Sports on the Hill and around the world: a year in review

This was a big year for sports, both on the Hill and around the world. As more and more people got vaccinated, athletes returned to playing full seasons and joyous fans packed arenas. But as always, the sports world was also rife with controversy, particularly surrounding vaccine mandates, political turmoil and sanctions, and ongoing systemic racism. 

After being delayed by a year, the “2020” Olympics finally took place in Tokyo, Japan. This Games featured a record number of women and out LGBTQ+ participants. The gymnastics competition also sparked a global conversation about mental health in sports, as seven-time Olympic medalist Simone Biles had to withdraw from several events due to safety concerns.

Kicking things off on the Hill, volleyball, football, soccer, golf, and cross country had their first full seasons since the start of the pandemic. Volleyball made it to the semi-finals of the MIAC playoffs, while men’s soccer went undefeated in the regular season, but lost to Carleton in the MIAC championship. The team also advanced to the NCAA DIII national tournament, making it to the Sweet Sixteen. The men’s and women’s cross country teams also found success, with the men coming in second in the MIAC championships and the women winning the title for the first time since 2010.

As the leaves began to fall and snow covered the ground, winter sports—basketball, hockey, skiing and swimming and diving—started their seasons on the Hill. Women’s swimming and diving came in third in the MIAC championships, with several athletes from both the men’s and women’s teams advancing to regional and national championships. After completing the regular season with five wins, eight losses, and one tie, the men’s hockey team put together an astonishing playoff run to win the MIAC championship for the first time since 2006. The women’s Nordic skiing team also won the USCSA championship in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Meanwhile, the 2022 Winter Olympics were held in Beijing, China. The U.S. declined to send government officials to the Games, condemning China’s human rights violations in their continued abuse of Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang region. Additionally, just as the Games began, China came under more fire after Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai accused a former Chinese government official, Zhang Gaoli, of sexual assault, then seemingly disappeared. She later appeared at the Beijing Olympics and in an interview supervised by the Chinese Olympic Committee denied the allegations, saying that there had been a misunderstanding.

The Games themselves were not free from controversy either, as a doping scandal involving a 15-year-old Russian skater disrupted the women’s and team figure skating events. Iconic snowboarder Shaun White saw his career come to an end after failing to make the podium, while snowboarder Chloe Kim defended her Olympic title in the halfpipe, becoming the first woman to secure back to back gold medals in the event. Additionally, Nathan Chen won gold in men’s figure skating, setting a new Olympic record with his score in the short program.

Just after the Winter Olympics concluded, the world’s attention turned toward Ukraine, as Russia violently invaded the country. This invasion is still ongoing, and the sports world has responded in a variety of ways. Russia will not be allowed to compete in this year’s World Cup, and Russian and Belarusian athletes were banned from running this year’s Boston Marathon. Athletes from all disciplines showed their support by wearing blue and yellow, the color of Ukraine’s flag. The Portland Thorns and Portland Timbers, two professional soccer teams, also put on a co-ed fundraiser match, raising nearly $580,000 for UNICEF’s relief efforts.  These actions and sanctions are intended to both show solidarity with Ukraine and pressure Russia to end the invasion. 

Even as Russia’s invasion escalated, life on campus continued, and so did athletics. Track and field, softball, baseball, and tennis braved a long winter and dreary spring for the majority of their seasons. However, the sun did finally come out, just in time for St. Olaf softball to make it to the MIAC championship. The team went 18-4 in conference play, but fell to Bethel in the championship match. Additionally, men’s track and field came in third in the MIAC indoor championships—both the men’s and women’s teams will compete in the MIAC outdoor championships on May 13 and 14. 

Club sports also found success on the Hill this spring. Water polo hosted their first tournament on campus and club tennis launched their competitive team. Two of St. Olaf’s ultimate frisbee teams, Vortex and Berzerkers, succeeded at their regional tournaments and will compete at nationals in Milwaukee, Wis., on May 21 and 22.

As this academic year comes to a close, athletes on the Hill have a lot to be proud of—new records were set and several teams won championships. Spectators also got to return to the stands to cheer on their favorite teams. As isolated as the Hill can feel sometimes, it’s important to remember that we don’t live in a bubble. Sports are fun and fulfilling, but they can also have serious consequences, particularly on an international scale.

 

lagare1@stolaf.edu

 

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