There were records and firsts, confirmations of dominance and jaw-dropping comebacks and come-from-behind victories. For the women of Team USA, 2017 was a year of unbridled success. From the breakout champion of the US Open to a pair of Paralympians who underlined their status as among of the greatest of all time in their sports, here are 17 of the brightest stars of the year:
Heather Bergsma, Long Track Speedskating
Bergsma, a former inline speedskater, has come a long way from her wobbly beginnings in the sport, which once led a coach to liken her to “Bambi on ice.” The 2010 and 2014 Olympian collected a trio of medals at this year’s World Single Distances Championships: gold in the 1,000 and 1,500-meter, where she is the world-record holder, and bronze in the mass start. She also earned silver at the world sprint championships and was crowned grand world cup champion. The secret to her success? It might have something to do with living and training in the Netherlands, the only nation with more Olympic gold medals than the U.S. Bergsma moved there in 2014 to be with her husband Jorrit, the reigning Olympic champion in 10,000-meter.
Tori Bowie, Track and Field
Closing in on Ivory Coast’s Marie-Josee Ta Lou with less than 20 meters to run in the 100-meter at the IAAF World Championships this summer, Bowie put her head down and blazed across the finish line, a mere 0.01 seconds ahead of her rival. The Herculean effort — Bowie trailed by two paces for most of the race — was the comeback story of the championships. Despite bruises from falling to the track right after crossing the line in the 100, the three-time Olympic medalist returned to anchor the American women in their golden effort in the 4x100. Earlier in the year, she also won the 200-meter at the Prefontaine Classic, setting Diamond League, meet and Hayward Field records, and clocking the fastest time ever recorded before June.
Ashley Caldwell, Freestyle Skiing
Caldwell’s signature aerial jump is called “The Daddy,” and it’s a doozy: three flips and four twists, all executed 40 or so feet above the ground in the space of about three seconds. The former gymnast is only the second woman to compete the maneuver and the first to land it cleanly in competition. The difficulty of “The Daddy” helped Caldwell, a two-time Olympian, clinch the gold medal in aerials at the FIS Freestyle Ski World Championships this year, the first American woman in 22 years to do so. Caldwell also won the Lake Placid World Cup in January and was third at the Secret Garden World Cup in December.
Emma Coburn, Track and Field
Steeplechase has not historically been Team USA’s strong suit, with a dearth of gold medals at the world championships extending all the way back to 1952. That’s what made Coburn’s victory in London this spring such a shock, even to the 2016 Olympic bronze medalist herself. The 27-year-old had initially hoped to “sneak in” for a medal; as she led heading in the final seconds, she waited for someone to pip her at the post. Nobody could. Coburn’s victory and teammate Courtney Frerichs’ surprise silver medal gave Team USA its first 1-2 finish in a long-distance event at worlds in more than a century.
Jessie Diggins, Cross-Country Skiing
Her cheeks covered in the glitter she applies with teammates before they race, the fun-loving Diggins glided to an individual silver in the freestyle sprint and bronze in the team sprint classic with Sadie Bjornsen at the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships in Lahti, Finland. The team sprint medaled marked the first by Americans in the classic style. The medals, Diggins’ third and fourth at the bi-annual event, made Diggins the most decorated U.S. cross-country skier in the event’s history. In Lahti, she also finished fourth in the relay and fifth in the 30-kilometer for the best performance ever by a U.S. man or woman. Next stop: PyeongChang, where the 26-year-old Diggins is aiming to become only the second American (and first woman) to mount the podium in cross-country skiing.
Susan Dunklee, Biathlon
The most successful season of Dunklee’s career ended with two firsts for the 31-year-old from Vermont. With silver in the mass start at the world championships in Hochfilzen, Austria, Dunklee won the country’s first individual women’s medal at worlds. She also had the distinction of being the first American woman to qualify for PyeongChang 2018, where she will literally be shooting for more success. Her 12th-place finish in Sochi four years ago already stands as the best ever for an American woman, but Dunklee has her eye on yet another first: being the first U.S. Olympic medalist in biathlon. Aptitude for winter sports runs in her veins — her father Stan competed at the 1976 and 1980 Winter Games as a cross-country skier. She and Lowell Bailey also combined for world cup silver in the single mixed relay, for Team USA’s first medal in a relay event in 23 years.
Erin Hamlin, Luge
Hamlin’s career has been filled with firsts: Her bronze in Sochi in 2014 made her the first American to win an Olympic medal in singles luge. Her world gold in the same category in 2009 was the first world title ever by a U.S. woman. Though the sun is setting on her career — she says the PyeongChang Olympic Games, her fourth, will also be her last — the 31-year-old posted some of her best results in 2017, including an unprecedented three medals at the world championships: gold in the sprint and silvers in singles and team relay. Her medals were the first for any American since her 2009 gold, and they made her the most decorated U.S. woman in worlds history.
Morgan Hurd, Gymnastics
The bespectacled, Harry Potter-loving Hurd took the gymnastics world by storm, tumbling off with the world all-around title in Montreal after finishing sixth in qualification and less than three months after surgery to remove excess cartilage from her elbow. Hurd is well-versed in the sport’s history — only three years ago she got up in the middle of the night to live blog the world championships as they were happening in China — but was able to stick to her “mental script” and avoid getting distracted on the competition floor. Her plucky performance even earned a congratulatory tweet from J.K. Rowling, who praised the 16-year-old as a “real-life hero in glasses.” Hurd followed up with a silver medal on the balance beam.
Lindsey Jacobellis, Snowboarding
In five attempts, Jacobellis has cinched five gold medals at the world championships in snowboardcross, her latest triumph coming at the world championships in Spain earlier this year. It’s an unprecedented feat in any of the snowboarding events. The 32-year-old from Stratton Mountain, Vermont, also owns 29 wins on the world cup circuit, nine more than anybody else, with the last coming in December in Val Thorens, France. That victory was significant for another reason: it helped assure the 31-year-old queen of snowboardcross a trip to PyeongChang this February for what will be her fourth Olympic Winter Games.
Katie Ledecky, Swimming
After four golds (and a silver) at the Olympic Games Rio 2016, what do you do as an encore? If you’re Ledecky, you follow up with five more golds (and a silver) at the 2017 FINA World Championships in Budapest. Those five golds bring the Stanford sophomore’s career total to 14 at the world championships, the most for any women’s swimmer in history. Not bad for someone who’s just 20 years old.
Jessica Long, Para Swimming
Three golds in a single day was all part of the job for Long at the World Para Swimming Championships in Mexico City in December. The dominant Para swimmer of her generation and the second-most decorated Paralympian in U.S. history with 23 medals, Long was untouchable in the SB7 100-meter breaststroke and S8 100 free before contributing for gold in the team 4x100 34-point free relay. Two days later, she topped an All-American podium in the S8 100 back. Long left the event with eight medals total and the title of most decorated woman at worlds, all despite what she called “lighter” than normal training before this worlds.
Helen Maroulis, Wrestling
The 2016 Olympic champion was unbeatable in the 58 kg. division at this year’s world championships in Paris, holding her opponents scoreless throughout the tournament as she successfully won her second world title. Her 2015 title came in the 55 kg. division, while her Olympic title was at 53 kg. Maroulis is more than just a champion wrestler: off the mat, she goes out of her way to give back. This fall, she took time to work with children at a refugee camp in Greece. She also appeared at the Team USA vs. Japan match at the Beat the Streets Los Angeles Annual Benefit, designed to help underprivileged kids get involved in wrestling.
Oksana Masters, Para Nordic Skiing
The multitalented Masters, who has competed at three different Paralympic Games in three different sports, was all over the World Para Nordic Skiing Championships this year, becoming the first American to win a gold medal there — then racking up three more golds and a bronze in quick succession. Masters left Finsterau, Germany, as the new world titlist in biathlon sprint and cross-country sprint, middle distance and long distance, with the bronze coming in individual biathlon. The 28-year-old, who already owns two Paralympic medals in Nordic skiing from Sochi 2014, has her sights set not just on PyeongChang, but on Tokyo 2020, where she hopes to compete in handcycling.
Tatyana McFadden, Para Track and Field
After being hospitalized with blood clots in her legs this spring, McFadden came roaring back. First, the 28-year-old picked up four gold medals at the world championships in London in the 200-, 400-, 800- and 1,500-meter. Then, this fall, she won the Chicago Marathon’s wheelchair division for the seventh consecutive time. McFadden’s 17 Paralympic medals already make her one of the greatest wheelchair racers in history, and despite the challenges of 2017, the girl who grew up walking on her hands in a Russian orphanage too poor to afford a wheelchair shows no signs of slowing down.
Mattie Rogers, Weightlifting
Rogers ended a 12-year drought for the U.S. women at the World Weightlifting Championships in California when she captured bronzes in the snatch, clean and jerk and total, becoming the first American woman to stand on the world podium since Cheryl Haworth in 2005. The Florida native, who trained as a gymnast and cheerleader before turning to CrossFit and from there weightlifting, has greater expectations for herself in the years to come. She’s just 22, and notes that many female weightlifters tend to peak late in their 20s.
Mikaela Shiffrin, Alpine Skiing
The busy Shiffrin continued to blaze her way to the top of leaderboards at events around the world this year, accumulating 11 world cup victories last season en route to her first overall world cup title and becoming the third American woman to achieve the feat. The 22-year-old Olympic slalom gold medalist continued her winning ways at the world championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland, in February, where she captured her third consecutive slalom title and picked up silver in giant slalom for good measure. She is the first woman in 78 years to win three straight world slalom titles. More recently, Shiffrin has made inroads into the speed events, notching the first downhill win of her career at Lake Louise, Alberta, earlier this month.
Sloane Stephens, Tennis
Slow start, glorious finish: Stephens’ 2017 began with surgery on her left foot and a forced layoff from training. It ended in a hail of glory, with the 24-year-old being presented as the 2017 US Open champion in September. Stephens, who was ranked 957th the month before her triumph in Flushing Meadows, attained her first Grand Slam final by defeating none other than Venus Williams. The title was hers following a 61-minute, 6-3, 6-0 duel with her good friend Madison Keys. Her rapid ascent surprised everyone, not least Stephens herself. “If you told someone this story, they’d be like, ‘That’s insane,’” she remarked following the event.