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Marit Bjørgen, most decorated Winter Olympian, retires

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Marit Bjørgen, the most decorated Winter Olympian with 15 medals, is retiring from cross-country skiing, one month after her fifth Olympics.

“I don’t have the motivation needed to give 100 percent for another season, and that’s why I choose to retire,” the 38-year-old mother told Norwegian TV, according to The Associated Press. “It’s been an era in my life, more than 20 years. So it’s special thing to say that this is my last season as a top athlete.”

Bjørgen capped her career with five medals, including two golds, in PyeongChang to break countryman Ole Einar Bjørndalen‘s record for most Winter Olympic medals. She was the most decorated athlete in any sport in PyeongChang.

She also tied Bjørndalen, who announced his retirement Tuesday, and 1990s Norwegian cross-country star Bjørn Daehlie for the Winter Games gold medal record of eight.

“She’s the greatest female skier of all time,” five-time U.S. Olympian Kikkan Randall said last year. Bjørgen and Randall both took the 2015-16 season off to have baby boys. When they returned, Randall noticed Bjørgen more open. They conversed about their children.

Bjørgen was most dominant in her Olympic farewell, winning the last event of the PyeongChang Games, the 30km, by 109 seconds, the largest Olympic cross-country margin of victory in 38 years.

Bjørgen also earned 26 world championships medals, including 18 golds, from 2003 through 2017, and won a record 114 individual World Cup races in 303 starts since 1999, with four overall season titles.

The next-highest athlete, longtime rival Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland, won 50 World Cups.

(In 2010, Kowalczyk made news by telling Polish media after Norway’s Olympic relay win that “[Bjørgen] wouldn’t have won without her medicine,” referring to Bjørgen’s use of an inhaler for asthma. Kowalczyk later backtracked. “I’m really sorry, because this was not a good time to have this conversation. This was not an attack on Marit. Marit to me is a very good athlete.” There has never been a report of Bjørgen failing a drug test, and she is respected on the international circuit, namely by U.S. veterans.)

Like Jessie Diggins, who won the first U.S. Olympic cross-country title with Randall in the team sprint in PyeongChang. Diggins remembered winning a World Cup over Bjørgen for the first time in 2016. Bjørgen congratulated her by name. Diggins was impressed that Bjørgen even knew her name.

“She embodies professionalism more than anyone I’ve ever met,” Diggins said. “She notices what other people do well.”

Bjørgen, who grew up on a farm outside Trondheim in Central Norway, made her Olympic debut at Salt Lake City in 2002, without a World Cup top-10 finish to her name.

She was 50th in her first Olympic event. She left those Games with a silver medal in the relay, though she skied the slowest leg of any of the 12 women on the podium.

Bjørgen made her rise between Salt Lake City and Torino 2006, winning World Cup overall titles in 2004-05 and 2005-06 with individual gold medals at both world championships in that Olympic cycle, too.

But Bjørgen left Torino with just a single silver medal, plagued by illness.

She struggled between the 2006 and 2010 Olympics, with a best individual finish of ninth at the world championships in 2007 and 2009. She didn’t win any individual World Cup races in the 2008-09 season.

But Bjørgen stormed back at the Vancouver Olympics, earning medals in all five of her events, including three golds. After earning four world titles each in 2011 and 2013, Bjørgen won another three golds in Sochi, setting herself up for the possibility of passing Bjørndalen in PyeongChang.

She and four-time 1990s Olympic Nordic combined medalist Fred Børre Lundberg have dated since 2005. She gave birth to son Marius in December 2015, then came back the following season to earn four gold medals at worlds for a third time.

With the retirements of Bjørgen and Bjørndalen this week, the most decorated active Olympians are swimmer Ryan Lochte with 12 medals and Dutch speed skater Ireen Wüst with 11.

Wüst, 31, earned five medals in Sochi and three in PyeongChang, which gives her a shot at Bjørgen’s record of 15 if she competes in Beijing in 2022. However, Wüst was quoted in Dutch media in PyeongChang saying she was only committing to skating through the 2019-20 season.

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

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VIDEO: Photo finish decides famed World Cup 50km cross-country race

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

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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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