These women broke records, shattered expectations, and more
At the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, women are killing it on the ice and the slopes.
There’s 24-year-old figure skater Mirai Nagasu, who became the third woman — and first Team USA athlete in history — to land the stunning triple axel jump at the Olympic Games, lifting the US team to a bronze medal. Chloe Kim, just 17 years old, took the gold in the women’s halfpipe finals. And the US women’s hockey team has already secured a place for themselves in the gold medal match, which will take place on Feb. 25th.
These women represent the best of the Olympic spirit: The willingness to go for ultimate glory on behalf of their countries, no matter what it takes. And they’re the latest in generations of women at both the summer and winter games who have shattered records and broken ground for other female athletes. Here are a few stories of those who have changed their games.
1. Gymnast Simone Biles: At the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Río de Janeiro, this 20-year-old gymnast from Team USA vaulted straight through every Olympic record in women’s gymnastics in at least the last 50 years. The gymnast swept her first Olympics with four gold medals and one bronze, and leapt straight into pop culture superstardom. “I’m not the next Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps. I’m the first Simone Biles,” the young woman famously said.
2. Track and field star Allyson Felix: This 32-year-old Team USA sprinter is the most decorated female athlete in American track and field history, holding nine Olympic medals in all. She won her first silver medal at the 2004 Games in Athens, followed by a gold and silver in Beijing (2008), three more golds in London (2012), and a final two additional gold and one silver in Río de Janeiro (2016). Her medals were for a variety of races, namely the 200 meter relay, 4×100 meter relay, and 4×400 meter relay.
3. Figure skater Yuna Kim: Better known as “Queen Yuna” for her revered career on the ice, this dazzling figure skater from South Korea is one of her country’s most celebrated icons. She’s the first female figure skater to win the World Champions, Grand Prix Final, and the Olympics, from which she holds a gold medal (Vancouver, 2010), and silver (Sochi, 2014). Her Vancouver performance is widely considered one of the most stunning in history, and although she’s retired, she made a comeback at the Opening Ceremony of the current games in Pyeongchang, lighting the Olympic Cauldron to open the competitions on behalf of her nation.
4. Track and field star Alice Coachman: Born in Georgia in 1923, Alice Coachman leapt to a record-breaking height of five feet, six and one-eighth inches in the high jump finals at the 1948 Olympics in London, to become the first black woman to win an Olympic gold medal. She was born in the segregated south, one of 10 children, and had to train for track by running barefoot in fields and on dirt roads or using old equipment, because she was prevented from participating in organized sporting events as a young girl. Coachman passed away in 2014.
5. Swimmer Katie Ledecky: This 20-year-old Team USA swimmer — the most decorated female athlete at the Río Games — paddled through records like the world record in the 800-meter freestyle, but it’s worth noting that the previous record she shattered was set by none other than herself. Ledecky now holds the 13 fastest times ever recorded in that particular race, and six medals in all (five gold and one silver, for events ranging from the 200-meter freestyle to the 800-meter freestyle.
6. Beach volleyball stars Kerri Walsh-Jennings and Misty May-Treanor: This legendary duo rocked the sand at the 2004, 2008, and 2012 Summer Olympics, winning gold medals at all three games. Together, they have been called “the greatest beach volleyball team of all time,” by Universal Sports, and jointly hold three gold medals. Walsh-Jennings continued onto the 2016 Games in Río where she won bronze with partner April Ross, but May-Treanor retired after her 2012 victory. Looking back on her remarkable achievements, she said: “Over the years, I’ve made many sacrifices to win…Olympic gold medals, and put together winning streaks that will never be broken.”
7. Hockey stars Kate and Helen Richardson-Walsh: The first married, lesbian couple to compete together at the Olympics, this British couple has been playing hockey together since they were teenagers. In 2016 at the Rió de Janeiro Summer Games, Kate led the team — which included her wife and teammate Helen — to gold medal glory. In an interview, Kate named her gold medal as her greatest achievement, “It’s taken me 17 years! Seriously, though, it has been epic.”
8. Gymnast Gabby Douglas: The breakout icon from the 2012 Summer Games in London, Douglas, 22 — who competed alongside Simone Biles in 2016 — is the first African-American to win the individual all-around gymnastics medal. She instantly became an icon of American pop culture and now holds three gold medals in the team gymnastics and all-around events. “Gold medals are made out of sweat, blood, and tears, and effort in the gym every day,” she said.
9. Swimmer Natalie Coughlin: Now retired, in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, this 35-year-old swimmer became the first US female athlete to win six medals all at one Games. What’s more, she became the first woman ever to win the 100-meter backstroke in two consecutive Olympics, holding a total of 12 medals: three gold, four silver, and five bronze.
10. Sailor Helene de Pourtalès: The first woman ever to win a medal at the Olympic Games, this professional sailing champion did it by getting even with the boys. She competed on Switzerland’s men’s sailing team, ultimately leaving the 1900 Olympic Summer Games in Paris with both a gold and silver medal. At that Olympics, the first that women were allowed to compete in, just 22 women competed in sports including tennis, croquet, golf, and sailing. One hundred and 12 years later at the Summer Games in London, some 4,676 women competed.
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