One of the themes of the 2022 Winter Olympics: Women supporting women

One of many examples of women supporting women: Gold medal winner Zoi Sadowski Synnott of New Zealand, silver medal winner Julia Marino of the United States and bronze medal winner Tess Coady of Australia celebrates after the Snowboard Slopestyle Final.
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New Zealand’s Zoi Sadowski-Synnott had just come up short in her bid for the gold medal in the Olympic women’s snowboard big air contest, but she didn’t even release her boots from her board before diving into a bear hug with winner Anna Gasser of Austria, who was waiting at the finish area.

The hug between the silver and gold medalists quickly turned into a heap of Olympians, who joyfully piled on top of each other, whether they had won a medal or not.

“I feel like it’s so special that we’re all so close together,” Gasser said of her fellow competitors afterward. “I felt the girls were so happy for me. Without them I wouldn’t be where I am today, as they inspire me every day in training. I can’t believe this happened and I’m so happy with where the sport has gone this last couple of years.”

Sportsmanship is as much a hallmark of the Olympics as winning a medal, endearing athletes to fans (hello, Brittany Bowe!) and searing heartwarming scenes that personify the Olympic ideals of excellence, friendship and respect into memory. But demonstrations of support between fellow women competitors in Beijing have provided a fresh take on those ideals, particularly in individual competitions.

In that same big air competition, Japan’s Iwabuchi Reira was mobbed at the finish line after coming up just shy of landing the first-ever frontside triple cork 1260 in women’s Olympic competition. The 20-year-old finished off the podium in fourth, but the celebration was just as effusive as for the medalists.

“We were on top and we were freaking out,” said Gasser, who clinched gold with a cab 1260 and a 95.50 on her final run.

“[Iwabuchi] went all out, and she didn’t look at how much more points she needed for the podium – she just wanted to progress the sport,” she added. “I wish – even though maybe that meant I wouldn’t be on top of the podium – but I wish she landed it.”

This display of unwavering joy in women’s snowboarding started early in the Games, when Sadowski-Synnott won gold in the women’s slopestyle event. All the finals riders gathered in an epic group hug, jumping up and down in a circle of celebration at the finish.

“Snowboarding is so much about progression, you can see the riders here are so happy for her,” said women’s halfpipe legend and NBC Olympics analyst Kelly Clark after Iwabuchi’s triple-cork attempt and subsequent rush of finalists to congratulate her. “It’s honestly just about the snowboarding. It’s about pushing one another.”

Such scenes didn’t unfold only at snowboarding, but also at women’s freeskiing, speed skating, aerials and even alpine racing, where an international support system between current U.S. star Mikaela Shiffrin, Italy’s 2018 downhill gold medalist Sofia Goggia and retired alpine racing great Lindsey Vonn emerged as an ultimate triumvirate of girl power.

“(Lindsey) is the first one I have called, right now,” said an excited Goggia following her silver medal in the Olympic women’s downhill in Beijing. “I want to say thank you, Lindsey! We all love you and I’m your biggest fan and you’ll always be my idol and your support in the last days means everything, but also Mikaela was pretty nice to me.”

Vonn returned the compliment with a selfie of her crying tears of happiness, while Goggia, in turn, sent supportive vibes to Shiffrin ahead of the U.S. racer’s downhill portion of the Olympic combined race. The Italian, who was not competing in the combined event, wrote a personal message on a sticky note and secured it to a pair of her downhill skis that Shiffrin used to ski into fifth place after the downhill.

“I saw it in the start, and I almost started crying,” Shiffrin said of the note, which read: “Fly Mika, you can.”

When Shiffrin skied out in the slalom portion of the combined and recorded a DNF, Switzerland’s gold medalist Michelle Gisin offered some consolation in the form of a compliment: “I told her I feel pretty badass about winning one slalom in my career, but she has 47 so she is 47 times as badass as I am.”

China’s Xu Mengtao was overcome with ecstatic emotion after securing the first-ever Olympic gold medal for her country in women’s aerials. And despite finishing just off the podium in fourth, U.S. skier Ashley Caldwell made sure to celebrate Xu’s success.

“Taotao has been pushing triples for longer than I have, and I respect her wholeheartedly,” said Caldwell, who won team aerials gold for the U.S. earlier in the Games. “For her to win the gold medal in her own country is an incredible accomplishment and it brought tears to my eyes just as much as sadness did.

“I respect what everyone does out here. I know how hard this is, I face it every day. Why shouldn’t I be excited for their success?”

Freestyle Skiing - Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics Day 10
ZHANGJIAKOU, CHINA – FEBRUARY 14: Gold medalist Xu Mengtao of China is embraced by Team USA’s Ashley Caldwell (fourth place) at the conclusion of the women’s aerials competition at the 2022 Winter Olympics. (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)

U.S. speed skaters Brittany Bowe and Erin Jackson have been supporting each other for over a decade; both athletes grew up in Ocala, Florida, where they got their start in inline skating. Their mutual respect and longtime friendship was on full display last month at the U.S. Olympic Trials, where Bowe gave up the spot she earned in the 500m to teammate Jackson, who was considered the favorite.

When Jackson won gold, becoming the first U.S. Olympic speed skating champion in 12 years, she wrote on Twitter: “You are a mentor. A friend. A teammate. A sister. Thank you for playing a huge part in my journey to gold, [Brittany Bowe]. I know you and [Kimi Goetz] are going to turn the ice to fire today.”

Jackson was right. Bowe extended her own record as oldest U.S. woman to win an Olympic speed skating medal by four years, winning bronze in the 1000m at age 33, and she also became the oldest U.S. woman to win an individual Olympic speed skating medal. Bonnie Blair previously held the honor, winning 1000m gold in 1994 just two weeks shy of her 30th birthday.

In a sweet cyber moment between biathlon athletes, American Clare Egan got a shoutout from Sweden’s Mona Brorsson, a two-time Olympic medalist who captured gold in the women’s biathlon 4x6km relay. After Egan posted just one top 10 in five events in Beijing, she thanked her supporters on Twitter but she couldn’t hide her disappointment.

“I think having success at the Olympics is fun (tho [sic] I wouldn’t know) but I can tell you that falling short is extremely un-fun,” wrote the 34-year-old Egan, who has served as chair of the International Biathlon Union Athletes’ Committee since 2018. “Delighted to put these races behind me and try to reset for my final month of World Cup racing!”

Brorsson was the first to respond to Egan with a what-matters-most show of support, writing, “I want to celebrate you for everything you do also beside the tracks! Standing up for every athlete out there and doing a great job as a representative for all of us. A true role model!”

ALSO FROM ON HER TURF: How close are the Winter Olympics to being gender equal?