Getty Images

Honoring 25 influential female Olympians on International Women’s Day

Leave a comment

In honor of International Women’s Day, a look at 25 of the most influential female Olympians for their work at the Games and beyond:

Joan Benoit Samuelson, U.S.: Winner of the first Olympic women’s marathon in 1984 continues to run swiftly to this day. She has said a goal is to clock a sub-three-hour marathon after she turns 60 years old in May.

Fanny Blankers-Koen, Netherlands: “The Flying Housewife” won four gold medals at the 1948 London Olympics, when the mother of two also held the world records in the high jump and long jump, two events in which she didn’t compete at those Games. Named the female athlete of the century by track and field’s international governing body.

Babe Didrikson Zaharias, U.S.: Considered by many the greatest all-around female athlete of all time due to her success in basketball, golf and track and field. Won medals in 80m hurdles (gold), javelin (gold) and high jump (silver) at the 1932 Los Angeles Games. Voted by The Associated Press as the Woman Athlete of the 20th Century.

Halet Cambel, Turkey: A fencer, the first Muslim woman to compete in the Olympics. Cambel reportedly refused an invitation to meet Adolf Hitler while competing at the 1936 Berlin Games.

Alice Coachman, U.S.: The first black woman to win an Olympic gold medal, in the high jump at the 1948 London Games. She returned home to a segregated victory ceremony, with blacks and whites on separate sides of the building. The white mayor would not shake her hand.

Nadia Comaneci, Romania: The star of the 1976 Montreal Olympics, earning five medals, including all-around gold and the first Olympic perfect 10 at age 14. Defected to the U.S. in 1989, married U.S. Olympic champion Bart Conner and continues to promote gymnastics and charities around the world.

Anita DeFrantz, U.S.: Captain of the 1976 U.S. Olympic women’s eight rowing team that took bronze. An IOC member since 1986, she became the first IOC female vice president in 1997.

Donna de Varona, U.S.: Made her first Olympic team at age 13 in 1960 and earned three gold medals overall. In 1965, she became the youngest and the first woman sportscaster on network television, eventually earning Emmy Awards for her work. Her many honors included being the first president of the Women’s Sports Foundation.

Nawal El Moutawakel, Morocco: Became the first female Olympic champion from an Islamic nation when she captured the first women’s 400m hurdles crown at Los Angeles 1984. An IOC member since 1998.

Cathy Freeman, Australia: The face of the 2000 Sydney Olympics, lighting the cauldron at the Opening Ceremony and then winning 400m gold and carrying both the Australian and Aboriginal flags on her victory lap.

Mia Hamm, U.S.: Most accomplished U.S. soccer player in history. Led the U.S. to Olympic gold in 1996 and 2004 and silver in 2000 in the first three Olympic women’s soccer tournaments. Also won the 1999 Women’s World Cup.

Sonja Henie, Norway: Debuted at the first Winter Olympics in 1924, finishing last at age 11. Then won three straight Olympic singles figure skating titles, a feat no woman has repeated. Henie then became a Hollywood film star while still, decades after she retired, looked as the epitome of women’s skating.

Nancy Hogshead-Makar, U.S.: Three-time swimming gold medalist at the 1984 Los Angeles Games. In retirement, became president of the Women’s Sports Foundation and a lawyer, advocating for gender equity in sports.

Yuna Kim, South Korea: Perhaps the most popular athlete in her country’s history. Kim skated at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics with the weight of a nation on her shoulders and took gold in record-setting fashion. She has become an ambassador for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, where she should play an important role.

Olga Korbut, Belarus: “The Sparrow from Minsk” or “The Elf from Grodno” was arguably gymnastics’ first worldwide superstar, earning a combined four golds and two silvers at the 1972 and 1976 Olympics.

Yusra Mardini, Syria: Swam in Rio about one year after swimming for her life for three hours in the Aegean Sea while fleeing Damascus for Europe. She was one of 10 athletes on the first Refugee Olympic Team.

Pat McCormick, U.S.: Swept the diving events at the 1952 and 1956 Olympics, doing so the second time after the birth of her son earlier that year. In retirement, she traveled the world with fellow Olympic champions like Jesse Owens, modeled, earned college and nursing degrees and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, according to TeamUSA.org.

Martina Navratilova, U.S.: Competed in one Olympics, in doubles at age 47 at Athens 2004, 23 years after gaining U.S. citizenship. In her heyday, Navratilova eschewed Olympic tennis’ debut in 1988, saying sponsorship rules made star pros treated like children. An influential athlete voice, activist and charitable supporter for the last three decades.

Wilma Rudolph, U.S.: The 20th of 22 children, Rudolph contracted polio as an infant but overcame doctors’ predictions that she would never walk to become one of the greatest sprinters in history. She swept the 100m and 200m at Rome 1960 and in retirement was devoted to coaching and working with underprivileged children.

Beckie Scott, Canada: Upgraded from 2002 Olympic cross-country skiing bronze to gold in 2002, after the top two from Russia failed drug tests. In retirement, has been an influential voice in clean sport, chairing the World Anti-Doping Agency’s athletes’ committee.

Rafaela Silva, Brazil: Judoka won Brazil’s first gold medal at the Rio Olympics. Silva grew up in Rio’s most famously violent favela, Cidade de Deus (“City of God”).

Pat Summitt, U.S.: The first person to play for and coach U.S. Olympic basketball teams, earning silver at the 1976 Olympics, the first with women’s basketball, and then coaching the 1984 team to gold. Summitt is best known for her 38 seasons coaching Tennessee, with 18 Final Fours and eight national titles. A Tennessee player has been on every U.S. Olympic women’s basketball team.

Hayley Wickenheiser, Canada: Greatest female hockey player of all time. Played in the first five Olympic women’s tournaments, taking four gold medals and one silver. Also played on the 2000 Canadian Olympic softball team. The number of registered female hockey players in Canada went from 16,000 in her first year on the national team to almost 87,000 now, boosted in part due to her efforts, such as the annual hockey festival Wickfest.

Venus and Serena Williams, U.S.: The iconic siblings have defined their sport, and have been role models for female athletes in all sports, for nearly 20 years. Each won Olympic singles gold, and they have teamed for three Olympic doubles titles.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: One year out: PyeongChang Olympic storylines

Special thanks to Olympic historian Bill Mallon of OlympStats.com for his contribution.

Nathan Chen defends world title, defeating Yuzuru Hanyu at World Championships

Leave a comment

Nathan Chen is now the first U.S. man to win back-to-back World titles since Scott Hamilton did so four times, from 1981-1984. He defeated two-time world champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan in their first head-to-head competition since the PyeongChang Olympics on Saturday in Saitama, Japan.

Performing to “Land of All” by Woodkid, Chen landed four quadruple jumps and scored 216.02 points in the free skate, a new highest score in the world this season. His free skate, 323.02 points, was also the highest score in the world this season. The Yale University freshman extended his 10.59-point lead from the short program to 22.05 points to claim his second consecutive World gold medal. He heads back to class next week, after spending his spring break at this competition.

“It’s breathtaking to be in this arena. Thank you so much for being loud and carrying me through my program,” Chen told the Saitama crowd.

“I’m glad I was able to put out two strong skates both here and last year and I hope to be able to compete against Yuzuru further in the future,” Chen continued later in the press conference. “Every time Yuzu skates, he does something amazing and incredible and it’s just a huge honor to be able to skate with him, skate after him, especially knowing that how he sets the bar. It’s great to be able to follow that.”

Skating after Hanyu wasn’t an unfamiliar situation for Chen, he told reporters in a press conference following Thursday’s short program.

“It’s not my first time skating after him,” he said. “The raining of the Pooh bears is actually a pretty amazing sight to see. Knowing that fact, it’s something that I can prepare myself for — it’s not even something I have to prepare myself for. It’s an amazing thing. It’s amazing to see the fans love us, care for us and do all this to hypothetically make us happy. That’s such a great feeling.”

Two-time Olympic gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu told reporters he was 100 percent, recovering from a lingering ankle injury, and he proved it. Skating at home, at the site of his first of two world titles, he was third after the short program but rallied to score 206.10 points in the free skate and 300.97 points overall. His Origin (“Art on Ice”) by Edvin Marton free skate earned him the silver medal. Afterward, his fans covered the ice with stuffed Pooh bears, as has become tradition for whenever Hanyu takes the ice.

“I was thinking about Plushenko when skating this program, because I am somehow lending it from him, and I feel that I have done what I could in this free program,” Hanyu said, referencing four-time Olympic medalist Yevgeny Plushenko of Russia. “But I lost, that is about it. To tell the truth, it is like death to me. I really want to win.

“When I was going through my rehabilitation, I watched the American Nationals where Nathan Chen was performing,” Hanyu continued. “I am a really competitive person, and I want to compete with a strong opponent. I respect Nathan in this sense. Now I will have enough time until the next season, and I will try not to get injured and do my best to get stronger.”

Vincent Zhou performed to the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon soundtrack, skating first in the final flight of skaters. He was called for two under-rotations — on his quad toe and the triple flip in his triple Lutz, Euler, triple flip combination — to score a season’s best free skate (186.99) and a season’s best total score (281.16). Zhou had his best-ever World Championships finish, claiming the bronze medal.

“I had a good Nationals and Four Continents and used the momentum to build and build, and finally, I was able to put out two great performances in the same competition, here at Worlds,” Zhou said. “I really couldn’t be happier to do what I did here.”

The last time the U.S. put two men on a World Championship podium was 1996, when Todd Eldredge won gold and Rudy Galindo claimed the bronze in Edmonton, Canada.

The third U.S. man in the field, Jason Brown, fell from second after the short program to ninth overall with a 157.34 point free skate and a total overall score of 254.15 points. He skated to a Simon & Garfunkel medley.

For Brown, skating last and closing out the competition was a little less familiar from a logistics standpoint, he said in the post-short program press conference. Once he found out the draw, he texted coaches Brian Orser and Tracy Wilson to figure out how it would work — as he shares those coaches with Hanyu.

“I feel great, it is not the performance that I had wanted, but I am so proud of the fight that I put out there, the growth that I made this year,” Brown said. “Also I am so proud at my teammates. It feels amazing to perform here, I love the Japanese crowd, I love the feeling of performing out on that ice, especially in Japan.”

Full results are here.

Shoma Uno, January’s Four Continents gold medalist, likely buckled under the immense pressure of a home World Championships. He stepped out of both of his first two quad jumps in his program, both of which were called under-rotated. He managed 178.92 points in his Moonlight Sonata free skate for a total overall score of 270.32 points. His medal streak (silver 2017-18) snapped in Saitama and he finished in fourth place.

“I really admire Yuzuru Hanyu who always seeks for high scores and good results, which made me realize I am still immature,” Uno said. “Overall I am still disappointed in myself. I need to become mentally much stronger. I want to skate better next year so that when I look back this World in the future, this would be a good lesson for my skating career.”

MORE: How to watch the World Figure Skating Championships | Sui Wenjing, Han Cong recapture world pair titleAlina Zagitova wins first world title | Papadakis, Cizeron win fourth world title; Hubbell, Donohue land on podium

As a reminder, you can watch the world championships live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Papadakis, Cizeron win fourth world title; Hubbell, Donohue land on podium

Leave a comment

France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron captured their fourth World Championship ice dance title on Saturday in Saitama, Japan.

Skating to selections from Rachael Yamagata, Papadakis and Cizeron scored a season’s best 134.23 points in the free skate for a total score of 222.65 points. They extended their short program lead over the field to 10.89 points. They now join six other ice dance teams in winning four World Championship titles; no team has one five, but one team has won six titles.

The last time the World Championships were held in Saitama, in 2014, Papadakis and Cizeron made their event debut and finished 13th. In the years to come, they went on to win three more titles: 2015, 2016, and 2018.

“We were exactly here five years ago for the World Championships in Saitama,” Papadakis recalled. “It’s funny to remember the whole experience we gained from those five years and where we were at that time, and where we are now. It’s incredible. We are just very, very proud of us.”

Viktoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov scored a season’s best 127.82 in their free dance for a total score of 211.76. They won their first World Championship medal, a silver, marking Russia’s first world ice dance medal since 2013. Their teammates, Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin finished fourth with 208.52 points.

Two-time U.S. champions Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue scored a season’s best 127.31 in their “Romeo and Juliet” free dance which included all Level 4 elements. They notched a total score of 210.40 and the bronze medal. They won their first World medal, a silver, in 2018.

“We feel like we put our strongest performance this season here at Worlds, and that was our goal,” Hubbell said. “Our goal was to do our best performance and the rest we can’t control, that was really what we have achieved. Next season we would love to be competing for the top of the podium. We think that Team USA is incredibly strong in ice dance, so it keeps us on our toes. We would love to be the number one team heading into the Beijing Games [in 2022], and going to bring the gold home for Team USA — that is really the plan.”

Full results are here.

Canada’s Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje skated a tribute to their late friend and two-time world medalist Denis Ten of Kazakhstan.

Their free skate earned 122.78 points and all of their elements were called Level 4, except for Weaver’s twizzles, which earned a Level 2. They scored a total of 205.62 points and finished in fifth place. Notably, Weaver and Poje have been inside the Worlds top five for the past nine years, including a silver in 2014 and two bronzes (2015, 2018).

“When the tragedy struck, we knew our mission in this program was to do it for Denis,” Weaver told NBCSports.com/figure-skating earlier this season.

Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates moved to Montreal for a new start this season and spent nearly 10 months away from competition before returning in January. The Four Continents gold medalists earned Level 3 on their one-foot step sequence and Level 4s on the rest of their elements in Saitama for a free skate score of 122.60 and an overall score of 204.92 points. They finished in sixth place.

“It feels so good that our best performance of the season happened here, on the World Championships,” Chock said afterwards. “Now we are going to go on with our next season, but firstly enjoy our vacation.”

“I think it is our favorite free dance that we have ever had, and it is really our tempo, especially the last piece of music. It is very audience-friendly,” Bates added, confirming it’s the last time they will compete the Elvis medley.

In what has been a personal storytelling vehicle for them this season, Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker‘s free dance to The Irrespressibles earned 113.16 points for an overall score of 189.06. Their ninth place at the World Championships caps their best season ever. At last year’s Worlds, they finished 10th and then moved to Montreal for a new training environment.

“It was a really great Worlds experience for us,” Hawayek told media. “It’s always such a pleasure to be in Japan and just continue to put out memorable performances for everyone and I think we set out with a goal of doing just that, and we are very happy to feel like we did that. We feel like we put out two solid and emotionally connected, memorable performances.”

World ice dance champions title leader board:

6 titles: Lyudmila Pakhomova/ Alexandr Gorshkov (Soviet Union; 1970-74, 1976)

4 titles: Jean Westwood/ Lawrence Demmy (Great Britain, 1952-56); Eva Romanova/ Pavel Roman (Czech Republic, 1962-65); Diane Towler/ Bernard Ford (Great Britain, 1966-69); Jayne Torvill/ Christopher Dean (Great Britain, 1981-84); Natalia Bestemianova/ Andrei Bukin (Soviet Union, 1985-88); Oksana Grishuk/ Yevgeni Platov (Russia, 1994-97); Gabriella Papadakis/ Guillaume Cizeron (France, 2015-16, 2018-19)

MORE: How to watch the World Figure Skating Championships | Sui Wenjing, Han Cong recapture world pair title | Nathan Chen, Jason Brown in first and second after men’s short | Alina Zagitova wins first world title | Nathan Chen defends world title, defeating Yuzuru Hanyu at World Championships

As a reminder, you can watch the world championships live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!