Mathematically proven: Sue Bird and Megan Rapinoe are most dominant couple in sports

Megan Rapinoe and Sue Bird
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Abstract

On Tuesday night, after the Seattle Storm swept the Las Vegas Aces to win the 2020 WNBA title, Storm coach Gary Kloppenburg helped settle a recent Twitter debate: is Sue Bird Seattle’s most successful athlete?

“Oh yeah,” Kloppenburg replied quickly before calling out some of the sports journalists who have previously overlooked Bird. “The women’s game hasn’t gotten the respect, and partly because of the white guys that are writing those type of columns. Y’all white guys, wake up out there, man. You’ve got a whole tremendous gender that can flat-out play basketball.”

With that debate settled (thanks, Coach Klopp), we can now move onto a different superlative question: who is the most dominant couple in sports?

Materials & Methods

In answering questions like these, there must be criteria. For this not-entirely-scientific study, I have outlined the following specifications:

  • Both members of the couple must be athletes (my apologies to Serena Williams and Alexis Ohanian)
  • At least one member of the couple must still be playing (this isn’t the contest for you, Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf)

Once I identified couples who met the above criteria, I created a mathematical formula in an attempt to level the playing field between sports like soccer (where the World Cup is contested just once every four years) and tennis (which offers four majors every year).

1(‘Athlete 1’ Major Wins*) + 0.5(‘Athlete 1’ Minor Wins^) + 1(‘Athlete 2’ Major Wins*) + 0.5(‘Athlete 2’ Minor Wins^) = Definitive Couple Success Rating

*Major wins, limited to a max of one per year, include each sport’s most important competition (events like the Olympics, World Cup, or the Super Bowl). 

^Minor wins, also limited to one per year, include competitions like the world championships and pro team championships.

I started crunching numbers – and then quickly abandoned them – as it became clear that, no matter the formula, no current sporting couple that outscores Sue Bird and Megan Rapinoe.

Background

Sue Bird and Megan Rapinoe met in November 2015 at a joint media summit hosted by NBC and the USOPC. At the time, both athletes were playing for pro teams in Seattle, but their paths wouldn’t cross again until the 2016 Rio Olympics. At those Games, Rapinoe and the U.S. women’s soccer team were upset in the quarterfinals, while Bird helped the U.S. women’s basketball team win a sixth straight gold medal.

In a head-to-head comparison of the couple, Bird has a statistical edge over Rapinoe thanks to her four Olympic gold medals, four world championship titles, and four WNBA titles (the most recent of which was earned earlier this week). The 39-year-old also owns the WNBA records for most career assists and games played.

Rapinoe, 35, owns one Olympic gold medal (2012) and two World Cup titles (2015, 2019). She also won both the Golden Boot (most goals scored) and Golden Ball (best player) awards at the 2019 World Cup. As a member of Seattle Reign FC, Rapinoe has twice finished as runner-up for the NWSL season title (2014, 2015). (It also should be noted that the NWSL was founded in 2013, while Bird made her pro debut with the WNBA in 2002, so part of Bird’s edge can partially be attributed to her age and competitive opportunities.)

Data & Discussion

Below is a list of the other couples identified as potential challengers to Bird and Rapinoe, along with their relevant accolades.

Julie and Zach Ertz 

  • U.S. soccer player Julie Ertz and her husband, Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz, have both had success on the biggest stages. Julie has won two World Cup titles for the U.S., while Zach was a member of the Eagles team that won the Super Bowl in 2018. With continued success, maybe the Ertz’s can knock off Bird and Rapinoe in a decade (or two).

Lindsey Vonn and P.K. Subban 

  • Alpine skier Lindsey Vonn owns three Olympic medals, plus the women’s record for most World Cup wins. That said, the fact that her fiance, NHL player P.K. Subban, has just one Olympic medal (and a single Stanley Cup Final appearance) mathematically ruled them out of this conversation (at least for the time being).

Meghan Duggan and Gillian Apps

  • Being longtime rivals didn’t help Meghan Duggan and Gillian Apps in this mathematical comparison. Competing for Canada, Apps won Olympic gold in 2006, 2010, and 2014, with the latter two victories coming at the expense of Duggan and her American teammates. Following Apps’ retirement in 2015, Duggan and the U.S. went on to win gold at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics.

Diana Taurasi and Penny Taylor 

  • Until Tuesday, Diana Taurasi and Bird were tied when it came to Olympic gold medals (4) and WNBA titles (3). While Bird has since passed Taurasi with a fourth WNBA title, Taurasi still owns the league record for most career points (8,931). Taurasi’s wife, retired Australian basketball player Penny Taylor, also owns three WNBA titles. Like Duggan, however, Taylor’s Olympic record was impacted by her now wife. She twice lost to Taurasi in the gold medal game at the Olympics (2004, 2008).

Ashlyn Harris and Ali Krieger

  • U.S. soccer teammates Ashlyn Harris and Ali Krieger also presented a mathematical challenge. Given that they won two World Cups as members of the same team, should their victories count twice? In the grand scheme of love and math, it ends up being a moot point given that neither Harris nor Krieger has yet won an NWSL title. While the numbers don’t work work in their favor, there’s no arguing with their chemistry.

Kealia and J.J. Watt 

  • Soccer player Kealia (Ohai) Watt (Chicago Red Stars) and NFL defensive end J.J. Watt (Houston Texans) could break through to the top of the list in years to come. Earlier today, Kealia was named to the U.S. national team training camp later this month. Her husband J.J., a five-time All-Pro selection, is still aiming to bring a Super Bowl title home to Houston.

Amanda Nunes and Nina Ansaroff

  • UFC two-division champion Amanda Nunes is currently in the midst of the longest winning streak in women’s UFC history (11 bouts). Her partner and fellow UFC fighter, Nina Ansaroff, was approaching a title shot in the strawweight category before a close loss to Tatiana Suarez in June 2019. Ansaroff is currently taking a break from the sport after giving birth to the couple’s first child last month.

Conclusion

Given their longevity and combined success, Megan Rapinoe and Sue Bird are currently the most dominant sporting couple, at least according to this not-entirely-scientific study. Any other current couples you think can match them? Let us know by tweeting @onherturf.

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Kaillie Humphries elevates another fresh U.S. face to podium status in two-woman bobsled World Cup

Kaillie Humphries of USA, Kaysha Love of USA in action at the 2 women's bobsleigh during Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games.
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PARK CITY, UTAH – Kaillie Humphries extended her podium streak on Saturday at the IBSF World Cup, where she and U.S. push athlete Jasmine Jones finished third in the two-woman bobsled.

The third-place finish in Park City marked the sixth podium for Humphries at the Park City track, which hosted the 2002 Olympics, and was Jones’ career-first World Cup podium in just her second World Cup start.

“This is our first race together, so really excited about that,” said the 37-year-old Humphries, considered the greatest female driver in history with three Olympic gold medals (2010, 2014 and 2022) and five world championships titles. She earned her 29th career World Cup win on Friday in Park City in the women’s monobob.

“Definitely a work in progress. … The runs weren’t perfect, but I’m really happy with our starts, happy with our drives minus a few little mistakes. It’s a good starting point, and we’ll look to grow from here.”

Humphries and Jones finished with a combined, two-run time of 1:37.69, 0.32 behind winners Kim Kalicki and brakewoman Leonie Fiebig of Germany at 1:37.37. Fellow Germans Laura Nolte and Lena Neunecker were second at 0.23 back.

Kalicki and Fiebig broke a 16-year-old track record with their first run, laying down a time of 48.60 seconds and besting the time set by Americans Shauna Rohbock and Valerie Fleming – the 2006 Olympic silver medalists – in December 2006 (48.73). It also marked the second straight victory for Kalicki, who’s won five career World Cup titles including last week’s two-woman bobsled race in Whistler, Canada.

“I was hoping Kaillie would get [the record],” said Rohbock, who is now a U.S. team coach and was on hand to see her record fall. “That first run there, she had that little skid in the bottom, so that didn’t help, but Kailee’s always putting up a great performance. And Jasmine, another great brakewoman, so we’re really lucky that we have that depth.”

For Team USA, it marked the second straight week that a fresh face earned her first podium finish while competing with Humphries. Last week in Whistler, push athlete Emily Renna and Humphries placed third in Renna’s first-ever World Cup appearance.

MORE IBSF WORLD CUP COVERAGE: Kelly Curtis notches career-best finish with top five at Park City skeleton World Cup

“Being able to race with her was really special,” said the 29-year-old Renna, who was a college track athlete at University of Rhode Island. “It’s really nice to be around seasoned veterans. It definitely makes you feel better in the back sled with you when you’ve got a good pilot who knows the track.”

Renna finished in eighth place in Park City with 12-year U.S. team veteran and pilot Nicole Vogt (1:39.04). Vogt partnered with Jones in her first World Cup last week where they finished seventh in Whistler, 1.33 seconds behind winners Kalicki and German teammate Anabel Galander.

“To have an opportunity to be with Kaillie in my World Cup debut – it’s exciting,” said the 26-year-old Jones, who was a collegiate track and field athlete at Eastern Michigan. “I just feel like I have so much more in the tank to give, and I’m just hungry for it.”

Jones is particularly gratified with her performance after returning full-time to bobsled less than 18 months ago following the birth of her daughter, Jade Quinn Jones, in February 2021. The Greensburg, Pa., native returned to training just five months postpartum, having sat out the 2020-21 season. She competed on the North American Cup last year, finishing the season with a win (the third NA Cup title of her career) and a third place in Lake Placid.

“I’m thankful,” said Jones. “Opportunity is the main thing, and I just feel blessed to have my first World Cup podium. I’m screaming on the inside. I may not show it, but I am jumping for joy because I’m just that excited and happy to have this accomplishment.”

She admits, however, it’s not always easy to compete balance a full-time competitive career with being a mom.

“Sometimes it’s a struggle being away from my daughter,” said Jones, whose mom takes care of Jade while she travels. “I try to get my facetimes in every night and just know that when I’m pushing, I’m doing it for her. Hopefully sometime in the future I’ll have her around on the sidelines cheering me on, and that’s my main motivation – that this is for her.”

The BMW IBSF World Cup continues its North American swing Dec. 16-18 in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Kaillie Humphries faces IVF journey head on — and collects monobob World Cup win along the way

Gold medallist Kaillie Humphries of Team United States celebrates during the Women's Monobob.
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PARK CITY, UTAH — Kaillie Humphries knew the quest to start a family would impact her 2022-23 season, but it’s certainly not slowing down Team USA’s reigning monobob Olympic gold medalist, who captured her first World Cup title in the discipline on Friday.

The 37-year-old Humphries, considered the greatest female driver in history with three Olympic golds (2010, 2014 and 2022) and five world championships, earned her 29th career World Cup win and her third victory on the Park City track, where she won the two-woman bobsled competitions in 2012 and 2016. Competing in Utah – as well as North American World Cup stops in Whistler last week and in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Dec. 17-18 – is one of the reasons that Humphries pushed pause on her journey to motherhood.

“I’m excited,” Humphries said following the win, marking her second straight podium in monobob following a third-place finish last week in Whistler. “I was excited for this year before it started. It’s part and parcel of why my husband and I delayed the IVF process and starting a family this season. To be able to be back in North America and have the first half of the season here – it’s been a long time since we’ve had that, so I wanted to be able to compete and it feels awesome.”

That’s not to say the leadup to this season has been without its share of hiccups. In fact, Humphries admits that following the Beijing Olympics, she had hoped to get pregnant immediately, but she and husband Travis Armbruster had to pivot when a diagnosis of stage 4 endometriosis made it clear that in vitro fertilization would be the best path for pregnancy.

“Right after the Olympics, I was like, ‘We’re going to get pregnant; it’s gonna be all good,’” she said. “I thought, my body has always performed, and it wasn’t going to be an issue. Fast forward to I find out we have to do IVF. We do the first egg retrieval, and it doesn’t go as well as I had hoped — which anybody that’s done this process knows, you can’t control any aspect of it. And so having to do a second round of egg retrieval, …it pushed everything back.”

What’s more, it brought Humphries’ training to a standstill at times, when she would have to limit all physical activity during the three-week period surrounding the egg-retrieval process.

“It impacted my training coming into this year a lot,” she says, “but I also think it definitely reset my hormones, which turns out I needed. I don’t think was a bad thing. I knew coming into this year, I wasn’t going to be in the same shape as I have been in the past, and I had to make peace with that. I know that each and every race I’m racing myself into shape, and each race is a preparation for January’s World Championships.”

Humphries also chose to share her IVF journey publicly, and she’s documented every step of the way, believing that her story makes it less scary not just for her but also for other women and female athletes who might be facing the same thing.

MORE IBSF WORLD CUP: Kelly Curtis notches career-best finish with top five at Park City skeleton World Cup

“My husband and I weren’t sure that we wanted to share it at first,” she admits. “But I felt it was important just to showcase this. I have nothing to hide. And as much as there are parts of me certain days when I think, ‘What’s wrong with me?’ At the end of the day, I know I’m not alone in this.

“It’s important, I do have a voice, and I want other people to know, as an Olympic gold medalist, if it can happen to me, it can happen to anybody. Infertility exists in the female body, and it’s important that I talk about it in my journey and hopefully that’s inspired other people.”

She says she’s received an outpouring of support, which has been particularly gratifying as she continues to put a painful breakup with Team Canada in the rearview mirror. Humphries, who was born in Calgary, competed for Canada for 16 years, winning three Olympic medals including a bronze in Pyeongchang in 2018. But the relationship came to an abrupt end later just five months after the 2018 Games, after Humphries alleged emotional and mental harassment by a former coach.

Winning a gold medal in Beijing just two months after her U.S. citizenship was finalized proved to be turning point for Humphries, who commemorated the milestone with two new tattoos. She first added the date of her win – Feb. 14, 2022 – to the back of her left hand and a larger rose and skull illustration to the back of her right knee and calf, all of which commemorate her triumph over that darker period.

“The skull represents a rebirth and a growth, overcoming challenges and/or obstacles and turning something negative into something positive,” explains Humphries, who says she chose the rose because it’s the national flower of the U.S. as well as a symbol of love won or lost. She notes that she has “an actual Olympic one” planned for August 2024, which is when her favorite tattoo artist is next available.

Humphries has also found the silver lining in her IVF journey, as the competition season has been a welcome break from some of the self-imposed pressure.

“By pushing pause for four or five months and competing, it allowed me mentally to know that we can go into all of next summer and all winter focusing on just doing the actual embryo transfers and having a good pregnancy,” she says. “I don’t feel stressed to try and get pregnant right away. I felt like I was becoming competitive with myself, wondering why isn’t this working? Why can’t I do this? I tried to control too many things, and I started to get really frustrated. Mentally, it was hard. So, by pushing pause, going back to what I know — which is the sport, which is what I love – it’s allowed me to control a little bit of my future.”

Humphries’ season continues Saturday as the IBSF World Cup from Park City concludes with the two-woman bobsleigh.