Andringa
Courtesy of Casey Andringa

Casey Andringa took a wild path to PyeongChang

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PYEONGCHANG, South Korea – Every morning, the skier who was told he might not leave the hospital alive wakes up and finds the newspaper clipping.

“After a winding path of injury and illness, moguls skier Casey Andringa earns Olympic berth,” the Park Record headline reads.

“I have to look at that to remind myself that it’s real, that I didn’t dream this,” Andringa said.

The 22-year-old from Boulder, Colo., is one of four U.S. male moguls skiers who will compete here, starting with qualifying Thursday night. He is the unlikeliest Olympian of them all, among the biggest surprises on the entire 241-member U.S. Olympic team.

Andringa was 2 years old when Jonny Moseley won the 1998 Olympic moguls with his 360-degree mute grab and 6 when Moseley performed the Dinner Roll in Salt Lake City and hosted Saturday Night Live.

“I watched him at the Olympics and told my parents, ‘I want to do that!'” Andringa said.

He has competed at the senior level for nearly seven years but never placed in the top five at a national championships. That winding path of injury and illness has something to do with that (more below).

On May 9, U.S. Ski & Snowboard named the 2017-18 national team in three tiers: The A team had two male moguls skiers. The B team had two more male moguls skiers. The last tier had seven men.

Andringa didn’t make any of them, essentially putting him behind 11 men vying for four Olympic berths to be handed out in January.

He considered quitting. His dad said he would regret it for the rest of his life. So Andringa rededicated himself while spending the summer living on tuna sandwiches in a ’90s pop-up camper parked in the woods, wifi-less, with younger brother Jesse, also a moguls skier. Their dad bought it on Craigslist for $2,000. They called it the Viking.

Andringa had one more shot to prove his worth to Olympic team selectors at two lower-level events in Winter Park, Colo., one week before Christmas. Andringa knew that if he performed well, he would be given his first start on the sport’s highest level – the annual World Cup tour – in Deer Valley, Utah, three weeks later.

Not only did Andringa win, he dominated a field that included a few skiers on the 11-man national team. Andringa was given a start in Deer Valley and also in Calgary four days before that.

He finished seventh and fifth against the world’s best mogulists. He was second-best of five Americans in Calgary and second-best of 10 Americans in Deer Valley.

Andringa was named to the Olympic team two weeks later.

“He could be the guy who shows up to the Games, and he doesn’t know what he’s not supposed to do, and he could turn around and be standing on the podium,” said U.S. coach Matt Gnoza, who told Andringa in a phone call that he made the team.

“Wow,” Andringa replied to Gnoza on that call.

Andringa then phoned his dad.

“He had to pull the car over so he wouldn’t crash because he started crying,” Andringa said. “Then I started crying, and it was just a whole mess.”

When Andringa was 14, he fractured his skull in a longboarding accident in his neighborhood.

“I don’t think he ever went into a coma, but he was basically in a coma, and they didn’t know if he was going to walk again,” brother Jesse said.

When he was 18, he tore his left meniscus skiing. He tore his right one two years later. Both times, he was on the verge of making the national team.

In between, Andringa spent about eight nights combined in a hospital and clinic in Switzerland as flummoxed German-speaking doctors tried to treat him for a life-threatening head illness.

It all started at a training camp at the base of the Matterhorn in late September 2014. Andringa was with six or seven other skiers from his Vail club preparing for the season.

NBCOlympics.com: More on the U.S. freestyle team

Early in the trip, teammate Hunter Bailey noticed something.

“His face was f—— like a balloon,” Bailey said. “We were having everyone come to our room to make fun of him.”

Andringa thought it was just a really bad headache.

“I got sinus infections a lot growing up,” he said.

But the left side of his face started to droop, and his left eye was closing shut.

He was rushed to a doctor’s office. The rest of the skiers didn’t see him again for a week.

“These random things we were hearing like they might have to drill a hole in his skull,” Bailey said. “He has meningitis. His mom was coming over. It was f—— grim.”

Andringa arrived at the doctor’s office just before it closed. The doctor called an ambulance. Andringa was rushed 30 minutes north to a hospital.

“They did a bunch of CT scans and realized there was a little air bubble on the brain side of the skull,” Andringa said, which brought his seven-inch skull fracture from that longboarding accident four years earlier into the picture. If there was an infection, could it easily spread to his brain?

Andringa’s headaches persisted. So bad that he slept maybe two hours the next two or three nights. They wouldn’t give him anything other aspirin in fear that it would mask the symptoms too much to know if he was getting worse.

His phone was out of power with no charger. Andringa lay in bed and counted the dots on the ceiling.

“We just kind of sat back at home and prayed,” Jesse said. “I never even talked to Casey at the hospital.”

Finally able to sleep, he woke up on the third or fourth day with a 105-degree fever.

“The nurse who didn’t speak English started freaking out,” Andringa said. “I was shaking uncontrollably because of how hot I was.”

Another ambulance. Andringa was rushed two hours north to the capital of Bern.

That’s when it got really bad. Andringa remembered being in a bright room with German-speaking neurosurgeons prodding his face. He couldn’t understand everything they said, but he knew emergency brain surgery was discussed.

“Finally I had enough of it, and I asked them, am I going to die?” Andringa said. “One of the guys looked at me and said [in a deep accent], ‘We do not know.'”

The brain surgery was put off for two days in the hope Andringa would improve. He did. His mom arrived just as he was ready to leave the hospital on antibiotics and an IV.

Andringa learned he had orbital cellulitis, an infection next to the thin bones separating the eye from the brain.

NBCOlympics.com: Full schedule for freestyle skiing

“The doctors, if you ask somebody about it, it’s the kind of thing hospitals will see one or two times a year,” he said. “They were worried it was turning into meningitis because bacteria was getting towards the brain.”

Andringa was finally cleared to fly home. When he arrived at the airport, he saw his Vail teammates waiting for their scheduled flight back to the States from the training camp.

“They were like hey Casey what’s up,” he said. “To them, I had just gone to the hospital, and they didn’t really know what had happened. But to me, I had like almost died.”

Andringa’s plane ticket is somewhere in his room along with that newspaper clipping. He also saved something from his skull fracture, what was left of the skateboarding helmet that exploded but saved his life.

“With all that, I try to focus on the fact that I’m here now and not the fact that it was such an unfortunate time,” Andringa said.

Andringa’s skiing helmet has the phrase “Are you afraid?” stickered on it. He takes the helmet off on the chair lift before every run and looks at it.

Andringa said he won’t be allowe­d to have the sticker on there at the Olympics due to strict apparel rules. He will probably write the phrase on a piece of paper and keep it with him.

It doesn’t remind him of the health scares, but of this past summer, when he thought about quitting the sport at age 21.

“To me it was kind of like are you afraid of this chance that you have?” Andringa said. “Are you afraid to achieve this dream you’ve had your whole life? So it’s kind of fired me up a little bit.”

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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