Tokyo Olympics: 100 ways women can make history at the Olympics

Simone Biles and Katie Ledecky can make history at the Tokyo Olympics
Getty Images

In the lead up to the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, On Her Turf counted out 100 ways women can make history at the Tokyo Games.

Author’s note: Originally written as a series, this post combines all 100 ways women can make history at the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. Some substitutions have been made, based on the results of Olympic qualification. 

#100: Gymnast Simone Biles and swimmer Katie Ledecky have the potential to become the first U.S. woman to win five gold medals at a single Olympics.

#99: Americans Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi could become the first basketball players – of any gender – to win five Olympic gold medals.

#98: Chinese diver Shi Tingmao has won every world or Olympic title on springboard (individual or synchronized) since 2015. In Tokyo, Shi will look to keep both her personal – and national – winning streaks alive. China has won the last eight gold medals in women’s springboard (a streak that began in 1988).

#97: The Tokyo Olympics will mark the third straight Games in which women outnumber men on the U.S. Olympic team. With over 329 American women expected to compete in Tokyo, the U.S. Olympic roster also breaks the record for most women to represent a nation at a single Games. The previous record (291) was set by the U.S. at the 2016 Rio Games.

#96: Sprinter Dina Asher-Smith has the potential to become the first British woman to win a 100m or 200m medal in over 60 years.

Don’t miss a moment: On Her Turf’s day-by-day guide to the Tokyo Olympics

#95: American Hannah Roberts, who will be 19 in Tokyo, could become the youngest woman to ever win gold in the sport of cycling. Roberts competes in BMX freestyle, an event that will debut at the Tokyo Games.

#94: Great Britain’s Jade Jones and China’s Wu Jingyu are both in contention to become the first athlete – of any gender – to win three Olympic gold medals in the sport of taekwondo.

#93: The Olympic wrestling schedule will shine a spotlight on women’s competition. For the first time ever, the final gold medal match of every day will be a women’s match.

#92: At the 2016 Rio Paralympics, swimmer Jessica Long became the second-most decorated Paralympian in U.S. history. She ultimately left Rio with 23 career medals (including 13 gold). While the all-time U.S. Paralympic medal record (55) is out of reach for Long in Tokyo, she could match the haul of her former training partner Michael Phelps, who retired in 2016 with 28 medals (23 gold). Long is expected to add to her haul at the Tokyo Paralympics.

#91: With nine Olympic medals, Allyson Felix is already the most decorated American woman in Olympic track and field history. In Tokyo, Felix could tie or break the record for most medals won by an American track & field athlete, male or female. The current record is held by Carl Lewis (10).

#90: At the 2016 Rio Olympics, Helen Maroulis became the first American to win gold in women’s wrestling, defeating three-time defending Olympic gold medalist Saori Yoshida of Japan. After qualifying for her second Olympic team, Maroulis will look to become the first American wrestler – of any gender – to win back-to-back Olympic gold medals since John Smith won consecutive titles in 1988 and 1992.

#89: 2016 Olympic triple jump silver medalist Yulimar Rojas could become the first Venezuelan athlete – in any sport – to win more than one Olympic medal.

#88: Paratriathlete Allysa Seely will be looking to win a second straight gold medal after leading the U.S. to a podium sweep in the PTS2 classification at the 2016 Rio Paralympics.

#87: Syrian table tennis player Hend Zaza qualified for the Tokyo Olympics in February 2020 when she was just 11 years old. Even with the Games delayed a year, Zaza is still on track to become one of the youngest Olympians of all-time. The youngest known female Olympian is Cecilia Colledge, who was 11 years, 107 days when she competed in figure skating at the 1932 Olympic Winter Games in Lake Placid.

#86: Tatyana McFadden earned medals in six track & field events at the 2016 Rio Paralympics, from the 100m to the marathon. The 17-time Paralympic medalist is expected to contest a similar program when she makes her sixth Paralympic appearance in Tokyo.

#85: Host nation Japan has never won an Olympic medal in trampoline, but that could change in Tokyo thanks to Mori Hikaru, who will enter her first Olympics as the reigning world champion.

#84: There are two Olympic canoe sports: canoe sprint (head-to-head races contested on flatwater courses) and canoe slalom (competitors navigate their way through the rapids). Despite the official sport names, up until this point, women haven’t actually been allowed to canoe at the Olympics. Instead, women have competed only in kayaking events, while men have had both canoeing and kayaking. That will change in Tokyo, where women’s canoeing will make its debut. American Nevin Harrison is expected to contend for a medal in canoe sprint after winning the C-1 200m title in 2019, while fellow American Evy Leibfarth is a rising star in canoe slalom.

#83: Only one athlete has ever won three Olympic gold medals in the 100m sprint: Usain Bolt. In Tokyo, Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce could become the first woman – and second athlete – to achieve the feat. After claiming back-to-back Olympic gold medals in 2008 and 2012, she claimed bronze in the event in 2016. She returned to the top of the podium at the 2019 World Championships, exactly two years after giving birth to her son Zyon.

#82: The U.S. has never finished better than sixth in women’s hammer, which debuted at the 2000 Sydney Games). American DeAnna Price, who has been on the rise in recent years, seems likely to end this drought after winning the 2019 world title. Fellow American Gwendolyn Berry, whose 2019 protest against racial justice helped spark a policy change, is also expected to contend.

#81: The Tokyo Olympics will mark Mexico’s first appearance in women’s softball.

RELATED: Olympic softball: Meet the six teams going for gold

#80: American Oksana Masters has already won Paralympic medals in three sports: rowing, cross-country skiing, and biathlon. In Tokyo, the eight-time Paralympic medalist could add to her haul in a fourth sport: cycling.

#79: After the Olympic postponement was announced, U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials winner Aliphine Tuliamuk and her partner Tim decided to reassess their family planning timeline. Tuliamuk, who gave birth to daughter Zoe in January, plans to race at the Olympics seven months after giving birth.

#78: In swimming, the men’s 1500m has been included at every Olympics since 1908, but 2021 will mark the first time the event will be open to women. Since 2013, American Katie Ledecky has broken the women’s 1500m world record six times. The 24-year-old – who also owns the 10 fastest times in history – is expected to enter the Games as the favorite for gold.

#77: Americans Simone BilesKatie Ledecky, and Allyson Felix all have the potential to break the women’s record for most career gold medals (9) or the American version of that record (8). The current international record – 9 gold medals – is held by Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina, who won the eighth and ninth gold medals of her career in 1964 (the last time Tokyo hosted the Olympics).

ALSO FROM ON HER TURF: Simone Biles’ coach on if (and when) she will compete Yurchenko double pike

#76: Georgia’s Nino Salukvadze, a three-time medalist in shooting, is expected to become the first woman to compete at nine Olympics in any sport. At the 2016 Rio Olympics, Salukvadze’s son – Tsotne Machavariani – also competed, making them the first mother-son duo to compete at the same Games.

#75: At the 2016 Rio Paralympics, the U.S. women claimed their first ever gold medal in sitting volleyball. Following an undefeated 2019 season, the Americans should be a top threat to defend their Paralympic title in Tokyo.

#74: Between 2006 and 2016, the U.S. rowing team compiled one of the most impressive win streaks in any sport, with the U.S. women’s eight winning every major championship title (including three straight Olympic gold medals). While the world championship side of that streak ended in 2017, the U.S. women’s eight could be in the mix for a fourth straight Olympic gold in Tokyo.

#73: Uzbekistan’s Oksana Chusovitina already holds the record for most Olympic appearances by a gymnast (7). In Tokyo, Chusovitina – who will be 46 years old – is expected to become the oldest female gymnast in Olympic history, according to the OlyMADMen.

#72: 2012 Olympic bronze medalist Paige McPherson is set to become the first American woman to compete in taekwondo at three Olympic Games.

#71: On the track, the U.S. women’s 4x400m relay team will be looking to claim a seventh straight gold medal. With the exception of the 1980 Moscow Games, which the U.S. boycotted, the American quartet has won either gold or silver in this event at every Games since it was added in 1972.

#70: In Tokyo, the U.S. women’s basketball team will be aiming for a seventh straight Olympic gold medal, a streak that began in 1996. In addition to the gold medal streak, the U.S. women also haven’t lost an Olympic game since 1992.

#69: Tokyo will welcome the Olympic debut of 3×3 basketball, which features 10-minute games and a 12-minute shot clock. The U.S. should contend for the inaugural gold medal.

#68: Kendall Gretsch is already a two-time Paralympic gold medalist in Nordic skiing, but she will be making her summer debut in paratriathlon. Gretsch is a three-time world champion in the sport, but her classification wasn’t included when triathlon made its Paralympic debut in 2016.

#67: The U.S. women’s wheelchair basketball team has won gold at three of the last four Paralympic Games. In Tokyo, the squad will attempt to defend its Paralympic title from 2016.

#66: At age 40, Sue Bird could become the oldest basketball player to ever win an Olympic medal.

#65: Brazilian soccer player Formiga already owns the record for most Olympic appearances in soccer (6), having competed in every women’s soccer tournament in Olympic history. She will compete in her seventh Olympics in Tokyo at age 43.

#64: South Korea’s women’s archery team owns one of the most impressive streaks in any team event. Since archery introduced a women’s team competition in 1988, South Korea has won gold each and every time (eight straight gold medals).

#63: Boxing – the most recent Olympic sport to include women – has added two additional women’s weight classes for Tokyo, bringing the total number of women’s events to five.

#62: After spending nearly 10 months hospitalized with leukemia in 2019, Japanese swimmer Ikee Rikako qualified for the Tokyo Olympics in April. The 2016 Olympian is expected to be one of the host nation’s biggest stars.

#61: The U.S. diving team hasn’t won an individual Olympic medal in women’s springboard since 1988. The top American contender is expected to be Delaney Schnell, who finished third in platform at the 2019 World Championships. 

#60: The U.S. women’s soccer team can become the first team to win Olympic gold following a World Cup victory (albeit with a one-year postponement).

#59: In track & field, the U.S. hasn’t won Olympic gold in the women’s 800m since 1968, but that drought could end in Tokyo. The U.S. team’s top contender is 19-year-old Athing Mu, who qualified for her first Olympic team by breaking the U.S. Trials record.

#58: Transgender women have been eligible to compete at the Olympics since the 2004 Athens Games, but at this summer’s Tokyo Olympics, New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard will become the first.

#57: Since 2012, New Zealand sprint canoeist Lisa Carrington has gone undefeated in the K-1 200m (a streak that includes two Olympic gold medals and six world titles). In Tokyo, Carrington will look to win her first Olympic gold in the K-1 500m.

#56: After winning four medals (including three gold) at the 2016 Rio Paralympics, McKenzie Coan is expected to contend for multiple gold medals in Tokyo. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Coan set up her own “personal aquatic center” in her family’s garage.

#55: At age 24, Simone Biles could become the oldest female gymnast to win the Olympic all-around title since Czech gymnast Vera Caslavska, then 26, won in 1968.

#54: China will look to keep its perfect streak in women’s table tennis. A Chinese woman has won Olympic gold at every Games since women’s singles debuted in 1988 (eight straight gold medals).

#53: The U.S. women’s weightlifting team owns one Olympic gold medal (earned in 2000). That drought could end in Tokyo. Since Rio, Americans Katherine Nye (76kg) and Sarah Robles (+87kg) both won world championship titles – the first Americans to do so since 1994.

#52: BMX cyclist Mariana Pajon already owns the honor of being Colombia’s only two-time Olympic gold medalist in any sport. In Tokyo, Pajon will be looking to win a third straight Olympic title.

#51: After winning gold in golf’s Olympic return in 2016, South Korea’s Inbee Park will look to defend her Olympic title in Tokyo.

#50: The U.S. women’s basketball team will look to extend its record of most consecutive wins in Olympic history. Entering Tokyo, the U.S. women’s basketball team has won 49 straight games (dating back to the 1992 Barcelona Olympics). The previous record – 15 straight wins – was set by the U.S. women’s team between 1976 and 1992.

#49: American Simone Biles has the potential to tie or break the record for most individual gold medals in gymnastics. The current record is seven (held by Czech gymnast Vera Caslavska) and Biles will enter Tokyo with three gold medals from individual events.

#48: Andrea Vargas, who competes in the 100m hurdles, could become just the third athlete from Costa Rica to win an Olympic medal, and the first in a sport other than swimming. Andrea’s sister, Noelia, is also expected to compete in Tokyo, but in a very different event: 20km race walk.

#47: Thirteen years since softball was last contested at the Olympics, five athletes who competed in that 2008 gold medal game – Cat Osterman and Monica Abbott for the U.S. and Ueno YukikoMine Yukiyo and Yamada Eri for Japan – are expected to compete at the Tokyo Olympics.

#46: American Brittni Mason will make her Paralympic debut in Tokyo. At the 2019 World Championships – Mason’s first international track meet – she won the T47 women’s 100m, breaking the world record in the process.

#45: The U.S. women’s water polo team is one of the most dominant teams in the world in any sport, having won every major tournament it has entered in recent years. The Americans already own the record for most Olympic medals (5) and gold medals (2) in women’s water polo. Led by two-time Olympic gold medalist Maggie Steffens – widely regarded as the best player in the world – the squad will be aiming for a third straight gold medal in Tokyo.

#44: Sport climbing will make its Olympic debut in Tokyo. The gold medal favorite in the women’s event is Slovenia’s Janja Garnbret, who owns six world titles (two each in combined, lead, and bouldering).

#43: New Zealand’s Valerie Adams could become the first athlete – of any gender – to win four Olympic shot put medals.

#42: Ruth Gbagbi – who competes in taekwondo – has the potential to become the first woman from Cote d’Ivoire to win Olympic gold (in any sport). At the Rio Games, she became the Cote d’Ivoire’s first female medalist by winning bronze, which she followed up by winning the 2017 world title.

#41: Paralympic archer Zahra Nemati has already broken barriers. In 2012, she become the first Iranian woman to win either an Olympic or Paralympic gold medal. In 2016, she successfully defended her Paralympic title, in addition to competing at the Olympic Games. Nemati – who is known as a vocal advocate for disability and women’s rights – is aiming for a third straight Paralympic title in Tokyo.

#40: Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce – who recently became the fastest woman alive – could become the first sprinter (of any gender) to win four Olympic medals in the 100m.

#39: American swimmer Lilly King could become the first woman to win back-to-back Olympic gold medals in the 100m breaststroke. In addition to her Rio gold, King has also won the last two world titles in the 100m breaststroke.

#38: The U.S. has never won an Olympic medal in women’s triple jump, an event that debuted at the 1996 Atlanta Games. American record holder Keturah Orji – who finished fourth in Rio – is aiming to end that drought in Tokyo.

#37: In track & field, the U.S. hasn’t won Olympic gold in women’s high jump since 1988. Earlier this year, American Vashti Cunningham set a new personal best (2.02 meters) – a result that would have won gold at the 2016 Rio Games.

#36: After competing at three Paralympic Games in wheelchair tennis, American Kaitlyn Verfuerth will make her paracanoe debut in Tokyo.

#35: In Tokyo, American Allyson Felix will become the fourth American woman to compete in track & field at five Olympics.

#34: U.S. women own an impressive podium streak in swimming’s 4x100m freestyle relay. The American team has won a medal in the event at nine straight Olympics, dating back to 1984. In fact, excluding the 1980 Moscow Games – which the U.S. boycotted – the American women’s 4x100m free relay team has won a medal at every Olympics since 1920.

#33: Australian Jess Fox – known as “the world’s greatest paddler” – has the potential to become the first athlete to win Olympic canoe slalom medals in both kayaking and canoeing.

#32: American Dalilah Muhammad could become the first woman to win more than one gold medal in the 400m hurdles, though she’ll face tough competition from fellow American Sydney McLaughlin, who broke Muhammad’s world record at U.S. Olympic Trials.

#31: While there are plenty of examples of wrestling brothers who have won Olympic gold at the same Games, the Tokyo Olympics could mark the first time two wrestling sisters accomplish the feat. Japanese sisters Kawai Risako and Kawai Yukako are both expected to enter the Tokyo Olympics as top contenders.

#30: Multiple players are in the running to become the oldest soccer player to ever win an Olympic medal, including Brazil’s Formiga (age 43), American Carli Lloyd (age 39), Canadians Christine Sinclair and Erin McLeod (both 38), and Sweden’s Hedwig Lindahl (38). The current record holder is American Christie Pearce Rampone, who was 37 years, 46 days old when she won gold at the 2012 London Olympics.

#29: American swimmer McKenzie Coan, a four-time Paralympic medalist who will be competing her third Games in Tokyo, says she is determined to break the world record in the S7 400m freestyle. “I think my teammates and my coach are so sick of hearing me talk about it because I, literally, that’s all I think about anymore,” she told Team USA after qualifying for Tokyo.

#28: The U.S. Olympic roster (across all sports) includes at least 12 moms. Three U.S. athletes – Allyson FelixDiana Taurasi, and Mariel Zagunis – are expected to compete at their fifth Olympics in Tokyo, but first as moms.

#27: Sarah Robles could become the first American woman to win two Olympic medals in weightlifting. Since winning Olympic bronze at the 2016 Rio Games, Robles has also added a world title to her resume.

#26: Sprinter Femita Ayanbeku will be competing at her second Paralympics in Tokyo. At 2021 U.S. Paralympic Track & Field Trials, she broke a 15-year-old American record in the T64 100m sprint, clocking 12.84 seconds. In Tokyo, the world record (12.66 seconds) could be within Ayanbeku’s reach.

#25: The U.S. could become the third nation to win three straight Olympic gold medals in water polo. Only Hungarian men (2000-08) and British men 1900-20) have previously accomplished that feat. The U.S. already owns the women’s record for most consecutive gold medals in water polo (2).

#24: Karate will make its Olympic debut in Tokyo, where two-time world champion Giana Farouk of Egypt should be a top contender. Farouk could become the first Egyptian woman to win Olympic gold in any sport.

#23: Germany’s Isabell Werth is already the most decorated equestrian rider in Olympic history with 10 medals. In Tokyo, Werth could break her tie with Reiner Klimke for most Olympic gold medals won by an equestrian.

#22: The U.S. women’s volleyball team will aim to win its first ever Olympic gold medal. In 11 appearances, the U.S. has finished on the podium five times (three silver medals, two bronze).

#21: Anastasia Pagonis is set to make her Paralympic debut in Tokyo after a strong performance at U.S. Paralympic Swimming Trials. The 17-year-old from Long Island broke the world record in the S11 400m freestyle during prelims and then lowered her own mark during the final (4:56.16)

#20. At the Tokyo Paralympics, Alia Issa will become the first woman to ever compete as a member of the Refugee Paralympic Team. Issa, a Syrian refugee who lives in Greece, competes in the club throw.

#19. At age 12, skateboarder Hiraki Kokona is set to become Japan’s youngest ever Olympian. Several other young skateboarders – including 13-year-old Sky Brown (Great Britain) and 13-year-old Rayessa Leal (Brazil) – are also expected to achieve this feat for their respective countries.

#18. Switzerland’s Nicola Spirig is set to become the first triathlete to compete at five Olympic Games. In Tokyo, the mother-of-three could also become the first triathlete to win three career Olympic medals.

#17. Beiwen Zhang is an outside contender to win the United States’ first ever Olympic medal in badminton. Badminton is one of just five Olympic sports in which the U.S. has never won a medal.

#16. Surfing will make its Olympic debut at the Tokyo Games. The U.S. will be represented by 19-year-old Caroline Marks and four-time world champ Carissa Moore (who competes for Hawaii on the World Surf League Championship Tour).

#15. After qualifying for one of the toughest swimming doubles in history, Katie Ledecky could become the first athlete – of any gender – to win gold in both the 200m and 1500m at the same Olympics.

#14. In 2016, Rwanda’s women’s sitting volleyball team became the first women’s team from Sub-Saharan Africa to compete at the Paralympic Games in any sport. Led by captain Liliane Mukobwankawe, Rwanda will make a second Paralympic appearance in Tokyo.

#13. American Brittney Reese could become just the second woman to win multiple Olympic gold medals in long jump. Reese previously won gold in 2012 and silver in 2016.

#12. The U.S. has never won Olympic gold (or silver) in mountain biking, an event that has been contested at every Olympics since 1996. The American contingent for Tokyo will include world champion Kate Courtney, rising star Haley Batten, and Erin Huck.

#11. Russia’s Svetlana Romashina will enter Tokyo tied for most Olympic medals in artistic swimming (5) and most gold medals (also 5). Romashina, who is expected to compete in both the duet and team events in Tokyo, could leave the Olympics as the sole owner of both records.

#10. Simone Biles is on track to become the most decorated American gymnast in Olympic history. Biles – who enters Tokyo with five career medals (four gold) – could:

  • Tie/break the record for most Olympic medals won by a U.S. gymnast (Shannon Miller, 7)
  • Tie/break the record for most Olympic gold medals won by a U.S. gymnast (Anton Heida, 5)

#9. The U.S. has the potential to win its first ever Olympic gold medal in women’s track cycling. The American team has claimed four of the last five world titles in the women’s team pursuit.

#8. In handball, the Norwegian women will be looking to become the first team– men’s or women’s – to win seven Olympic handball medals.

#7. Having claimed silver in London, American Haley Anderson could become the first woman to win multiple Olympic medals in open water swimming.

#6. In sailing, 2016 Olympic gold medalist Charline Picon of France could become the first woman to win back-to-back Olympic windsurfing titles.

#5. Sandra Perkovic of Croatia could become the first woman to win three gold medals in discus.

#4. Emma McKeon could become the first Australian swimmer to win six medals at a single Games. The four-time Olympic medalist is expected to compete in four individual events, plus relays.

#3. Three-time world medalist Marie-Josee Ta Lou has a chance to become the first woman from Cote d’Ivoire to win an Olympic medal in track & field. (She could also become the nation’s second female medalist in any sport.)

#2. Allison Schmitt, who is the second most decorated member of the 2020 U.S. Olympic team, could become the first woman to win three gold medals in the 4x200m freestyle relay.

#1. In gymnastics, the U.S. could be the first team to ever win gold in the six modern women’s events (team, all-around, vault, bars, beam, and floor). The Soviet Union came close in 1960, winning all but balance beam.

Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC

The NBC Olympics research team contributed to this report. 

Utah Royals FC announce NWSL return as new ownership addresses Utah’s abortion restrictions

Real Salt Lake owner, Ryan Smith, left, and NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman pose at a press conference where they announced the return of Utah Royals FC.

SANDY, Utah – The 2023 NWSL season kicks off Saturday and there’s one thing we know for sure: This is the last year the league will be 12 teams after the Utah Royals FC recently announced its return to the league for 2024.

“I knew that this was going to be one of the most important things that we do,” Jessica Berman said at the announcement March 11 regarding her priority initiatives over her first year as NWSL commissioner. “I lead on behalf of the NWSL, who is making sure that we bring this team back because we know the NWSL fans here are avid, and they care and they’re passionate, and that’s why we’re so excited to bring this team back to the community that’s been asking for [it].”

The Royals ownership group includes Ryan Smith, owner of Smith Entertainment Group, a sports, technology and entertainment investment group whose portfolio includes the Utah Jazz (NBA), Real Salt Lake (MLS), Vivint Arena, America First Field, the Salt Lake City Stars (NBA G-League), Real Monarchs (MLS NEXT Pro) and management of the Salt Lake Bees (Triple A baseball); and David Blitzer, owner of sports investment group Global Football Holdings, which has interests in the Philadelphia 76ers (NBA), New Jersey Devils (NHL), Cleveland Guardians (MLB) and seven European soccer entities including Crystal Palace (England) and FC Augsburg (Germany).

Also joining the ownership is Kraft Analytics Group CEO Jessica Gelman and Philadelphia 76ers exec Daryl Morey, who are part of a five-investor consortium named 42 Futbol Group. Rounding out the group are Netflix vice president Amy Reinhard, former Ernst & Young partner Jim Steger and Eleanor Health CEO Corbin Petro. Gelman will serve as the team’s alternate governor alongside Blitzer, while Michelle Hyncik has been named the club’s president. Hyncik has served as RSL’s general counsel for the past three years and spent five years working as a senior legal counsel for Major League Soccer.

In a recent interview with Sportico, Gelman said the group believes that analytics was being underutilized in leagues such as the WNBA and NWSL, noting “there was a natural fit between 42 Futbol Group’s vision and the commitment from Utah Soccer to dedicate appropriate resources toward the new women’s franchise.”

“This is the right opportunity, with the right overarching ownership group, which has the same vision as us: to empower women, affect change and to do it right,” Gelman said. “Alignment of values is so important.”

The new club is returning to a state with a very different landscape following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade last June. Just four days after the Royals’ announcement, Utah’s Gov. Spencer Coxsigned into a law a bill that bans all abortion clinics by Jan. 1, 2024.

Berman stated last summer that a state’s abortion laws would factor into the league’s decision regarding expansion cities: “It’s one of the things that we’re actually currently analyzing, which is looking even at our current markets to see where we have some differentiation between our values and what we stand behind relative to where we have teams located, and what are the solutions we can put in place that we feel comfortable we can commit to and execute on,” she said.

Berman, Smith and Hyncik talked with On Her Turf about how they plan to address Utah’s reproductive health-care laws within the Royals organization, plus we unpack Utah’s new legislation and take a look at what’s new for the club’s second iteration.

Current Utah abortion legislation counting down to 2024 ban on clinics

Cox signed H.B. 467 into law on March 15 and it takes effect May 3, when abortion clinics will be required to close either by the end of the year or when their license expires, whichever comes first. Additionally, the Utah Department of Health and Human Services will not be allowed to grant or renew abortion clinic licenses starting May 2. The full ban goes into effect Jan. 1, 2024.

The bill does include exceptions for victims of rape and incest, when the mother’s life is in danger or when the fetus has a “lethal fetal anomaly.” It also classifies violations of Utah’s abortion laws as “unprofessional conduct” for health-care providers, requires doctors to offer perinatal hospice and palliative care options as alternatives to abortion for women facing a fatal anomaly, and prohibits abortion for victims of sexual assault and incest after 18 weeks.

“This bill clarifies that so that those abortions can continue. They will continue in a hospital setting, but there’s nothing to prevent those from continuing,” Cox said at a recent news conference.

Under the legislation, all abortions will be required to take place in a hospital, which is defined as “a general hospital licensed by the state.” Critics warn that moving abortions to hospital facilities will likely raise the cost of accessing an abortion in Utah, even when medically necessary, as out-of-pocket costs in a hospital can reach into the thousands compared to costs at abortion clinics.

How Royals ownership, NWSL are addressing Utah’s abortion laws

Both Smith and Berman addressed head-on the concerns over players’ and female staff health-care access in light of Utah’s restrictions. Smith noted that it’s something his companies have already addressed and implemented a policy for.

“Similar to what we’ve done with the Jazz and what we’ve done with all the employees that work in this organization: If there’s healthcare that is not provided by the state, we’ve offered a stipend, we’ve offered consideration for them to go receive whatever treatment they want elsewhere,” he said. “This is one of the greatest reasons why Michelle (Hyncik) is in this spot, because we worked hand-in-hand with her to develop all of this and roll it out.

“There’s a lot of opportunity we have to push forward what the women in this state can go do. I’m incredibly proud of the women that we have in the state, Look at the entrepreneurship and this platform – it’s way bigger than soccer. And as a girl dad, that’s what I want to see — I want my daughters want to work here. I want our stats department and our analytics to be the best in women’s sports, and I don’t know why we can’t officially own that. And with Jessica (Gelman) coming on board – that’s what she’s done out of Boston and with all of their analytics background, like, that’s right here.”

Berman expressed confidence in the Royals’ ownership, noting: “It’s something that we talk about often and in particular with Meghann Burke (executive director of the NWSL Player Association), and we know that it’s on players’ minds. It’s our responsibility to offer that safety net for players, and we know that the Royals ownership group is completely aligned to ensure that if an athlete’s medical needs are not able to be addressed in their home market, that we have the mechanisms and the tools to offer them the support they need, even if they have to leave the market. We’re going to work closely with the union and with our players and our health-care providers to make sure that our players are taken care of.”

In a statement to local Salt Lake City news outlet, a club spokesperson stated that: “For all employees enrolled in our benefits plan, we have had a policy in place where if there is a medical procedure that is not provided in the state of Utah, we will provide a reimbursement of up to $4,000 toward travel and lodging costs.”

The nearest abortion providers outside of Utah are in Colorado — in Durango and Glenwood Springs. Earlier in March, a proposed Planned Parenthood clinic in West Wendover, Nevada, was blocked when city council members denied the organization’s request for a conditional use permit. According to the Guttmacher Institute, however, Colorado is protective of abortion rights and has a shield law to protect abortion providers from investigations by other states.

What’s new for the Utah Royals

The new Utah Royals FC has a lot to look forward to, beginning with a new, state-of-the-art locker room at newly renamed America First Credit Union Field, the stadium they’ll share with MLS team Real Salt Lake.

“I personally have Saran-wrapped that locker room off,” said Hyncik. “Those facilities have been in hibernation, just waiting for the women to come back.”

Additionally, the stadium saved spaces for Royals murals, intentionally left blank when the team did recent improvements and now filled with artworks. Expect to see a depiction of the club’s updated crest, which still features a lioness wearing a crown and a blue, gold and red color scheme, but the new badge is a bolder, cleaner look that also pays homage to Utah with its iconic mountain range graphically incorporated into the crown. Philadelphia-based Tobah Kaiser and her women-run studio, Tov Creative, led the redesign project.

As for partners, the Royals announced the YWCA Utah as a foundational partner and donated $20,000 to the organization during halftime of RSL’s home opener. Hyncik said the Royals also will support STEM education opportunities for young women in the community. America First Credit Union, a longtime partner of RSL and the original Royals, will be the new Royals’ jersey front partner.

“Our foremost goal is to empower women, not only on the field but also the young women off the field who look up to them as heroes and women throughout the community,” she added.

History of Utah Royals FC

The Royals were first established in November 2017, the same week that FC Kansas City folded its club and the team’s player contracts, draft picks and other rights were transferred to the new Salt Lake City team. The expansion club debuted in 2018, packing in 19,203 fans at the home opener at Rio Tinto Stadium, and regularly averaging 11,000 fans or more during three seasons in the NWSL.

England’s Laura Harvey, who currently manages Seattle’s OL Reign, was hired as the first head coach and recorded an 18-17-12 (W-L-D) record over the first two seasons. Several U.S. national team members spent time with Utah including Kelly O’Hara, Christen Press, Amy Rodriguez and Becky Sauerbrunn.

The 2020 season was a tumultuous one for Utah. Head coach Craig Harrington was placed on administrative leave that September amid reports that he allegedly made inappropriate sexual and racist comments to staff and was being verbally abusive, and subsequently was fired in November. Harrington received a two-year suspension from the NWSL this past January after an investigation found he “made inappropriate sexual and objectifying comments” to players.

Amy LePeilbet stepped in as interim coach, and the team went 0-2-2 to finish the season. Additionally, MLS opened an investigation into Real Salt Lake and Royals owner Dell Loy Hansen for racist comments and behavior. Hansen sold his Utah soccer holdings, which included the Royals, RSL and USL’s Real Monarchs, at the end of the year.

The team officially finished 18-14-17 in three seasons in Utah, never reaching the NWSL Cup playoffs but making a statement during the pandemic when the league needed a place to play the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup — a one-off tournament that marked the league’s return to action. The Royals donated $900,000 to help establish a bubble for the four-week tournament that stretched from June 27-July 26, as the NWSL became the first North American professional sports league to return to play following the national shutdown.

In December that year, the Royals moved back east to become the Kansas City Current, whose ownership group includes Brittany and Patrick Mahomes. In January 2022, Real Salt Lake transitioned ownership to Blitzer and Smith.

More about potential NWSL expansion teams 

In July, the NWSL announced that it would be adding two expansion teams in 2024 and a third later on. The other two cities expected to secure franchises are Boston and the San Francisco Bay area, according to a Wall Street Journal report that estimates the two cities will pay a record $50 million in franchise fees. Utah paid a much cheaper price, reportedly $3.5 million, thanks to a prior agreement by former NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird, who had agreed to a fixed reactivation fee.

The 2022 season debuted two new NWSL teams, both located in California: Angel City FC, which averaged more than 19,000 fans at games last year, and San Diego Wave FC, which reached the playoff semifinals and set several attendance records.

Like Utah, Boston would be making its return to the NWSL. The Boston Breakers, one of the NWSL’s original teams, played for five years from 2013-17. San Francisco and Utah are set to begin play in 2024, with Boston launching at a later date.

MORE FROM ON HER TURF: 2023 LPGA Drive On Championship — How to watch, who’s playing in season’s first full-field event

2023 LPGA Drive On Championship: How to watch, who’s playing in season’s first full-field event

Jin-young Ko of South Korea and Nelly Korda on the 17th tee during the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship.
Getty Images

The LPGA Tour makes its return to the Arizona desert this week at the 2023 LPGA Drive On Championship at Superstition Mountain Golf and Country Club. The season’s first full-field event features eight of the world’s top 10 players plus a slew of fresh faces as this year’s rookie class gets its first taste of competition as tour members.

This week’s event features 144 players (plus two Monday qualifiers) competing for the $1.75 million prize purse in a 72-hole tournament that will implement the LPGA’s new cutline policy for the first time. Beginning this week, the 36-hole cut will change from the top 70 players and ties to the top 65 and ties advancing to weekend action. The LPGA says it hopes to “establish a faster pace of play” with the change.”

Arizona last hosted the LPGA for the 2019 Bank of Hope Founders Cup at Wildfire Golf Club, where Jin Young Ko earned her first of four LPGA titles that season. The tour last played at Superstition Mountain in the Safeway International from 2004 to 2008, where Hall of Famers Annika Sorenstam (2004, 2005) and Lorena Ochoa (2007, 2008) each won twice, and Juli Inkster won in 2006.

The tournament marks the first of four events over the next five weeks (taking off the week of the Masters, April 7-10) and kicks off the crescendo that’s building to the LPGA’s first major of the season, The Chevron Championship, April 20-23 in its new location at The Woodlands, Texas. The 72-hole LPGA Drive On Championship features 144 players, in addition to two Monday qualifiers, who will compete for a $1.75 million purse.

How to watch the 2023 LPGA Drive On Championship

You can watch the 2023 LPGA Drive On Championship on Golf Channel, Peacock, and the NBC Sports app. Check out the complete TV and streaming schedule:

  • Thursday, March 23: 9-11 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Friday, March 24: 9-11 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Saturday, March 25: 6-10 p.m. ET, live stream; 7-9 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Sunday, March 26: 6-10 p.m. ET, live stream; 7-9 p.m. ET, Golf Channel

Who’s playing in the 2023 LPGA Drive On Championship

Sitting out this week are world No. 1 Lydia Ko and No. 5 Minjee Lee, but No. 2 Nelly Korda and No. 3 Jin Young Ko are back in action following Ko’s return to the winner’s circle two weeks ago in Singapore, where she held off Korda by two strokes. Also in the field this week are:

  • No. 4 Atthaya Thitikul
  • No. 6 Lexi Thompson
  • No. 7 Brooke Henderson
  • No. 8 In Gee Chun
  • No. 9 Hyo-Joo Kim
  • No. 10 Nasa Hataoka
  • 2022 major winners Ashleigh Buhai, Jennifer Kupcho, Chun, Henderson

Rookies and Epson Tour graduates making their first starts as LPGA members include 20-year-old Lucy Li, a two-time Epson Tour winner who might be best known for playing the 2014 U.S.  Women’s Open as an 11-year-old; South Korea’s Hae Ran Ryu, who took medalist honors at LPGA Q-Series; and 18-year-old Alexa Pano, who finished tied for 21st at Q School to earn her card but might be best known from her role in the 2013 Netflix documentary, “The Short Game.”

Past winners, history of the Drive On Championship

The Drive On Championship was initially created as a series of LPGA events that marked the tour’s back-to-competition efforts following the pandemic. Each tournament used the “Drive On” slogan in support of the tour’s resilience, beginning with the first series event in July 2020 at Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio, where Danielle Kang won by one stroke over Celine Boutier. The second event, held in October 2020, replaced the three stops originally scheduled in Asia, and was held at Reynolds Lake Oconee Great Waters Course in Greensboro, Georgia. Ally McDonald captured her career first LPGA title by one stroke over Kang.

The last two “Drive On” events were staged in Florida, at Golden Ocala Golf Club (Ocala) in March 2021 and at Crown Colony Golf Club (Fort Myers) in February 2022. Austin Ernst cruised to her third career title at the 2021 edition, beating Jennifer Kupcho by five shots. The 2022 tournament marked a fresh start for the event (no longer including results or records from the 2020 and 2021 events), where Leona Maguire became the first Irish winner on tour with her victory in 2022.

Last year at the Drive On Championship

Ireland’s Leona Maguire gifted her mom and early birthday present with her first career win at the 2022 LPGA Drive On Championship. A 27-year-old Maguire, a standout at Duke and former No. 1 amateur, carded a final-round 67 to finish at 18-under 198 and won the 54-hole event by three strokes over Lexi Thompson. She became the first woman from Ireland to win on tour, and her 198 tied her career-best 54-hole score.

More about Superstition Mountain

Superstition Mountain’s Prospector Golf Course opened in 1998 and was a combined design effort by Jack Nicklaus and his son Gary. The course plays as a par-72 and stretches to 7,225 yards in length, with the women playing it at 6,526 yards. The course was home of the LPGA Safeway International from 2004-08, and was recently selected by Golfweek as one of the “Top 100 Residential Courses.”

Of note, Superstition Mountain is a female-owned facility, originally purchased in 2009 by Susan Hladky and her husband James, who died in 2011. Hladky has made a point of opening her courses to women and college players, twice hosting U.S. Women’s Open qualifying and the site of a 2025 NCAA women’s regional tournament. She’s also given membership to eight LPGA players, who play out of the club: Carlota Ciganda, Mina Harigae, Dana Finkelstein, Jaclyn Lee, Charlotte Thomas, Caroline Inglis, Jennifer Kupcho and Brianna Do.

MORE FROM ON HER TURF: 2023 March Madness — Utah Utes engineer dramatic turnaround for third-ever Sweet 16 appearance