Beijing Winter Olympics: The top storylines in women’s sports


With the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics set to begin in 100 days – the Opening Ceremony is scheduled for Friday, February 4, 2022 – here are a few of the biggest storylines in women’s sports. 

A Winter Olympic record: 45% of Olympians will be women

Over 45 percent of the athletes at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics will be women, a record for the Winter Olympic Games. At the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, women comprised 41 percent of competitors.

Why don’t the Winter Olympics have a 50-50 gender balance?

While the gender gap is closing, men still have more events on the Olympic Winter Games program (51), compared to 46 for women. Men also compete in nordic combined, the only Olympic sport – summer or winter – not open to women.

RELATED: Not every Olympic sport is open to women (or men)

Ice hockey also contributes to the gender balance discrepancy. The 2022 men’s Olympic hockey tournament will include 12 teams (300 players), while the women’s tournament will feature 10 teams (230 players) – though that’s an increase from the eight women’s hockey teams that competed in 2018.

Women’s hockey: USA-Canada rivalry remains fierce, with a twist

Since women’s hockey debuted on the Olympic program in 1998, all but one gold medal game has come down to the United States and Canada. That tradition appears likely to continue in Beijing.

The U.S. women will enter the 2022 Winter Olympics as the defending Olympic champions, while the Canadians won the most recent world title. Earlier this week, Canada defeated the U.S. 3-2 during the second stop of this fall’s “My Why Tour.”

That said: don’t count out Finland. The Finns have consistently challenged for bronze, and in 2019, they almost won the world title (losing only after a controversial call).

While the Americans and Canadians remain bitter rivals on the ice, players from both teams have been working closely together off the ice to create a sustainable women’s pro league that pays a living wage.

In May 2019, over 200 women’s hockey players (including every post-grad member of the current U.S. and Canadian national teams) announced that they would not play in any North American league, essentially boycotting the NWHL (since rebranded as the PHF).

While the NWHL/PHF is about to start its seventh season, the league has not included any current U.S. or Canadian national team players since 2019. Instead, players from both teams – as well as Noora Raty from Finland and Iya Gavrilova from Russia, banded together to form the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA).

That said, the PWHPA isn’t a league. Instead, it was created to provide athletes with training opportunities “until they have a professional league” that provides a liveable wage and insurance coverage.

“We have the same dream, so on the ice, it’s going to get feisty,” said Canadian legend Marie-Philip Poulin. “When the on-ice part is done, we know what we want to do: create a league for the next generation.”

“We know what we deserve. And we can’t settle for anything less than that because if we do, that means the next generation has to suffer as well,” said American Kendall Coyne Schofield. 

Alpine skiing: Already among the greatest, Mikaela Shiffrin continues to cement legacy

Since claiming two medals at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, Mikaela Shiffrin‘s resume has only gotten longer. In 2019, she won her third career overall World Cup title (the most prestigious honor in alpine skiing) and became the first skier to ever win four straight world titles in the same discipline.

Shiffrin has also experienced a tremendous loss. In February 2020, her father Jeff died following an accident at the family’s Colorado home. Shiffrin has been open about her grief since her father’s death, telling the Washington Post, “It takes all of your physical and mental and emotional energy in the beginning just to wake up and get out of bed. And then to get through half a day without completely breaking down.”

On the slopes, Shiffrin has continued to impress. She left the 2021 World Championships with a career-best haul: four medals in four events (gold in the combined, silver in the giant slalom, and bronze in the super-G and slalom).

This past weekend, the-26-year-old kicked off the 2021-22 World Cup season with a giant slalom win on the Rettenbach glacier in Soelden, Austria. The win marked Shiffrin’s 70th World Cup victory. Only two other skiers have previously achieved the 70-win feat: Ingemar Stenmark (86 wins) and Lindsey Vonn (82 wins).

At the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, Shiffrin has the potential to contend in all five Olympic alpine events. While the Colorado native has long been known for her technical prowess in the slalom and giant slalom, she also plans to ski more speed events (downhill and super-G) this season.

ALSO FROM ON HER TURF: The impact of climate change? These winter Olympians have seen it

Figure skating: Russian ladies could sweep the Olympic podium

For Russia’s female figure skaters, making their country’s three-women Olympic roster will likely be more difficult than winning a medal at the Olympics. The Russian delegation swept the podium at the 2021 World Championships and could repeat the feat at the Winter Olympics. (Note: Just like at the Tokyo Olympics, Russian athletes in Beijing will represent the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC). This sanction was imposed by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) as a result of a state-sponsored doping program.)

Earlier this fall, 17-year-old Russian skater Aleksandra Trusova became the first woman ever to land five quads in a program (a rare feat even in men’s figure skating). Over the weekend, she won Skate America with a watered down free skate that included only one quad.

Trusova’s top competitors – and countrywomen – include 15-year-old Kamila Valiyeva, 2021 world champion Anna Shcherbakova, 2020 European champion Aliona Kostornaya, and 15-year-old Maya Khromykh. All five train together in Moscow under the same coach: Eteri Tutberidze.

Tutberidze previously coached Yevgenia Medvedeva to two world championship titles and Alina Zagitova to the 2018 Olympic title.

Meanwhile, the top American woman is likely to be 16-year-old Alysa Liu. The California native won her first U.S. national title at age 13, making her the youngest champion in the event’s history.

Freeskiing: San Francisco native Eileen Gu expected to be one of China’s biggest stars

Freeskier Eileen Gu will enter the Winter Olympics as the reigning world champ in both slopestyle and halfpipe, and as one of the host nation China’s biggest medal hopes. The 18-year-old freeskier should contend in three events: slopestyle, big air, and halfpipe.

RELATED: Eileen Gu becomes first female freeskier to land double cork 1440 (video)

Gu was born in San Francisco and initially competed for the United States, but announced in 2019 that she would be switching her national affiliation in order to represent China. Gu, who is fluent in Mandarin, grew up taking yearly trips to China with her mother Yan, who was born in Beijing.

Cross-country skiing: Already a pioneer, Jessie Diggins could make more Olympic history for Team USA

Cross-country skier Jessie Diggins has already made plenty of history for the United States. At the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, Diggins and teammate Kikkan Randall won the U.S. team’s first ever gold medal in cross-country skiing. Last season, the Minnesota native became the first American to win both the Tour de Ski and the overall World Cup title.

Diggins has also become more outspoken about some of the topics that matter most to her, from raising awareness about eating disorders to calling for action on climate change.

At this February’s Winter Olympics, Diggins could become the first American (of any gender) to win more than one Olympic medal in cross-country skiing.

ALSO FROM ON HER TURF: Five women to watch at the 2022 Winter Paralympics

Bobsled: No longer rivals, Elana Meyers Taylor and Kaillie Humphries hope to compete for the same team

With three Olympic medals each, pilots Elana Meyers Taylor and Kaillie Humphries are currently tied for most decorated woman in Olympic bobsled history.

Humphries previously represented Canada, but the two-time Olympic gold medalist departed the federation in 2019 after filing a complaint alleging verbal and mental harassment by Canada’s bobsled coach. While she has since gained the right to compete for the United States in most international bobsled competitions, she doesn’t currently have U.S. citizenship – which could prevent her from competing at the Winter Olympics in February.

“We’re doing everything we possibly can to make this happen as fast as we can, but it’s still an unknown at this point,” Humphries said at the Team USA media summit last week.

Even before Humphries moved to the United States, her rivalry with Meyers Taylor was always friendly. “If I can’t win I truly do hope she is the one to do so, and I know she feels the same way about me,” Humphries told the CBC in 2017.

Meyers Taylor has also dealt with some life changes since 2018. She and husband Nic Taylor welcomed son Nico in February 2020. Nico has Down syndrome and profound bilateral sensorineural hearing loss.

With both Elana and Nic trying to make the 2022 U.S. Olympic team (Nic is a bobsled brakeman), figuring out how to balance both of their training schedules – along with Nico’s therapies – has been a challenge, especially during the pandemic.

“It’s been quite an adventure the whole time,” Meyers Taylor said. “Figuring out how to train, how to breastfeed, how to do all these different things, how to travel around the world.”

Women’s bobsled will also debut a new Olympic event in 2022, though it is not the one Humphries or Meyers Taylor initially wanted. While both athletes advocated for the addition of a four-women event (to match the men’s program), a monobob event was added instead.

While Meyers Taylor and Humphries both appreciate that female pilots now have the chance to win two Olympic medals, they believe the talented pool of brakewomen behind them also deserve the same opportunity. “The work’s not done,” Meyers Taylor said.

MORE BOBSLED NEWS: Meyers Taylor and Humphries lead U.S. women’s bobsled team for Beijing

Snowboarding: After two-year hiatus, Chloe Kim still dominates the halfpipe

Between 2019 and 2021, Olympic halfpipe gold medalist Chloe Kim took nearly two years off from competition. While away, the California native healed up a broken ankle and enrolled at Princeton for her freshman year.

Kim enjoyed the time away so much that she wasn’t initially sure she would ever compete again. Eventually, though, the 21-year-old found herself longing to return to the snow.

“I just had the same emotions I did when I was 14, excited to get out there, excited to try new things, and excited to push myself,” Kim told NBC Olympics research in September.

Since making her return, Kim has continued to impress, winning the halfpipe title at both the 2021 World Championships and 2021 X Games.

Earlier this year, Kim – along with Alex Morgan, Sue Bird, and Simone Manuel – helped launch TOGETHXR, a media and commerce company dedicated to women’s sports, lifestyle, and fashion.

Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC

The NBC Olympics research team contributed to this report. 

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

2023 March Madness: Utah Utes engineer dramatic turnaround for third-ever Sweet 16 appearance

Members of the Utah Utes celebrate their win over the Princeton Tigers in the second round of the NCAA Womens Basketball Tournament.
Getty Images

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The No. 2-seeded Utah (27-4) women’s basketball team held off a pesky 10th-seeded Princeton squad on Sunday, winning 63-56 to advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championships for the first time since 2005-06 and just the third time in the program’s history.

“I’m proud of our team,” said eighth-year head coach Lynne Roberts after the second-round win at Utah’s Hunstman Center. “We set out to do this a year ago. We lost in this game at University of Texas and the goal was to be able to host (this year) so that we could have that home-court advantage and it made a difference.”

Utah’s fourth-year junior Alissa Pili backed up her recent second-team All-American honor with another 20-plus-point performance, scoring 28 on 8-for 13 shooting with 10 rebounds and going 11-for 13 on free throws. Sophomore forward Jenna Johnson added 15 points and six rebounds.

There’s been a lot of talk this weekend about how the Utes’ previous few seasons have ended – beginning with a rough 14-17 season that was cut short in 2020 due to the pandemic, followed by an abysmal 5-16 record in 2020-21. But the tide turned last year, as Utah rebounded with a 21-12 season that ended with a 78-56 loss to Texas in Austin in the second round of the NCAA tournament one year ago.

So, what changed?

“Last year, everyone was new to the NCAA tournament, so I think everyone was just experiencing it for the first time,” mused Johnson. “Losing in the second round last year, we’re definitely a lot hungrier this year, and then obviously hosting in Salt Lake, it’s fun just being in your own environment, to be around your own fans. I think it gives us an elevated level of confidence, both knowing what it’s like to play in this tournament and also getting to be at home.”

“Yeah, freshman year was kind of rough,” added third-year sophomore Kennady McQueen, who chipped in nine points Sunday. “We did experience losing a lot. … Coach Roberts, she said we are not going to have another season like that. We all stood behind her — the people that stayed — and brought in great people like starting last year with Jenna and Gi (Gianna Kneepkens) and people like that who have had a huge impact in helping us to where we are today. …

“When you get together a group of people that have the same goal in mind and will do make anything to make it happen, I think that’s where we have seen our success rate going up. This past offseason, we just kept getting better, and of course, the addition of the Alissa Pili really helped. When you bring a group of girls that have the same dream and same goal at the end of the year and doesn’t care about personal stats more than winning, I think we get the season that we have today, and it prepares us for deep run in March.”

In particular, McQueen believe it was Utah’s improvement in their defense that was crucial to the turnaround. “Everyone knows how good we are on offense, but if we can’t get stops, it doesn’t matter how good you are on offense,” she said. “So that’s just been a key the whole past off-season and all of this season — just getting better on defense.”

MORE FROM ON HER TURF: Alissa Pili revives her love of basketball with record season at Utah

Roberts credits their defensive improvement with a “philosophical mindset change,” explaining, “We worked on [defense] a lot differently, a lot more intentionally. Strategically we made some changes of how we are going to defend, and I won’t bore you with that. But there was a lot, just different things because you have to play to your strengths. You can’t be a run-and-jump pressing team if you don’t have the depth and athletes to do it. You can’t be a zone team if you are not super big. You have to figure out what fits your personnel, and so that’s what we did.”

There’s also the undeniable impact of Pili, a transfer from USC who has found her stride as a Ute, where she recently was named the Pac-12 Player of the Year.

“She kind of is the straw that stirs the drink for us right now,” Roberts said regarding the 21-year-old Alaska native. “She’s a nightmare to defend because she can shoot the three, and she’s also really athletic and mobile, so it doesn’t matter who we are playing. I think you have to gameplan for her. But then with her three-point shooting, you know, you have to pick your poison.”

But Roberts also gave plenty of kudos to Johnson, whom she describes as “phenomenal.”

“She’s 19 going on 40,” Roberts said of Johnson. “She’s the most mature, even-keeled consistent player we have. What I love about her is she is who she is. She’s confident in who she is. She knows who she is. She also is incredibly busy off the court.

“We were talking as we were getting ready to watch film, just shooting the breeze a bunch of us, we were talking about movies. And she was like, Oh, I don’t watch movies. Why not? I don’t have time. I get bored. What do you mean you don’t have time? Do you watch shows? No, I don’t ever watch TV. It is because she is doing all of these other extracurricular activities.”

As for guiding the Utes to becoming a championship program, Roberts still sees it as an uphill battle – but one that she and her players are ready for.

“I always use the analogy of pushing the boulder up the hill,” she said. “And doing things for the first time, you have to have that mindset. You have to keep pushing. It’s been incredibly fun to see the support, and I think the swell is a perfect word for it. Most importantly, our players feel it.

“This is why you play, right? And it means so much. I know I say it over and over, but this is not going to be a flash-in-the-pan [season]. This isn’t going to be a ‘Oh, remember that year they had such an incredible year?’ We are going to keep doing it.”

RELATED: 2023 March Madness 2023 — Updated bracket, scores and schedule for NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship