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France’s Tessa Worley enters Beijing Olympics with winning perspective

Tessa Worley has been in peak form in the months leading up to the Beijing Olympics. (Alexis Boichard/Agence Zoom/Getty Images)

Two-time Olympian Tessa Worley, France’s best hope for a medal in women’s alpine skiing, is ready for this year’s Winter Games in China despite the uncertainty that surrounds the new course in Xiaohaituo.

Normally, there is at least one event held at newly constructed alpine venues before the Olympic events officially begin. The trial runs are beneficial for both the athletes and the race organizers and officiating teams, but the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and its associated travel restrictions precluded such a possibility. That’s why the 32-year-old champion is preparing for big races as she always does, adhering to a recipe that’s enabled her to compete at the summit of her sport and inspire others.

“I’m looking forward to being really relaxed about it, trying to be able to not be disturbed by everything new that’s going to come to us,” Worley says. “There’s a lot of stuff that’s unknown.”

For more than 15 years, Worley has carved out a career as one of the world’s elite alpine racers. A member of the French national team since 2005, she had her first elite-level giant slalom victory at age 19, when she clocked 2:12.86 at the November 2008 International Ski Federation (FIS) World Cup in Aspen, Colo.

Since then, she’s proved her mettle year after year, notably in her best event: giant slalom. Worley is a two-time GS world champion (2013, 2017), and in 2017 won the FIS World Cup GS season title, edging out American Mikaela Shiffrin (second place) and Italian Sofia Goggia (third place) for the crown. Worley has yet to add an Olympic medal to her collection, but that doesn’t take away from her greatness, according to French Olympic alpine skiing medalist and Eurosport expert Flo Masnada.

“To be on the podium where she wins every year, that’s a giant,” Masnada said of Worley. “The French often have the reputation of having good skiers, but it isn’t enough to win lap times or to go fast. What makes the difference at the highest level is the mental aspect. You must go for the extremes, you must push yourself, you must want it a little more than the others. That’s what makes the difference.”

Worley’s recipe for success, while founded on exceptional physical and technical skills, is also heavily predicated on mental outlook and resiliency.

“It’s about believing in yourself,” Worley said. “That’s not always easy, especially if you’re not as physically prepared. But when I have difficulties, it makes me hungrier to get better and try to perform. This is something that motivates me.”

Part of Worley’s motivation stems from the fact that skiing runs through her veins. Born Oct. 4, 1989 in the eastern French city of Annemasse, which hugs the Swiss border, Worley spent the bulk of her early childhood halfway around the world, first in her father’s native Australia, and then New Zealand, where her parents were ski instructors. Having been on skis since she was a toddler, Worley competed in her first race as a 5-year old at Mt. Lyford. But by the late 1990s, the family relocated back to her mother’s homeland, where Worley has since been based at Le Grand Bornand.

She credits her mixed cultural heritage and upbringing in New Zealand with helping to fine-tune her competitive spirit.

“I have this little part of me that’s Australia, that’s New Zealand, and from France, of course,” she says of the Anglo-Saxon cultural outlook toward playing sports, which is ingrained as a serious endeavor in Australian, New Zealand, American, Canadian and British societies more so than in their French counterpart. “I’ve experienced great things in sport trying to perform. I think I’m lucky to have a bit of both spirits.”

Masnada, a bronze medalist at the 1992 and 1998 Olympics, notes how important Worley’s multi-cultural background is for her career. “It is reflected in her skiing, in her mentality,” Masnada says. “She is in the moment [when she races], it’s very intense, she’s really into it. I think that’s one of the explanations.”

If Worley looks wildly intense during the race, she is actually enjoying the run, confident in her preparations and letting her skis go downhill and between the gates. In France, there can be an overwhelming pressure to obtain results, and this can take away the pleasure while negatively impacting results. Worley has learned to look beyond it.

“It’s more about enjoying yourself and not all about the results,” she says. “Sometimes you’re not able to perform at the best level because of the pressure.”

That mentality has served Worley well in the past few years, both when pushing through the COVID-19 season last year and coming back from injury. Halfway through the 2019-20 season, Worley had surgery on her right knee and missed a month of racing. She returned to the FIS circuit in mid-February 2020, notching two competitions before bad weather and the pandemic truncated the season.

But it was years earlier that a separate knee injury set Worley on a new course. A crash in December 2013 and subsequent surgery sidelined the star and prevented her from trying to convert a world championship title into an Olympic medal at Sochi in 2014. “I had a difficult time coming back after my first really big injury,” Worley says.

The physical recovery was the easier part. Worley understood that her body needed six-to-seven months to regain its elite-level functionality. The mental aspect, however, was much more difficult. It took her nearly two years to get back into peak mental form. “Once I got past this, I think I got better. I got stronger,” she says.

Indeed, three years after the big injury, she won another title, showing that it isn’t just Worley’s tenacity that sets her apart — it’s also her dedication to chasing perfection and fine-tuning the little details that give her an edge.

“I like to perfect my technical abilities,” Worley says. “I like to train and repeat and try to find the perfect line or the perfect turn around the gates. I prefer being between the gates and trying to go as fast as I can to freeskiing.”

“[Tessa] is an example in her way of preparing for races, that she leaves nothing to chance,” Masnada says. “She will push the team.”

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(Michael Kappeler/picture alliance via Getty Images)

For Olympic teammate Romane Miradoli, Worley provides a model to emulate. “She is not satisfied and is always super motivated, always chasing perfection, even if we know it doesn’t exist,” Miradoli says. “She never balks.”

After all, having a teammate who can help you better understand how to reach and sustain a career at the summit is a tremendous advantage. “It’s a real plus and a real chance,” Miradoli says.

Worley heads into the Beijing Games clocking some of her best times (and as one of Team France’s flag bearers). She won the World Cup giant slalom race in Lienz, Austria on Dec. 28 with a time of 2:03.88 over two runs. It was her first victory since last January at Kronplatz, Italy (2:11.38), and both results were Worley’s first World Cup victories since 2018. Most recently, she snagged second place at Kranjska Gora, Slovenia (2:16.75) on Jan. 8, and third place at Kronplatz on Jan. 25 with a time of 2:04.15.

Worley has also elevated her Super-G performances this year, finishing fifth and sixth in the Jan. 16 (1:11.35) and Jan. 23 (1:21.52) FIS World Cup races, respectively. The last time she topped a Super-G podium was in December 2019 at the St Moritz European Cup, with a time of 1:20.82. Yet, it’s the giant slalom that gives Worley her best chance of medaling at the 2022 Games.

“I’m at a period of my career where, if I go to the Olympics, I just really want to enjoy the moment,” Worley says. “I really want to win.”

Lindsay Sarah Krasnoff is a global sports writer and contributor at Just Women’s Sports. Historian and author of “The Making of Les Bleus: Sport in France, 1958-2010,” she lectures and teaches sports diplomacy classes and contributes to various outlets. Follow her on Twitter @Lempika7.

New USWNT Coach Emma Hayes Embracing the Challenge

United States Women's Head Coach Emma Hayes
The ex-Chelsea skipper has officially arrived in the US — now it's time to get down to business. (USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

Emma Hayes has officially begun her tenure as USWNT manager ahead of the team’s June friendlies.

Hayes made the rounds on Thursday, appearing on the Today Show and speaking with select media about her goals and underlying principles with the team. It’s a quick turnaround for the decorated coach, who just won the WSL with Chelsea last weekend.

One thing that she won’t do, however, is shy away from the high expectations that come with managing the US. The squad is looking to reinstate its winning reputation at the Paris Olympics this summer following a disappointing World Cup in 2023. 

"I know the challenge ahead of me. There is no denying there is a gap between the US and the rest of the world," she told ESPN. "We have to acknowledge that winning at the highest level isn't what it was 10 years ago. It's a completely different landscape. And my focus is going to be on getting the performances required to play at a high level against the very best nations in the world."

While Hayes was formally hired six months ago to lead the USWNT, her deal stipulated that she remain with Chelsea through the conclusion of their season. In her stead, Twila Kilgore has led the team, with the coach "drip feeding subliminal messages" to the roster on Hayes’s behalf.

"It's a bit ass-upwards," Hayes joked to reporters. "I know about the staff, and the team, and the structure behind it. We got all of that. Now it's time, I need to be with the team."

With Olympics now just two months away, Hayes dropped hints this week regarding her thought process behind building the roster, saying there’s still time for players to make their case.

"You can't go to an Olympics with a completely inexperienced squad. We need our experienced players, but getting that composition right, that's my job between now and June 16th," she said on the Today Show.

"What I can say from my time [in the US] is, I've always loved the attitude towards performance and the expectation to give everything you've got," she later affirmed to reporters.

And as for winning gold?

"I'm never gonna tell anyone to not dream about winning," she added. "But… we have to go step by step, and focus on all the little processes that need to happen so we can perform at our best level.

"I will give it absolutely everything I've got to make sure I uphold the traditions of this team."

KC Current GM Camille Ashton Resigns

KC Current GM Camille Ashton
Former KC Current GM Camille Ashton left the undefeated organization early this week. (Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports)

Kansas City Current general manager Camille Ashton has resigned, the club announced Wednesday.

The staffing shakeup comes as somewhat of a surprise after the Current started off the season undefeated under new head coach Vlatko Andonovski, sitting second in the NWSL standings through 10 games.

No further details were given about her departure, other than that the club "wishes her the best in her future endeavors."

"I am thankful for my time in Kansas City," Ashton said in a team statement. "It was important to me to dedicate my time and efforts to ensure a successful 2024 season by building the championship-caliber roster that's currently near the top of the table. I am proud of what we have accomplished here. I look forward to the next step in my personal and professional journey."

Ashton, who played in the league from 2014-17, helped rebuild the Current roster, including picking up then-free agent Debinha in 2023 — the biggest free agency signing of that offseason. This past offseason, she brought in international players Temwa Chawinga and Bia Zaneratto

But the club has also encountered some rough patches throughout Ashton's tenure. Following her daughter's dismissal from the Current last year, mother of 2023 draft pick Mykiaa Minniss also accused the club of mistreatment during the preseason. While both the league and NWSL Players Association looked into the comments, no formal reprimand or consequences were publicly issued.

Players like Lynn Williams, Alex Loera, and Cece Kizer voiced concerns over what they described as unexpected trades, with Kizer adding that there was "no conversation this could happen." Williams, meanwhile, was informed of her trade moments prior to its execution while she was in New Zealand with the USWNT.

"There could be a lot of debate about that on its own, but at the end of the day, that’s the mechanism that we work with right now in the league," Ashton told reporters earlier this year when quested about the Current's player trade procedures.

While the club made an NWSL championship appearance in 2022 — the year Ashton came on as general manager — the 2023 season kicked off with the team firing head coach Matt Potter just three games into the season and hours before a road game. 

At the time, the club cited "issues around his leadership and employment responsibilities" as the reasoning, though players were reportedly confused with the decision making.

Last October, the Current hired former UWSNT coach Vlatko Andonovski as head coach, in addition to giving him the title of "sporting director." Whether or not that role overlapped with Ashton’s responsibilities as general manager was cause for some speculation.

NWSL Honors UWSNT Great Lauren Holiday With Impact Award

Lauren Holiday at nwsl impact award event
USWNT legend Lauren Holiday has long been involved with social activism off the pitch. (NWSL)

The NWSL announced today that the annual civically focused Nationwide Community Impact Award would now be known as the Lauren Holiday Award in honor of the National Soccer Hall of Famer.

Since 2021, the award has recognized one NWSL player each season for their character and contributions to community service off the pitch, according to a league release. The winner of the newly retitled award receives $30,000 toward a charitable organization of their choice.

"The NWSL is proud to honor Lauren Holiday as the namesake of this award recognizing exemplary athletes and their commitment to service and activism," said NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman. "Lauren’s influential work in the community and her outstanding character both on and off the field epitomize the values we look to uphold and celebrate in the NWSL every day. 

"I can think of no one more deserving of this recognition than Lauren and look forward to seeing the continued positive impact this program has on our clubs and communities with her example guiding our efforts."

In a statement, Holiday said that throughout her career she has always "believed in the power of giving back and creating positive change." A two-time Olympic gold medalist, World Cup winner, and former NWSL MVP, Holiday founded the Jrue & Lauren Holiday Social Impact Fund alongside husband and fellow professional athlete JRue Holiday.

The fund contributes to programs that combat systemic racism and socioeconomic inequality. Holiday has also long been an advocate for legislation to help close the racial inequality gap in maternal health.

"This award is a testament to the important work that athletes are doing to strengthen and uplift their communities every day and I am deeply humbled to take on its namesake," Holiday said. "I hope it inspires others to continue their efforts in making a lasting impact on the lives of those around them."

Waylaid Seattle Rookie Nika Mühl Makes WNBA Debut

seattle storm's nika muhl guarding indiana fever's caitlin clark
Mühl spent her first few pro minutes repeating her college assignment: guarding Caitlin Clark.(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Seattle rookie Nika Mühl made her long awaited WNBA debut in last night’s 85-83 win over Indiana after missing the first four games of the season due to visa issues. 

A Croatian national, Mühl had been waiting on P-1 visa approval in order to work legally in the US. While the paperwork came through Friday, she had to travel to Canada in order to get her status changed.

The former UConn star poked fun at the delay ahead of the game, walking into Climate Pledge Arena wearing a t-shirt displaying her approved visa.

Mühl checked into the game on Monday in the third period to a standing ovation, immediately diving over the baseline to save a loose ball. She spent her first few minutes of the game the same way she completed her career at UConn: guarding Caitlin Clark

Mühl, who had two rebounds in two and a half minutes, held Clark to five points, a rebound, and a turnover when the two were matched up. 

"I threw her in the fire," Storm coach Noelle Quinn said with a smile after the game. "It’s tough to come into the game at that rate and think that you’re going to stop the player, but I like… her physicality, her poise, her confidence. She took an open shot and I thought that was a great look for her. We’ll continue to put her in the mix in practice, and she’ll have opportunities to show what she can do on the defensive end to start."

An instant fan favorite, the UConn star donned the No. 1 jersey — in part because her usual No. 10 was retired by Seattle after Sue Bird, who wore it for her entire WNBA career, retired last year. Mühl's new number was chosen by none other than Bird herself. 

"I actually FaceTimed Sue and asked her what number I should wear. She took a day to think about it and came back to me with an answer of No. 1," Muhl said in a WNBA video posted to social media. "When I asked her why No. 1, she basically said 'This is a new beginning, but you’re not starting from scratch.' I loved that whole analogy and story, so Sue actually picked it and I love it."

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