games and world championships starts since 2007. She memorably gave up 2006 Olympic gold with a trick move on the last jump and crashed out of the 2010 and 2014 Olympic semifinals.

Friday, Feb. 16 — Day 7

Alpine Skiing: Women’s super-G. This could be the event where Lindsey Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin both go for medals. Vonn took super-G bronze at the 2010 Olympics and 2015 World Championships. Shiffrin is getting familiar with the speed discipline, taking fourth in a World Cup race last season.

Figure Skating: Men’s free skate. Hanyu could bid to become the first man to repeat as Olympic champion since American Dick Button in 1952, but he has been beaten by Chan, Chen and the Spaniard Fernandez the last two seasons. Spain has won two Winter Olympic medals, both in Alpine skiing.

Freestyle Skiing: Women’s aerials. The U.S. last took Olympic aerials gold in 1998 but has two threats this year with reigning world champion Ashley Caldwell and 2015 World Cup season champion Kiley McKinnon.

Saturday, Feb. 17 — Day 8

Alpine Skiing: Men’s giant slalom. American Ted Ligety — Mr. GS — is the reigning Olympic and world champion but has been slowed by surgeries the past two years. This could instead be an opportunity for Austrian Marcel Hirscher — the world’s best Alpine skier six years running — to take his first Olympic title.

Freestyle Skiing: Men’s slopestyle. In Sochi, the U.S. notched its third-ever Winter Olympic podium sweep by dominating this event in its Olympic debut. Medalists Joss ChristensenGus Kenworthy and Nick Goepper are all still competing.

South Korean Special: It could be a big day for the host nation. Olympic gold is possible in its national pastime with two short track speed skating finals (women’s 1500m, men’s 1000m) and in men’s skeleton, where Yun Sung-Bin is ranked No. 2 in the world.

Sunday, Feb. 18 — Day 9

Figure Skating: Short dance. Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White will not be defending their title. In their absence, U.S. couples Madison Chock and Evan Bates and Maia and Alex Shibutani are both medal contenders.

Speed Skating: Women’s 500m. Lee Sang-Hwa is one of South Korea’s biggest Olympic stars, having won this title at the last two Winter Games, but the Lego collector didn’t win a World Cup race last season while dealing with a reported leg injury.

Monday, Feb. 19 — Day 10

Figure Skating: Free dance. The U.S. should earn at least one ice dance medal for a fourth straight Olympics, but the favorites at this point are 2010 Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada and two-time world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France.

Freestyle Skiing: Women’s halfpipe. Maddie Bowman took the first Olympic gold in this event in Sochi, then had knee surgeries in back-to-back years and is now looking up at France’s Marie Martinod, who took silver in Sochi but won the X Games in Jannuary. Martinod, 33, took a five-year break from the sport, including having a daughter, before coming back for Sochi.

Tuesday, Feb. 20 — Day 11

Alpine Skiing: Women’s downhill. This is Lindsey Vonn‘s baby and could be the last Olympic race of her career. She won it at the 2010 Olympics but wasn’t able to defend her title in Sochi due to knee injuries. Last season, Vonn won a world bronze medal and was second in a World Cup race at the Olympic venue, coming back from knee and arm injuries in separate crashes.

Figure Skating: Women’s short program. The prize event of the Winter Games. The U.S. could have medal contenders in Karen ChenAshley Wagner and Gracie Gold, who each have top-five finishes at worlds in the last two years.

Wednesday, Feb. 21 — Day 12

Bobsled: Women’s runs 3 and 4. Training partners Kaillie Humphries of Canada and Elana Meyers Taylor have called their rivalry a “battle royale.” The tattooed Humphries came from behind to nip Meyers Taylor for the Sochi Olympic crown, but Meyers Taylor is the world champion and another American, Jamie Greubel Poser, won the World Cup season title.

Freestyle Skiing: Men’s ski halfpipe. David Wise could look to repeat as Olympic champion, and then possibly watch his sister, Christy, compete in the Paralympics in March. Torin Yater-Wallace endured a collapsed lung, two broken ribs, a concussion and being placed on life support in separate setbacks the last four years. Then he won the first U.S. Olympic qualifier in February. Gus Kenworthy could make the U.S. team in both halfpipe and slopestyle.

Thursday, Feb. 22 — Day 13

Figure Skating: Women’s free skate. The favorite has to be Russian Yevgenia Medvedeva, who hasn’t lost a competition since November 2015. The U.S. women will look to earn an Olympic medal for the first time since Sasha Cohen‘s silver in 2006.

Hockey: Women’s medal games. The U.S. and Canada have met in four of five Olympic finals thus far, and it would be a shocker if they aren’t playing for gold again. After a heartbreaking overtime loss in Sochi, the U.S. beat Canada in the last three world championship finals.

Snowboarding: Women’s big air final. The first Olympic medals in the new sport of big air will be handed out, and it could be a U.S. sweep. Hailey LanglandJulia Marino and Sochi slopestyle gold medalist Jamie Anderson took three of the top four spots at X Games.

Friday, Feb. 23 — Day 14

Biathlon: Men’s relay. If Norway’s Ole Einar Bjoerndalen qualifies for a seventh Olympics at age 44, this could be the race where he breaks the record for career Winter Olympic gold medals (eight) he shares with countryman Bjorn Daehlie, a retired cross-country skier. Bjoerndalen already broke Daehlie’s total medals record by reaching 13 in Sochi.

Speed Skating: Men’s 1000m. This may be the final Olympic race of Shani Davis‘ decorated career. He won the 1000m in 2006 and 2010 and then finished eighth as part of a disastrous U.S. speed skating showing in Sochi. Davis, a 34-year-old fighting Father Time, captured the 2015 World title but hasn’t won a World Cup 1000m since March 2014.

Saturday, Feb. 24 — Day 15

Bobsled: Four-man runs 3 and 4. Athletes will surely be sliding in memory of the late Steven Holcomb, who in 2010 drove the U.S. to its first four-man gold in 62 years. Holcomb followed that with bronze medals in two- and four-man in Sochi while injured. He was found dead on May 6.

Cross-Country Skiing: Men’s 50km mass start. The marathon of the Winter Olympics takes about two hours to complete. Russia swept the podium in Sochi, but two of those skiers were suspended in December as part of the investigation into widespread alleged Russian doping leading up to and during the last Winter Games.

Sunday, Feb. 25 — Day 16

Hockey: Men’s final. Canada won the last two titles, but with no NHL players in PyeongChang, it might not be the favorite one year from now. Russia should be strong regardless, as it has a local pool of talent in its domestic league, the KHL.

Closing Ceremony: The Olympic flame is extinguished in what should be a festive celebration. The focus turns to the Paralympics, which open March 9, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

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

[twitter-follow screen_name=’nzaccardi’ show_count=’yes’ text_color=’00ccff’]

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

Jordan Thompson
FIVB
Leave a comment

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

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Tahiti chosen for Olympic surfing competition at 2024 Paris Games

Getty Images
Leave a comment

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

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!