There were so many incredible athletic performances by American women in 2016 that it was difficult to narrow it down to the very best. American women — including one teenager not yet old enough to drive — provided some of the biggest thrills in winter sports, and for the second Olympic Games in a row American women took home the majority of U.S. medals in Rio.
In all, the U.S. women took home 61 medals compared to 55 for the men, with another five in mixed events. Women won 27 of the United States’ 46 gold medals in Rio. It was also the second Olympics in a row that U.S. women (291) outnumbered men (263) at the Games.
Here’s a look at the top 16 women from 2016.
Simone Biles, Gymnastics
This was supposed to be Simone Biles’ big year, and she surely didn’t disappoint. In June, Biles won her fourth consecutive national all-around gymnastics title, which had only been done twice before in U.S. women’s history, and she did so with a 3.9 lead over second-place Aly Raisman. At the Olympic Trials she led the all-around again despite a few uncharacteristic mistakes, and then it was finally her time to shine in Rio. Biles and the “Final Five” started by winning the team gold, then over the next several days of competition, Biles won gold medals in the all-around, floor exercise and vault and added a bronze medal on balance beam. Her four gold medals set an American record for the most in women’s gymnastics at a single Olympic Games.
Brittany Bowe, Speedskating
After a season of back-and-forth competition with teammate Heather Bergsma, Brittany Bowe won the ISU Speed Skating Grand World Cup for overall excellence at the end of the 2015-16 season. At the final two world cup stops of the season, she earned a whopping five gold medals – two in the 500-meter, two in the 1,000-meter, plus one at 1,500, as well as silver at 1,000 and 1,500. Bowe also became the first American woman since Bonnie Blair in 1994-95 to win consecutive World Sprint Championships and added another three medals at the World Single Distances Championships – silver in the 500 and bronzes in the 1,000 and 1,500. While recovering from a concussion suffered during summer training, Bowe missed the first three world cups of the 2016-17 season but earned bronze in the 1,000-meter in her return in Heerenveen, Netherlands.
Michelle Carter, Track and Field
Before she even got to Rio, Michelle Carter had already set one new American shot put record when she won gold at the World Indoor Championships. With a throw of 66 feet, 3 ¾ inches, she set a new U.S. indoor record, held previously by Jillian Camarena-Williams, and became the first American woman to ever win gold at the event. Then in Rio, Carter broke her own outdoor American record when her sixth and final throw of Olympic competition traveled 67 feet, 8 ¼ inches. She is the first American woman to win Olympic gold in shot put and just the second American woman to medal in the event at the Games. Carter was named USA Track & Field’s Female Athlete of the Year.
Kayla Harrison, Judo
Kayla Harrison put the final touch on a judo career that rivals any other American woman in the sport’s history when she won her second consecutive Olympic gold medal in Rio. She won all four bouts by ippon, which is similar to a knockout in boxing, and needed fewer than two minutes to win three of those bouts. She became the first American woman and just the second American overall to win two Olympic medals in judo, and the only one to win two gold medals. Earlier in the year, Harrison won gold in the 78 kg. at the Grand Prix Budapest, silver at the Grand Slam Paris and bronze at the Grand Prix Havana, plus defended her World Judo Masters title. She announced her retirement from the sport after the Games and recently signed on to compete in mixed martial arts in the World Series of Fighting.
Gwen Jorgensen, Triathlon
Gwen Jorgensen captured the United States’ first Olympic gold medal in triathlon when she overtook the defending Olympic champion on the run segment of the race to win by 40 seconds with a time of 1:56:16. Jorgensen was heavily favored going into the Games as the two-time world champion. Just over two months after the Rio, Jorgensen made her marathon debut at the New York City Marathon and finished 14th overall with a time of 2:41:01. She also placed third overall at the U.S. 10-Mile Championship in Minneapolis with a time of 53:13. Other highlights for Jorgensen in 2016 included helping the United States win its first world title at the ITU Triathlon Mixed Relay World Championships and her 16th and 17th World Triathlon Series wins at Yokohama, Japan, and Leeds, England. She also won a world cup in New Plymouth, New Zealand, and was second at World Triathlon Gold Coast and third at World Triathlon Hamburg.
Chloe Kim, Snowboarding
Now 16, the youngest member of the U.S. Snowboard Pro Team firmly established herself as a force to be reckoned with during a stretch last winter that saw her win five gold medals in five weeks. At the Park City Grand Prix, she became the first woman to land back-to-back 1080s in competition and score a perfect 100. She then won gold in both the halfpipe and slopestyle events at the Lillehammer 2016 Winter Youth Olympic Games, where she was chosen as Team USA’s Opening Ceremony flag bearer, then won her second consecutive X Games Aspen gold medal in the halfpipe competition and became the first X Games athlete to win two gold medals before the age of 16. The next week, at the X Games Oslo she again landed back-to-back 1080s to score 98 out of 100, the highest score in the history of the event, and win another gold medal. Kim started her 2016-17 season with a win at the U.S. Grand Prix in Copper Mountain, Colorado.
Katie Ledecky, Swimming
In Rio, perhaps no athlete made winning look easier than Katie Ledecky. Swimming against the world’s best, she won by incredible margins and became the first woman since Debbie Meyer in 1968 to win three individual freestyle gold medals in sweeping the 200-, 400- and 800-meter. She set two world records in her individual swims and also added a gold in the 4x200 free and silver in the 4x100. USA Swimming’s Female Athlete of the Year and Team USA’s Female Athlete of the Olympic Games is now crushing NCAA records in her freshman year at Stanford. Back in November, days after she won a 1,000-yard race by 35 seconds, she set a new collegiate record and broke her own American record in the 1,650-yard freestyle event at Ohio State and won the race by a full minute.
Helen Maroulis, Wrestling
Even with three world medals and a 2015 world title entering the Olympic Games, Helen Maroulis was still an underdog against three-time Olympic champion Saori Icho, of Japan, in the gold-medal match at 53 kg. Maroulis had defeated the eighth-, fifth-, fourth- and second-ranked wrestlers in the world in Rio leading up to the gold-medal match against the legendary Icho, who had an astounding 13 world championship titles to her name. The 24-year-old dethroned the reigning champion 4-1 to become the United States’ first female Olympic wrestling champion and extended her senior level winning streak to 63 matches going back to September 2014. Earlier in 2016 she earned her qualification for the Games with a gold at the 1st Olympic Games World Qualifying Tournament in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.
Tatyana McFadden, Paralympic Track and Field
Tatyana McFadden added to her already impressive medal haul in wheelchair racing at this year’s Paralympic Games with four gold medals (400-, 800-, 1,500-, 5,000-meter) and two silver medals (100, marathon). Despite barely missing out on marathon gold in a photo finish in her final 2016 Paralympic event, McFadden bounced back to win her sixth straight Chicago Marathon in October and in November won in New York City to sweep the four major marathons (Boston, London, Chicago and New York) for the fourth year in a row. McFadden also won the International Paralympic Committee’s Whang Youn Dai Achievement Award, which honors the athletes who best exemplify the spirit and values of the Paralympic Games and was named Team USA’s Female Athlete of the Paralympic Games. She has now won a total of 17 medals over five Paralympic Games, four summer and one winter.
Becca Meyers, Paralympic Swimming
After winning four events at the Paralympic Trials, two-time Paralympic swimmer Becca Meyers went home from Rio with three gold medals (100 fly, 200 IM, 400 free) and one silver (100 free) and set a few world records along the way. She finished the 400 free in 4:19:59 to break her own world record and won that race by five seconds. Her 100 fly performance of 1:03.25 beat the former mark of 1:04.98, held by Muslima Odilova of Uzbekistan, and she also set the new world mark of 2:24.66 in the 200 IM. Her results in all four races she medaled in were personal bests. In February, the junior history major at Franklin & Marshall College broke pool, meet and conference records at the Centennial Conference Championships and in the spring, she was named to the NCAA Division III All-America team for finishing sixth in the 1,650-yard freestyle.
Ibtihaj Muhammad, Fencing
Ibtihaj Muhammad made history when she became the first American to wear a hijab during Olympic competition, but the fencer’s year was about more than that. She won medals at two of the first three world cups in the 2015-16 season and was ranked second in the United States in points, and her bronze at the Athens world cup in January solidified her spot on the Olympic team. Although Muhammad, who is currently ranked No. 7 in the world, did not win an individual medal in Rio, she was part of the four-person team that won bronze in women’s team saber.
Aly Raisman, Gymnastics
At an age where most female gymnasts are considered past their prime, Aly Raisman, 22, hinted at her readiness for a second Olympic run when she helped the U.S. women win the Jesolo Trophy and the Pacific Rim Championships, and then won the all-around title at the Secret Classic in the beginning of June for her first all-around victory since the 2012 Secret Classic. At the national championships, she proved that she was not only capable of being the team’s veteran leader but also reaching the podium with a second-place all-around finish and second on balance beam and floor. After another strong showing and third-place finish at the Olympic Trials, Raisman not only helped the “Final Five” win gold in the team competition but also won silver in the all-around, an emotional moment after finishing fourth in London when a tie-break procedure saw the bronze medal go to another gymnast. She added a sixth Olympic medal to go along with her three from London when she won silver in the floor exercise, making her the second-most-decorated U.S. Olympic gymnast (one medal short of Shannon Miller).
Kim Rhode, Shooting
Kim Rhode became the youngest Olympic shooting champion ever in Atlanta at the age of 17, and this summer she became the first athlete to win a medal in six straight summer Games and first female athlete to medal in six straight Games (an Italian luger has done it in the Winter Games) when she won the bronze medal in skeet. Rhode had to get to the bronze-medal match via shoot-off, and it took another shoot-off to secure the medal against China’s Wei Meng. In addition to her Olympic medal, Rhode also won silver and bronze world cup medals before capturing gold at the World Cup Final. Rhode won USA Shooting’s 2016 top discipline honors in shotgun and has already said that she plans to try for Tokyo in 2020 and possibly beyond.
Claressa Shields, Boxing
Claressa Shields made history in Rio when she became the only American boxer to win back-to-back Olympic gold medals. Her win in the middleweight division came by unanimous decision as Shields wrapped up her amateur career with a 77-1 record and two world titles – the second of which came in 2016 – in addition to her two Olympic gold medals. Her sole loss came in 2012 at the age of 17 at the world championships, prior to London. The most decorated woman in U.S. boxing history made her professional debut in mid-November and defeated another former member of USA Boxing, Franchon Crews, by unanimous decision. She was named the Women’s Sports Foundation Sportswoman of the Year in the individual category.
Women's Ice Hockey Team
In May, the U.S women’s ice hockey team defeated archrival Canada on their home ice in overtime to win gold in the IIHF Women’s World Championship for the third time in a row and the seventh time in the last nine competitions. The biggest rivalry in the sport, it was the 17th straight meeting between the two nations in the world championship final in 17 world championships. Shortly after the tournament, the world rankings were released with Team USA surpassing Canada for the top spot. Then in November Team USA once again bested Canada in the final game of the Four Nations Cup, held in Finland, to win its second tournament title in a row, seventh overall and fourth in the last six years. Nine players had at least one point in the gold-medal game. The women won Team USA’s Best of November award based on their performance in the tournament.
Women's Water Polo Team
For as long as there has been women’s water polo in the Olympic Games, the U.S. team has found a place on the podium. In Rio, the Americans became the first women’s team to win back-to-back gold medals with a win over Italy. With two golds, two silvers and one bronze medal, Team USA is the only women’s water polo team to medal in every Olympic Games. The Americans went undefeated in the tournament, trailed for just 44 seconds the entire time and outscored their six opponents by a total of 73-32. Earlier in the summer, Team USA beat Spain to win gold at the 2016 FINA Women’s World League Super Final for the third year in a row. The team has now won gold in 10 out of 13 tournaments. Team USA also won the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in the Netherlands in March.