Beginning with the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games and Paralympic Winter Games, and moving on to world championships and other major events, U.S. athletes starred on the world stage this year with memorable and historic performances. Here are 14 U.S. women or women’s teams who shined in 2014.
When women’s slopestyle snowboarding made its Olympic debut in Sochi, Russia, Jamie Anderson was more than ready for her golden moment. Anderson’s second run produced a near-perfect score of 95.25 and the gold medal. The moment was indeed special for Anderson, who competed in her first Winter X Games at age 13 and medaled in the X Games at age 15. She was the first to clinch a spot on the Olympic slopestyle snowboarding team. Anderson began her 2014-15 season in December by winning a Dew Tour title in Breckenridge, Colorado.
Competing in a national gymnastics program that is defined by Olympic gold medals, rising star Simone Biles dominated women’s gymnastics internationally in 2014. She won four gold medals at the world championships, pushing her career total to a U.S. record six. Biles is the first U.S. gymnast to win back-to-back all-around world titles. She almost had a fifth gold medal in sight, but she finished runner-up in the vault. A three-time gold medalist at the 2014 P&G Gymnastics Championships, Biles, the Women’s Sports Foundation’s 2014 Sportswoman of the Year, is a clear medal contender at the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games.
In Sochi, ice dancer Meryl Davis claimed her spot in U.S. Olympic history when she became the first U.S. women’s figure skater to grab two Olympic medals in the same Winter Games. She won the ice dancing gold medal with partner Charlie White (the first ice dancing gold in U.S. history), and the two also combined to help the United States win the bronze medal in the inaugural team competition. This came after Davis and White won their sixth national title to qualify for the Winter Games. Davis finished off her memorable year by winning the nationally televised “Dancing with the Stars” competition with Maksim Chmerkovskiy. The Women’s Sports Foundation named Davis its 2014 Sportswoman of the Year for a team-sport athlete.
Erin Hamlin struck a big victory for USA Luge when she won a bronze medal at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games. With her podium finish, Hamlin became the first American to medal in singles luge at an Olympic Games. With that performance, she immediately became a role model. “It gives kids someone to aspire to,” USA Luge marketing and sponsorship director Gordy Sheer told USA Today. Hamlin has continued her success during the 2014-15 season, already winning a silver medal in women’s singles competition, as well as silver medal in the new sprint format.
A 2012 Olympian, Gwen Jorgensen ended 2014 as the world’s top-ranked woman in triathlon. She was the first woman in ITU World Triathlon Series to win five events in one year, pushing her career wins on the circuit to eight. Win or lose, she had the fastest split time in the run in every event. Jorgensen’s victory in the grand final in August in Edmonton, Alberta, earned her the world championship. She was followed in the overall series standings by 2012 Olympic teammate Sarah Groff. Jorgensen was selected as the United States Olympic Committee’s Female Athlete of the Month for both May and June.
After winning a gold medal in her Olympic debut in 2012 in London in the 800-meter freestyle, Katie Ledecky really began to show her brilliant speed in 2014 at the Phillips 66 National Championships and Pan Pacific Championships. She broke the world record in the 400-meter race with a time of 3:58.86 in the national championships and then broke it again in the Pan Pacific Championships. She won four individual gold medals at the Pan Pacs, becoming the first woman to do so, and also broke her own world record in the 1,500 freestyle by nearly six seconds. Plus, she added a gold medal in the 800 freestyle relay as the anchor leg.
After winning a bronze medal in rowing at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, Oksana Masters turned to Nordic skiing and took to it right away. She emerged as a silver medalist at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in the women’s sitting 12-kilometer race, becoming the first American woman to win a medal in cross-country skiing in the Paralympics. She added a bronze medal in the 5-kilometer cross-country race. “I had no idea I was going to be a medal contender at all,” Masters said. Her 2014-15 season began just as impressively as Masters became the first American woman to win an International Paralympic Committee Nordic Skiing World Cup when she won a 1-kilometer sprint race in in December in Finland.
There is not a faster wheelchair racer in the world than four-time Paralympian Tatyana McFadden. She completed her second grand slam of winning the Boston, London, New York City and Chicago marathons in 2014. She has now accomplished the grand slam two consecutive years. A three-time gold medalist at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, McFadden also took to the snow as a Nordic skier in 2014. She won a silver medal in the 1-kilometer sprint race at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games and finished no worse than seventh place in three other events.
Elana Meyers Taylor and Lauryn Williams
Elana Meyers Taylor and Lauryn Williams jumped in an Olympic bobsled together for the first time in late 2013 and delivered a silver medal at the Winter Games in Sochi. They made up a perfect combination. Meyers Taylor also won a bronze medal at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games, but she switched from the back seat to the driver’s seat in Sochi. Williams, a three-time Olympian as a track sprinter and a gold medalist at the London 2012 Olympic Games, had the kind of explosive athletic push on the sled that was hard to beat. Williams jumped into the sport at a rookie camp in August 2013 and quickly finished third at the national push championships. With her silver in Sochi, Williams became the second American (fifth athlete of any nation) to medal at both the summer and winter editions of the Olympic Games. Meyers Taylor’s road to success continued in late 2014 as she became the first U.S. woman to compete in a four-person sled. She qualified No. 3 at the national championships, went through a series of qualifying races required by the international federation and will make her four-person world cup debut in December in Calgary, Alberta.
Snowboarding made its Paralympic debut in 2014 in Sochi, and Amy Purdy was one of the reasons. She was a leader in helping to influence officials to include para-snowboarding at both the Paralympic Winter Games and Winter X Games, and founded the nonprofit Adaptive Action Sports in Colorado. She became one of the best adaptive snowboarders in the world after losing her legs to bacterial meningitis at age 19. Her Paralympic dream came alive in Sochi when she won a bronze medal in snowboard cross. She followed that up with “Dancing with the Stars,” in which she became the first U.S. Paralympian to compete on the show and finished second with partner Derek Hough. “Everything that has happened because of the Paralympics has been incredible,” Purdy said.
Claressa Shields, who won a gold medal in the first Olympic women’s boxing competition in 2012 in London, continued her championship march with a world title in 2014. She defeated China’s Qian Li by unanimous decision at the world championships in November in Korea. Shields, an Olympic champion at age 17 two years ago, was named most outstanding boxer at the world championships. She won her first bout of the tournament in 11 seconds, beating Uganda’s Hellen Baleke. Shields also won her first senior national championship in 2014. Even after the London Games, in 2013, she was competing in the youth division.
At 18 years old, Mikaela Shiffrin took the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games by storm. She became the youngest slalom champion in Olympic history when she won the event in Sochi. She also placed fifth in the Olympic giant slalom. Her championship run in Sochi was just a piece of her banner season in 2014. She won a second straight world cup title in slalom, totaling five wins on the world cup circuit, in addition to scoring her first giant slalom world cup win in October 2014. With the world championships coming in February to her hometown of Vail, Colorado, 2015 is shaping up as another promising year for Shiffrin. “I can’t wait to get back in February for the world championships,” she said. “It’s going to be big and special, like a mini Olympics — I’m really excited to be a part of it.”
U.S. Women's Basketball Team
The U.S. women’s basketball team won its record ninth FIBA world championship with a 6-0 record. It was the second consecutive world title for Team USA, which was coached by the University of Connecticut’s Geno Auriemma. The road to the championship included 75-point win over Angola in the preliminary round. Maya Moore of the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx was named MVP. Sue Bird of the Seattle Storm became the most decorated player in FIBA World Championship history, male or female, by winning her third gold medal and fourth overall world championship medal. She also won gold in 2002 and 2010, and a bronze medal in 2006. Bird also has three Olympic gold medals,as does teammate Diana Taurasi. Other members of the squad: Seimone Augustus, Tina Charles, Candice Dupree, Brittney Griner, Angel McCoughtry, Nnemkadi Ogwumike, Odyssey Sims, Breanna Stewart and Lindsay Whalen. The win qualified Team USA for a spot at the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games.
U.S. Women's Volleyball Team
The first world championship was sweet. The USA Volleyball women’s national team made history when it won the 2014 FIVB world championship in October, defeating China, 27-25, 25-20, 16-25, 26-24. The U.S. women had never won a world title (world championship, FIVB World Cup or Olympic Games) following a run of second-place finishes to Brazil at the Olympic Games. “I feel ecstatic and happy and just cannot believe it is real,” said U.S. star Kim Hill, who was named tournament MVP. Alisha Glass was named best setter of the tournament. Team USA won nine of 11 matches in the championship, losing only to Brazil in the second round and Italy in the third round. “We came here to make history and we made it,” said coach Karch Kiraly. Other members of the team: Christa Dietzen, Foluke Akinradewo, Kelly Murphy, Jordan Larson-Burbach, Kayla Banwarth, Courtney Thompson, Nicole Davis, Kristin Hildebrand, Nicole Fawcett, Kelsey Robinson, Tori Dixon, Rachael Adams.
Paul D. Bowker has been writing about Olympic sports since 1990 and was Olympic assistant bureau chief for Morris Communications at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games. He also writes about Olympic sports for the Springfield (Mass.) Republican. Bowker has written for TeamUSA.org since 2010 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.