Throughout the history of the Winter Olympics, the struggle has been in having too many events competing for inclusion, and not enough time. And often, it has been women who got shafted on having their events included. It's the world's loss because, as these incredible Olympic moments prove, women are often the stars of the show. On a light dig through the annals of sporting history, we found eight times women outshone men in the Winter Olympics without breaking a sweat. As the saying goes, Ginger Rogers had to do it "backwards and in heels," and for female winter athletes, often just getting onto the playing field requires doing it backwards in a sparkly unitard.
The strength and skill of female athletes is often underestimated because the presentation is feminine — this is certainly true of figure skating, where women have landed triple-axels in competition (precious few male athletes have landed a quad). However, the feat has not yet been achieved at an Olympics. America's Mirai Nagasu intends to land a triple-axel at the PyeongChang Olympics, and if she does so, you had better believe that we will be able to talk about little else. Until four years ago, there was no women's ski jumping in the Olympics (female ski jumpers are still campaigning to have large-hill and Nordic combined events added); skeleton was added in 2002 with a doubles event that featured some male/female teams; but as recent as 1988, when 165 of 237 events were male-only, and 72 were female or mixed, female Nordic skiers were left out in the cold while men were given swaths of the mountain to do stuff like this:
This is to say that women are responsible for some the all-time great Olympics moments, and the fight for event parity needs to be fought — at the PyeongChang Games, women make up 43 percent of the field, per The Guardian. Women's events are often shorter than the men's events (as in cross country, speed-skating, and Nordic jumping).
Until then, let's roll the highlights.
Women Compete In Nordic Jumping For The First Time At An Olympics, Sochi, 2014
Led by the pint-size Lindsey Van of Park City, UT, America's "Fly Girls" lived out their dream to have their event included in the Olympics after years of campaigning. Many events have a history of gender exclusion (the reasoning is generally "but their bodies can't handle it!"), but there was something particularly stirring about seeing tough female athletes go soaring off the K-90 and fly the length of a football field, uteruses intact. As Van told the Washington Post, "I've had people ask me had my uterus fallen out yet. I heard that multiple times; it was comical. And embarrassing — not so much for me but for whoever said it."
Men also competed in nordic jumping in Sochi, but it was old news.
Debi Thomas Wears Unitard To Free-Skate; Unitards Are Subsequently Banned, Calgary, 1988
Look, not only did Debi Thomas have the vision to pre-empt women of means striding the world in 2018 in an assortment of rompers, jumpsuits, and leotards, she did it in 1988, back when it was a super punk thing to do on the rink. And she did it with jazz hands.
Following the debut of her glorious black unitard in the short program, the IOC banned unitards for women until 2006, per Cosmopolitan. In fact men cannot wear them either (they must wear a "tapered pant").
Lindsey Vonn Comes Back From Injury To Win Gold In The Women's Downhill, Vancouver, 2010
The two giants of Team USA in Vancouver were skiers Lindsey Vonn and Bode Miller.
After attracting criticism for telling 60 Minutes that "if you ever tried to ski wasted, it's not easy" ahead of the Turin Olympics four years earlier, then washing out in his five events, Miller went into Vancouver somewhat more focused, taking away an impressive gold medal haul, and winning the men's downhill combined.
But after so many second chances, it was hard to look past Vonn, who had simply been a fearless and devoted skier throughout her career, and didn't have to "mature" to realize her goals.
Madge Syers Wins Gold at 1908 Olympics After Becoming First Female Figure Skater
Famous for deciding "that looks good I'd like a piece of that," Madge Cave Syers was the first female to enter the ice-skating World Championships, in 1902, after realizing the rules didn't prohibit women from competing, per Brittanica. Coached by her husband Edgar Syers, she entered the first Winter Olympics to include women's figure skating in 1908, and took the gold. She also won bronze with her husband in the pair skate, but whatever. GOLD. The first women's ice skating gold.
Australian Alisa Camplin Wins Gold In Women's Aerials, Salt Lake City, 2002
Island of red dirt in the southern ocean, Australia, had not ever won an Olympic gold medal coming into the Salt Lake games. Then speed skater Stephen Bradbury won the men's 400-meter speed skate final, ahead of favorite Apollo Ohno, after a fall took out most of the field.
Bradbury's historic medal was eclipsed 48 hours later, though, when little-known aerial jumper Alisa Camplin took gold at Deer Valley ski resort in two bold jumps, and became an overnight darling of the winter sports scene.
Nancy Kerrigan Wins Silver After Attack, Lillehammer, 1994
What men's program?
The Lillehammer Olympics came just months after the infamous attack on Nancy Kerrigan. Jeff Gillooly, ex-husband of fellow competitor and rival Tonya Harding, was later found guilty of "racketeeting" for the attack on Kerrigan; the judge identified him as the "driving force" behind the plot, according to the New York Times.
Harding competed at the games, but it was Kerrigan who made it to the podium, winning the silver. The spectacle launched ice-skating into the spotlight, though Kerrigan maintained that she wanted to be defined by her achievements on the ice, and not the attack, per the Times. Ten years later she was inducted into the Hall of Fame.
The U.S. Women's Hockey Team Take Gold While The Men's Team Flounders, Nagano, 1998
It was about time women's ice hockey got its moment in the (polar) sun in Nagano, Japan, back in 1998, and the U.S. women's team did not disappoint, delivering a gutsy win. The goal was basically "beat the Canadians," and would you believe, they did it!
Skeleton Returns To The Games, & U.S. Women Top The Podium, Salt Lake City, 2002
Bucking the trend of women's events being added well after men's events, and only due to intense campaigning, skeleton was added to the program at the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002, having been absent since 1948.
At the time, much fuss was made of the seemingly fearless descent the athletes made on each run, flying headfirst down the track on a tiny sled. The presence of a mixed field of athletes cemented the ambition of female skeleton racers in minds of fans who were just discovering the sport and, in the end, the U.S. women out-medaled the men, with Tristan Gale and Lea Ann Parsley claiming a gold and silver, respectively, to Jim Shea Jr.'s gold.
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