There were teams that continued to dominate their sport and ones that seemingly came out of nowhere to be victorious. But there was one thing that was consistent for Team USA in 2018: There was gold everywhere.
From undefeated seasons to reclaiming lost status to surprising on the biggest of stages, here is a look at 18 teams that made ’18 a great year:
Convening just after the WNBA season wrapped up, the U.S. team came together quickly to continue its dominance at the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup. Led by veterans Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi, the Americans punched their ticket to the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 by dominating en route to their third consecutive world title. Breanna Stewart was named tournament MVP following Team USA’s 73-56 win over Australia in the gold-medal game. In all, the U.S. went 6-0 in the tournament and won each game by an average of 20.3 points. Bird, with four World Cup wins and one bronze, is now the most decorated athlete in tournament history. She was also the first American to make a fifth World Cup team.
Elana Meyers Taylor and Lauren Gibbs, Bobsled
Two-time world champion Elana Meyers Taylor thought this was the year. Riding quick starts, she and Gibbs were in position to grab a gold medal after their final run at the Winter Games, but there was still one team left. Germany’s Mariama Jamanka and Lisa Buckwitz, who had been finding speed at the finish, edged Meyers Taylor and Gibbs by just seven-hundredths of a second, giving the Americans a silver and continuing Team USA’s streak of medals in the event dating back to its debut in 2002. It was the second straight Olympic silver for Meyers Taylor, who also has won a bronze in 2010 as a push athlete. The medal tied Meyers Taylor as the most decorated U.S. Olympic bobsledder and made her one of only two women’s bobsledders in the world with three Olympic medals. Meyers Taylor and Gibbs also won world cup bronze together in January.
Jessie Diggins and Kikkan Randall, Cross-Country Skiing
In a sport dominated by the Scandinavian countries, the U.S. finally claimed its first Olympic cross-country gold medal as Jessie Diggins and Kikkan Randall won the team sprint. A program on the rise for the last several years, five-time Olympian Randall, 35, served as the pioneer while two-time Olympian Diggins, 26, is leading the next generation. So it was fitting that the two combined in this historic race. Coming down to the final inches, Diggins made a dramatic final push and edged Sweden’s Stina Nilsson at the finish line. It marked the first American medal — male or female — in cross-country skiing since Bill Koch won silver in 1976, and the first medal for the American women, who first fielded an Olympic cross-country ski team in 1972.
John Shuster knows a thing or two about Olympic heartbreak. After winning a bronze medal in 2006, the Minnesotan made the next two Olympics as the skip — or team leader — for the U.S. men, only to struggle upon reaching the Games, finishing last in 2010 and second to last in 2014. After starting the 2018 round round with a 2-4 record, another similar result seemed inevitable. Then, everything began turning around. Before long, Shuster and teammates Matt Hamilton, Tyler George and John Landsteiner, along with fifth Joe Polo, were on a roll all the way to the gold-medal game. There, Shuster hit a huge five-point shot in the eighth end to all but secure the 10-7 victory over Sweden, and Team USA’s first gold medal in curling. Coming back for the 2018 season, Shuster, Hamilton and Landsteiner (and Chris Plys) won the world cup stop in Omaha, Nebraska, this December.
Women’s Track Cycling Team Pursuit
The U.S. has a burgeoning dynasty when it comes to the team pursuit. The Americans won their third straight world title, beating Great Britain in the final. Jennifer Valente, Kelly Catlin and Chloe Dygert Owen have been part of all three titles, while Kim Geist joined in the last two years after Sarah Hammer retired. The group with Hammer won an Olympic silver medal in 2016 in Rio. Dygert Owen also repeated as individual pursuit champ, giving her five career world titles. However, only the team event is part of the 2020 Olympic program. The U.S. also won a world cup gold and a silver in team pursuit this year.
Equestrian Team Jumping
After watching a big lead evaporate on the final day, the Americans pulled off a dramatic victory at the World Equestrian Games. Down to the last rider in a jump-off with Sweden, four-time Olympian McLain Ward turned in a clean ride as the Americans claimed gold by 2.06 seconds. It was the first team jumping gold for the U.S. at the World Equestrian Games, which debuted in 1990, and the first world championship team title for the U.S. since 1986. The performance by Devin Ryan, Adrienne Sternlicht, Laura Kraut and Ward also qualified the U.S. for a spot at the 2020 Olympics. Even better? They did it on home soil as the prestegoues event was held this year in North Carolina.
Women’s Epee Fencing
In a historic year for all of U.S. fencing, the women’s epee team stood out. The veteran squad of Amanda Sirico and Olympians Kat Holmes, Kelley Hurley, Courtney Hurley claimed both the program’s first world cup win, but also its first world championship gold, resulting in a world No. 1 ranking. The Americans took the gold medal with an 18-17 victory over South Korea. The U.S. had never won a medal at worlds before this year. Individually, Courtney Hurley finished third at the world championships, marking the first individual epee world medal for an American, man or woman.
Men’s Foil Fencing
The Americans dominated from start to finish in the world cup season, culminating in 45-25 victory over Italy. That victory gave the U.S. team of Alexander Massialas, Miles Chamley-Watson, Race Imboden and Gerek Meinhardt a sweep of all five world cup events of the 2017-18 season, a first in American history. They also started the 2018-19 season with another world cup gold. The bronze medalists at the Olympic Games Rio 2016, the U.S. foil team nearly completed the season with a world title, but in the continuation of one of the sport’s hottest rivalries the Americans fell 45-34 to Italy in the final bout. The U.S. women’s foil team, meanwhile, won its world title, a first for any U.S. foil team.
Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, Figure Skating
The ice dance team started the calendar year by winning their first national title, beating out two other past U.S. champion teams. After just missing the podium at their Olympic debut, finishing fourth, Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue rebounded in dominant fashion in the fall season. They then won the world silver medal, with their previous highest finish being sixth. This season, they won both their grand prix assignments – Skate America and Skate Canada – before closing out 2018 with a victory at the Grand Prix Final, scoring 205.35 to hold off Russia’s Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov at 201.37 for the gold.
You can’t talk about the team’s performance without first mentioning Simone Biles. The four-time Olympic champ returned to the sport this summer, and somehow she managed to drop even more difficult routines than the ones she performed in Rio. The veteran on the U.S. squad at 21, Biles anchored all four events in the team competition, leading the squad of defending world champ Morgan Hurd, Kara Eaker, Grace McCallum and Riley McCusker to victory with the largest winning margin yet under the 12-year-old scoring system. No other team has won an Olympic or world championships title since 2011. Outside of the team event, U.S. gymnasts won seven individual medals — five from Biles, two from Hurd. The team title also qualified the U.S. for the 2020 Games.
Women’s Ice Hockey
In 1998, the Americans won the first gold medal as women’s ice hockey became an Olympic event. It took 20 years for the U.S. to win a second gold — and it came in dramatic fashion. Monique Lamoureux-Morando tied the gold-medal game against rival Canada 2-2 with 6 minutes, 21 seconds left in regulation, then twin sister Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson scored the winning goal in the sixth round of the shootout to give the Americans Olympic gold in PyeongChang. That it came against archrival Canada — which beat Team USA in the 2002, ’10 and ’14 gold-medal games — made it all the sweeter. When the team reconvened this fall, it hardly missed a beat, winning its fourth consecutive Four Nations Cup by beating — who else? — Canada 5-2 in the title game.
Women’s Eight Rowing
No team was as dominant as the U.S. women’s eight rowing team from 2006 to 2016, when it won 11 consecutive Olympic or world titles. That streak ended with a fourth-place finish at the 2017 world championships, but a new one might have begun in 2018. Coxed by Olympic gold medalist Katelin Guregian, the U.S. took the lead in the second 500 meters, holding off a late charge by Canada to win for the 12th time in 13 years. The U.S. women’s four was also victorious, jumping out to an early lead and beating Australia by 1.52 seconds; that event makes its Olympic return in 2020.
Men’s Rugby Sevens
Rugby sevens, the small-sided version of the classic game, debuted at the Olympics in 2016. The Americans are proving to be a growing presence on the world stage. A second-place finish in December in South Africa, which followed another second-place finish in Dubai one week earlier, vaulted the team to the No. 1 ranking in the nascent 2018-19 World Rugby Sevens Series season. The hot start follows a season in which the U.S. won the Vegas Sevens — its second tournament win in the 20-year history of the World Series — in March and finished sixth overall. The team also finished a best-ever sixth at the Rugby World Cup Sevens, which took place in July in San Francisco.
Trailing Canada 1-0 with a minute left in the 2018 Paralympic gold-medal game, time was running out for the two-time defending champion U.S. sled hockey team. With U.S. goalie Steve Cash pulled for an extra skater, Canada clanked a shot off the post. That’s when things changed. Brody Roybal took the puck up the ice and fed it to Declan Farmer for the game-tying goal with 37.8 second remaining. Farmer than notched the winner with 11:30 remaining in overtime to clinch the team’s third gold medal in a row. Farmer was named tournament MVP with a tournament-leading 11 goals and 17 points. In December, the team opened the 2018-19 season with a win at the Para Hockey Cup in Canada.
The U.S. went undefeated for the fourth time in the 23-year history of the program, going 18-0-2 to extend its unbeaten streak to 28 matches (25-0-3). That included winning the Concacaf title, which clinched a spot in the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France, where the U.S. is the defending champion. Among the season-ending 10 consecutive victories was the Americans’ 500th since the program began in 1986, a 1-0 victory over Portugal on Nov. 8. Behind veterans like Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe and Julie Ertz, the U.S. goes into France next summer as a favorite to repeat. Team USA also won the 2018 SheBelieves Cup and 2018 Tournament of Nations.
After a 12-year hiatus, softball is back in the Olympics in 2020. And Team USA is back, too, having a perfect 20-0 season in 2018. The Americans won their second straight world championship — beating host Japan 7-6 in 10 innings for the title — to clinch the first qualifying spot in the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. All eyes will be on a 2020 rematch between Team USA and Japan, which upset the Americans in the 2008 gold-medal game. Monica Abbott was one of the players on the 2008 U.S. team, and she’s one of three Olympians aiming to be on the 2020 team, too. With performances like she had in 2018, she might just do that. The left-handed Abbott, 33, was the dominant force throughout the season, including a two-hitter in the championship game of the Japan Cup, a 4-0 victory over Japan. The U.S. started its season by winning the USA Softball International Cup in July.
With $1 million on the line, the U.S. proved the best of 16 countries competing in the inaugural FIVB Volleyball Nations League. Beginning with the preliminary round in May, the U.S. went 17-2 over the course of the tounament, culminating with a five-set win over Turkey in the title game on July 1. Michelle Bartsch-Hackley was named tournament MVP and Best Outside Spiker, while Tori Dixon was named Best Middle Blocker. Team USA later went on to win the Pan American Cup and finished fifth at the world championships, closing out the year with a 34-8 overall record.
Women’s Water Polo
If there is an international title in women’s water polo, it belongs to the Americans. The U.S. opened the season with the Intercontinental Tournament title, then won the World League and capped the year with its third straight FINA World Cup title. Two-time Olympic gold medalist Maggie Steffens was named MVP. Overall the U.S. is 32-1 in 2018, having won 30straight matches. In addition to those two titles, the Americans hold the last two Olympic gold medals and the last two world championships, in addition to the last four Pan American Games and World League titles. No other country has held the sport’s four major titles — Olympics, world championships, World Cup, and Super League — at the same time.
Steve Drumwright is a journalist based in Murrieta, California. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.