With the 2022 Winter Olympics now in the rearview mirror, On Her Turf is looking back at some of the most memorable moments from women’s sports in Beijing.
In the 50th year of Title IX, it’s not a surprise that the women of Team USA led the way at the 2022 Winter Olympics. While the United States finished the Beijing Games ranked fifth in the overall medal count, Team USA claimed more medals in women’s events (13) than any other nation.
Women won a majority of Team USA’s medals at the Winter Olympics. Of 25 total medals, women played a role in winning 17 (13 in women’s events, four in mixed gender events). The U.S. women’s success is particularly remarkable when you consider that women still have fewer participation and medal opportunities than men.
Also in Beijing, the U.S. and Canada both broke the record for most women from one nation to compete at a single Winter Olympics. The U.S. has now broken the women’s participation record at 11 consecutive Winter Olympics, a streak that began in 1984, according to Olympedia.org.
Cross-country golden girl Jessie Diggins extends Olympic legacy
Cross-country skier Jessie Diggins was already one of the most recognizable faces representing Team USA at the 2022 Winter Olympics after she captured gold in 2018 with teammate Kikkan Randall. But the Minnesota native with the glittering cheeks – and personality to match – extended her legacy even further in Beijing. By winning bronze in the individual sprint freestyle, she became the only U.S. athlete to ever win two Olympic medals in cross-country skiing. Then, in the final women’s event of the Beijing Winter Games, Diggins won silver in the 30km freestyle – despite dealing with food poisoning a day before the race.
“That might have been the best race of my entire life, I’m not going to lie. It was also maybe the hardest race of my whole life,” said Diggins.
Sharing her journey off the snow has been just as important for the 30-year-old, who’s become an outspoken advocate for climate change and an ambassador for The Emily Project, a national leader for eating disorder recovery. Diggins sought treatment with The Emily Project as an 18-year-old in an intensive day program. She’s also helped educate members of the media on the importance of body image education.
“The last four years I’ve really found my voice, I’ve really found a lot of my purpose, and I feel like I’ve grown a lot,” said Diggins, who shared her story in her 2020 memoir, “Brave Enough.” “But also, I’m exactly the same person in pretty much every other way.”
Twice is nice: Lindsey Jacobellis finally gets snowboard cross gold at Winter Olympics
Appearing in record-tying fifth Winter Olympics, 36-year-old Lindsey Jacobellis captured Team USA’s first gold medal in Beijing with her memorable win in women’s snowboard cross (video below). Jacobellis briefly held the distinction of being the oldest American woman to win a medal of any color, in any sport at the Winter Olympics, but perhaps the most compelling aspect about her win was how it all began: At the 2006 Torino Winter Games, Jacobellis became famous for one of the biggest blunders in sports history when she lost her lead after going for a celebratory board grab on the second-to-last jump.
“I definitely have put 2006 obviously in the past and have done a lot of soul-searching to realize that (what happened in 2006) doesn’t define me as an athlete, as an individual,” said Jacobellis, who also won gold in the mixed team snowboard cross with 40-year-old Nick Baumgartner.
Switzerland’s Tanja Frieden, who took the gold in 2006, was among the first to wish Jacobellis congratulations on the breakthrough win.
Canada defeats Team USA in most recent chapter of women’s hockey rivalry at Winter Olympics
For the sixth time in Olympic history, the women’s hockey gold medal game at the 2022 Winter Olympics featured the United States and Canada.
It was the Canadians who emerged victorious, despite a late effort from the United States (video below). Canada’s “Captain Clutch” Marie-Philip Poulin scored two goals (including the game-winner), while Sarah Nurse recorded an Olympic-record 18 points in Beijing.
“I don’t know of a more deserving captain to win that gold medal for us,” Canadian goalie Ann-Renee Desbiens said of Poulin’s performance. “She is our leader, she is one of the big reasons why we won. The way she carries herself on and off the ice is truly something special, it’s not something that I’ve witnessed before.”
While the rivalry remains as fierce as ever on the ice, players on both the U.S. and Canadian teams are united in their desire to see a better future for women’s hockey.
“We need to continue to push for visibility. We need to continue to fight for women’s hockey because (the status quo) is not good enough. It can’t end after the Olympic Games,” U.S. captain Kendall Coyne Schofield said after the American women took silver.
While the future of women’s professional hockey remains uncertain, it appears that most of the Olympians who competed in Beijing aren’t planning to return to the Premier Hockey Federation (PHF, previously the NWHL). While the league announced a $25 million investment last month, Brianne Jenner (who is on the board of the PWHPA) all but dismissed the idea after winning gold.
“That commitment, that’s a really exciting thing,” Jenner said of the PHF’s announcement. “I think we want to see success in that league, but we also want to see something that is going to stand the test of time and give players the proper training environment to be professionals, the proper support, and the proper marketing. And we’re hopeful that hopefully that’s around the corner.”
There certainly appears to be demand for the product. The women’s hockey Olympic gold medal game averaged 3.54 million viewers on NBC (despite an 11:10 pm ET puck drop) – making it the second most-watched hockey game in the U.S. since 2019.
With scandal overshadowing figure skating, even the gold medalist wasn’t in the spotlight
Russian figure skater Anna Shcherbakova delivered a clean performance in her free skate to win gold, but she didn’t get to celebrate like a new Olympic champion in the moments following her victory (video below).
Shcherbakova was left on her own with only her teddy bear after teammate Kamila Valiyeva — who failed a drug test but was allowed to compete — finished off the podium due to a mistake-filled performance and Aleksandra Trusova threw a tantrum after her history-making five quadruple jumps left her only with a silver.
“I hate this sport,” Trusova could be heard shouting at the side of the rink. “I won’t go onto the ice again.”
During the podium ceremony, the happiest medalist was clearly Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto, who won bronze.
Elana Meyers Taylor gets her moment as flag bearer – and Winter Olympic medalist
Four-time Olympian Elana Meyers Taylor was already facing the challenge of competing in new event – women’s monobob – and traveling to the Winter Olympics as a first-time mom to 2-year-old son Nico, but she was dealt a staggering blow when she tested positive for COVID-19 shortly after her arrival in Beijing. The Georgia native was chosen as an Opening Ceremony flag bearer for Team USA alongside curler John Shuster, but she was stuck in isolation and the honor of carrying the flag instead went to speed skater Brittany Bowe.
It all turned out in the end for Meyers Taylor, who documented her creative training solutions while in isolation and returned to competition without missing a beat: she won monobob silver behind gold medalist and new U.S. teammate Kaillie Humphries. It marked the U.S. team’s first 1-2 finish in bobsled since 1932. At age 37, Meyers took over the title of oldest woman to win an Olympic medal in any winter sport from Jacobellis.
Then, competing in the two-woman event with push athlete Sylvia Hoffman, Meyers Taylor won her second medal in Beijing, a bronze (video below). By claiming her fifth Olympic medal, Meyers Taylor became the most decorated female bobsledder in Olympic history, the most decorated U.S. bobsledder of any gender, and the most decorated Black athlete in Winter Olympics history.
She concluded her time in Beijing by completing some unfinished business: she was given the honor of carrying the U.S. flag in the Closing Ceremony.
Eileen Gu straddles Chinese-American ties, earns three freeski medals
China’s Eileen Gu won gold in the women’s freeski halfpipe final, marking her third medal in Beijing following a gold in big air and silver in slopestyle (video highlight below). The 18-year-old Gu became the first freestyle skier to ever win three medals in a single Olympics. Gu, who was born in San Francisco but competes for her mother’s homeland of China, has said that she hopes to encourage more Chinese youth – especially girls – to pursue winter sports.
Following her halfpipe victory, Gu admitted she knew her world would be different after her first gold medal in Beijing: “It has been two straight weeks of the most intense highs and lows I’ve ever experienced in my life. It has changed my life forever. The second I landed the last 16 in big air, I knew my life was never going to be the same again.”
Mikaela Shiffrin perseveres despite struggles on hill
Ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympics, U.S. alpine star Mikaela Shiffrin knew her remarkable resume was a double-edged sword: three Olympic medals, 11 world championship podiums, 73 World Cup wins and three overall World Cup titles. With expectations running high, Shiffrin’s journey in Beijing took an unexpected turn early in the Games, when she skied out in the giant slalom and slalom. After finishing ninth in the super-G and 18th in the downhill, she skied out again in the slalom portion of the combined. Her response, however, has been nothing short of champion caliber:
“Get up because you can, because you like what you do when it’s not infested with the people who have so much apparent hate for you,” Shiffrin tweeted after the combined Thursday, calling out some of the online abuse she has received since her first DNF. “Just get up. It’s not always easy, but it’s also not the end of the world to fail. Fail twice. Fail (five) times. At the Olympics.”
Claudia Pechstein proves age is just a number, becomes oldest female Winter Olympian at 49
German speed skater and nine-time Olympic medalist Claudia Pechstein kicked off the first day of Olympic competition in Beijing by breaking a few records despite finishing off the podium. Competing in the women’s 3000m, the 49-year-old Pechstein became both the oldest woman to compete at a Winter Olympics and the second athlete – and only woman – to compete in eight Winter Games.
Pechstein, who turns 50 next week, marked her name next to another record in 2022, tying the Winter Olympics participation record with Japanese ski jumper Noriaki Kasai, who competed at his eighth Games in PyeongChang.
“I am the only woman in the whole world to be at eight Olympic Winter Games,” said Pechstein, who was a flag bearer for Germany at the Opening Ceremony. “The result of today was not so important; it was just to race and to be here. I am super proud.”
Brittany Bowe, Erin Jackson take friendship to Olympic heights … and reap the rewards
Speed skater Brittany Bowe was already enjoying a whirlwind Olympics before she ever hit the ice. At January’s U.S. Olympic Trials, she gave up the spot she earned in the 500m to teammate Erin Jackson. Then, Bowe was also one of two flag bearers for Team USA at the Opening Ceremony, proudly filling in for Meyers Taylor after the bobsled athlete tested positive for COVID-19.
Jackson made good on her Olympic chance, winning gold in the women’s 500m and achieving multiple firsts along the way.
“Words can’t explain how proud I am of her,” Bowe said after Jackson’s victory. “I knew she had the chance to do something really special and she just showed the world why she deserved to be here, and she’s Olympic champion.”
Bowe finally got her own moment in the spotlight when she won speed skating bronze in the women’s 1000m – her first individual Olympic medal. Bowe was already the oldest U.S. woman to win an Olympic speed skating medal, but she extended that record by four years with her bronze at age 33. She also became the oldest U.S. woman to win an individual Olympic speed skating medal, taking the honor from Bonnie Blair who was two weeks shy of 30 when she won 1000m gold in 1994.
Ireen Wuest becomes first athlete to win individual gold at five Olympics
Competing in her fifth Winter Games in Beijing, Dutch speed skater Ireen Wuest won gold in the women’s 1500m (video below). With the victory, Wuest became the first person to win at least one individual gold medal at five Olympics. To be clear, we’re talking any athlete. From any country. In any sport. Summer or winter.
Even Michael Phelps – the most decorated Olympian in history – never did that.
“There’s something magical that gets to me when it comes down to the Games,” Wuest said. “There’s something at the Games that brings out the best in me.”
With the Winter Olympics in the rearview mirror, the 35-year-old has one final speed skating race planned back home, in Heerenveen. “And after that, retirement,” she said.
Chloe Kim wins back-to-back halfpipe gold – and still gets ‘hangry’
Any Southern California “cool” went out the door when 21-year-old American Chloe Kim successfully defended her snowboard halfpipe title in Beijing, becoming the first woman to win two gold medals in women’s halfpipe, an event that debuted in 1998 (video highlight below). She fell to the snow and burst into tears of joy and relief, using her final two runs to continue to push the progression of her sport. She attempted a 1260 during her second run, but sat down just as she was landing, and tried it again on her third run – a victory lap – but fell again.
“I’m in a much better headspace,” Kim said after the win, reminded of the overwhelming and unwanted attention that came with her 2018 gold medal. “I have a much better idea of what to expect and I’m so eager to see my loved ones – my family, my dog, my boyfriend – so I think that will keep me happy and I’m just going to feel all the feelings.”
Those feelings, charmingly, still often revolve around food. After tweeting about her love of churros and being “hangry” before her halfpipe final in 2018, she hit her post-event press conference in Beijing and immediately hit reporters up for snacks: “It’s not a hurry, just thank you.”
Natalie Geisenberger makes history at ‘House of Speed,’ wins third straight Olympic gold in women’s luge
Germany’s Natalie Geisenberger made history at the Winter Olympics’ “House of Speed,” winning her third consecutive gold medal in the women’s luge singles. She leaves Beijing as seven-time Olympic medalist (six gold).
The 34-year-old Geisenberger became first female luge athlete to win three straight and the fourth woman overall to win three consecutive gold medals in an individual event at the Winter Olympics, joining figure skater Sonja Henie of Norway, and speed skaters Bonnie Blair (USA) and Claudia Pechstein of Germany.
But Geisenberger’s greatest takeaway was the fact that she accomplished such feats as a mom to son, Leo, who turns 2 in May: “I’m a five-time Olympic champion, but it is the first time as a mother – it’s just great,” said Geisenberger, who also won singles bronze in 2010, and took a year off to have Leo. “Training was done around my child. I think we did a really pretty good job as a family. To have another gold is just amazing and a very special moment.”
Arianna Fontana becomes most decorated short track skater at Winter Olympics
In the first short track medal event of the 2022 Winter Olympics, Italy’s Arianna Fontana became the most decorated Olympian in short track history.
Competing in the Olympic debut of short track speed skating’s mixed gender relay, Fontana and her Italian teams claimed silver, marking Fontana’s ninth career medal. Before leaving Beijing, the 31-year-old Fontana added another two medals: gold in short track’s 500m (video below) and silver in the 1500m.
Just to reach the Beijing Winter Games, Fontana had to overcome some off-ice turmoil within the Italian short track federation. In July 2020, a disagreement with the federation caused her to relocate to Budapest, Hungary, in order to train alongside the Hungarian national team.
Fontana made her Olympic debut at the 2006 Torino Games, where – at age 15 – she became the Italy’s youngest-ever Olympic Winter Games medalist by claiming bronze in the women’s 3000m relay. (It is a record she still holds.) And it is possible she will compete again in 2026, with the Winter Games being held in the Italian cities of Milan and Cortina.
“It is a dream for now so we’ll see if it will become real or not,” Fontana said. “Before anything there is going to be a long vacation.”
Zoi Sadowski-Synnott wins first ever gold for New Zealand at Winter Olympics
On day two of the 2022 Winter Olympics, New Zealand’s Zoi Sadowski-Synnott threw down a monster run to claim gold in the women’s slopestyle final.
With the victory, Sadowski-Synnott became the first-ever Winter Olympics gold medalist from New Zealand.
“I am super proud of where my snowboarding has come in the last few years and super proud to be Kiwi and show the world what Kiwis are made of,” the 20-year-old Sadowski-Synnott said.
Sadowski-Synnott said she hopes the performance “will inspire young kids – and anyone – to take up snowboard because I think it’s the funnest sport ever.”
Norway’s Marte Olsbu Roeiseland makes Olympic history in biathlon
Norway’s Marte Olsbu Roeiseland had already made history as the first woman to win four biathlon medals at a single Winter Olympics. But on day 14 of the 2022 Winter Olympics, the 31-year-old from Lillehammer added her fifth, a bronze in the 12.5km mass start.
“To be honest, I don’t know how that’s happened,” said Roeiseland, who is competing in her second Olympics. “My goal was to win one gold medal. Now I have three and two bronze. It’s just amazing. I’m really proud.”
Irene Schouten wins trio of Olympic speed skating gold medals
Irene Schouten of the Netherlands emerged as the biggest speed skating star of the 2022 Winter Olympics, winning gold in the women’s 3000m, 5000m, and mass start – along with a bronze in the team pursuit.
“I’m so happy,” Schouten said. “I worked really, really hard. When I was young, I had a dream to have an Olympic gold. Now, to do it three times, it’s amazing.”
Even Schouten’s competitors basked in her success. “It is an honour to be on the podium with her,” Canada’s Ivanie Blondin said after winning mass start silver. “I really respect her as an athlete, and what she has been able to achieve these past two Games is incredible.”
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The NBC Olympics Research team contributed to this report.