Simone Biles and Mikaela Shiffrin put together two of the best years ever seen in their respective sports in 2019, and yet they were hardly alone in winning world titles, breaking records and creating history this past year.
Whether it’s Adeline Gray on the wrestling mat, Simone Manuel in the pool, Hannah Roberts in the BMX park or Deja Young on the track, several U.S. women go into the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic year with huge momentum. Several will no doubt be favorites when the 2020 Games kick off in Tokyo.
Before turning the page to the Olympic and Paralympic year, though, it’s worth stopping to take a look back at the memorable U.S. women who defined 2019.
Here are Team USA’s top 19 women of 2019:
Simone Biles, Gymnastics
When you’re the G.O.A.T., landing moves that no other gymnast has ever done before and racking up more national and world championships medals is par for the course. Biles, who won Female Olympic Athlete of the Year in the 2019 Team USA Awards presented by Dow, Best of the Year, won more gold medals than anyone at a single world championships since 1958 when she brought home five from this year’s event, including another all-around title. Her 24th world championships medal made her the all-time winningest gymnast in history, man or woman, then she added a 25th for good measure, and during the competition she landed a double-double dismount on the beam and a triple-double on the floor, neither of which had ever been done before and both of which now bear her name. She also won her sixth U.S. all-around title.
Brittany Bowe, Long Track Speedskating
Bowe had a remarkable year that includes a record-breaking winning streak in the 1,000-meter that is still active. In February, she won her third career gold medal at the World Single Distances Championships and her second in the 1,000-meter, lowering the track record in Inzell, Germany, in the process. The former college basketball player went on to set a new 1,000-meter world record in the last race of the season with a time of 1 minute, 11.6 seconds, and claimed the overall world cup title. And as the new season started, Bowe has remained just as dominant. Earlier this month she won her seventh consecutive 1,000-meter world cup race, a winning streak that goes back to Dec. 7, 2018, and is now the longest ever at the distance for a U.S. woman.
Chloé Dygert, Cycling
Dygert had to battle not only the speed of her fellow competitors but also heavy rain and flooding at the road cycling world championships in northern England. The 22-year-old did so with aplomb in winning her first world title in the time trial, becoming just the fifth American woman to win that world title and the youngest ever to win the event, man or woman. Her margin of victory also shattered the previous record by 21 seconds. The win earned her a spot as the first cyclist on the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team. Then, four days later, Dygert finished fourth in the road race. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, Dygert is a 2016 Olympic silver medalist and world champion in track cycling and is hoping to medal in on both the road and track in Tokyo. Dygert’s dual-natured dominance was on display at the Pan American Games Lima 2019 in August, when she helped the U.S. win gold in track’s team pursuit and also won the time trial on the road.
Adeline Gray, Wrestling
Gray’s second world title in a row and fifth overall made her the winningest wrestler in U.S. history, man or woman. She has never lost a world title bout and now has seven world championships medals in eight appearances, trailing only Kristie Davis’ nine for the most overall among U.S. women. The world title followed Gray’s second consecutive win at the Pan American Championships in April. Gray, a 2016 Olympian, beat reigning Olympic champion Erica Wiebe of Canada in the quarterfinals en route to being named outstanding wrestler of the meet. Gray capped the season by winning the championship at the Women’s World Cup and helping the U.S. team to the silver medal, its first time on the podium at the event since 2011.
Kendall Gretsch, Para Nordic Skiing and Paratriathlon
You could call Gretsch a dual threat, but when she had the success she did this year in biathlon, cross-country skiing and triathlon the math gets more complicated. The 2018 Paralympian won six medals at the Nordic skiing world championships, including one gold and four silvers, plus the overall world cup biathlon crystal globe. She then transitioned to her summer sport, which is actually three sports, and won a silver medal in the PTWC division at the ITU Paratriathlon World Championships. The two-time Paralympic gold medalist is now back on the snow and recently kicked off the world cup season with second-place finishes in the women’s sitting division in the short course, middle-distance and sprint cross-country skiing races in Lillehammer, Norway.
Nevin Harrison, Canoe/Kayak
Americans traditionally haven’t been particularly strong in canoe or kayak events, but the 17-year-old Harrison is part of a new wave aiming to turn that around. The up-and-comer won C1 200-meter gold at the Pan American Games, then rocketed to elite competitor status when she became the first U.S. athlete to win a world title in a canoe sprint event, seizing the gold medal in the same event at the ICF Canoe Sprint World Championships in August. Less than three weeks later she won a silver medal at the sport’s Olympic test event. Her timing is on point, too, with women’s canoe scheduled to be contested for the first time ever at the Olympic Games in 2020.
Chloe Kim, Snowboarding
Kim was the queen of the halfpipe long before 2019, having fulfilled the highly anticipated goal of Olympic gold the year before, but she’d never won a world title until this year. Competing at the world championships for the first time in February, she scored a 93.50 on her first run and, as usual, no one could do better. Kim also won her fifth X Games superpipe gold medal in January. Her eight-competition winning streak ended in March at the U.S. Open, where it was later revealed she broke her ankle en route to her second-place finish, and the injury ended her season. Kim isn’t competing this season because she’s focusing on her freshman year at Princeton University, also an achievement that’s not too shabby.
Simone Manuel, Swimming
The four-time Olympic medalist became the only woman to ever win seven medals at one long course world championships meet this year. As if that record wasn’t enough, she also became the first American woman to sweep the 50- and 100-meter freestyle events, successfully defending her title in the latter, and set a new U.S. record in the 100-meter. She’s only the second woman to win the 100-meter at the world championships more than once, and her competition in the final included current and former world record holders. Manuel also medaled in all five relays in which she was included at the world championships, including gold in the mixed 4x100 freestyle and the women’s 4x100 medley, each in world-record time.
Oksana Masters, Para Nordic Skiing and Para-cycling
The four-time Paralympian is no stranger to podiums, medals and honors, and this year was no different. Winner of the 2019 Team USA Awards presented by Dow, Best of the Year, for Female Paralympian of the Year, Masters won a total of five world titles (middle-distance biathlon, middle-distance cross-country, cross-country sprint, biathlon sprint and long-distance cross-country) and a silver in individual biathlon at the Para Nordic skiing world championships as well as the world cup cross-country globe in the women’s sitting class. Switching her attention to cycling, Masters went on to win a pair of silver medals at the UCI Para-cycling Road World Championships in the H5 road race and time trial.
Carissa Moore, Surfing
A staple on the World Surf League Women’s Championship Tour since 2010, the Hawaii native won her fourth world title and her first since 2015 this year, and her career resurgence couldn’t have come at a better time. Moore became the first American woman to qualify for the 2020 Olympic Games in surfing, where the sport will be contested at that level for the first time. She won two out of 10 events on the tour this season and missed the podium just twice, never finishing lower than fifth place. She is the first Hawaiian surfer to win four world titles.
Dalilah Muhammad, Track and Field
The season was already pretty great for Muhammad when she crushed a 16-year-old world record in the 400-meter hurdles at the U.S. outdoor championships in July, beating the old record by 0.14 seconds. Then the reigning Olympic gold medalist went on to win her first world title in the event after finishing second in 2015 and 2017, and in doing so she broke her own still-new world record, running the race four-hundredths of a second faster than she did two months earlier with a time of 52.16 seconds. She is the fourth American woman to win the 400-meter hurdles world title, joining Kori Carter (2017), Lashinda Demus (2011) and Kim Batten (1995), and just the second woman to win the Olympic gold medal, world title and set a world record in the event.
Kate Nye, Weightlifting
Nye swept the junior world titles in June. Three months later, the 20-year-old was making her debut at the senior world championships in Thailand. There was no beginner’s luck needed, as the ultra-strong Nye swept the women’s 71 kg. division and became the youngest U.S. women’s world weightlifting champion in history. Nye’s winning snatch of 112 kg. broke five records (junior world, senior Pan American, junior Pan American, senior American and junior American in her final year of junior eligibility) and her total of 248 kg. was also an American record. In July, Nye also earned a bronze medal at the Pan American Games competing in the 76 kg. division (there is no 71 kg. division at the Olympic Games).
Hannah Roberts, Cycling
Roberts is just 18 years old, but she’s been a favorite to medal — if not win gold — when BMX freestyle debuts at the 2020 Games for years now. The hype began when she became the first-ever world champion in the event in 2017. She only strengthened those predictions this year by winning all three world cup events to claim the overall world cup championship, landing tricks no one ever had before in competition, and winning her second world title in three years. She also won the bronze medal at the world championships in 2018, making it three medals in three appearances. In addition, Roberts won the inaugural USA Cycling BMX freestyle national title and the Pan-American Continental Championships in October, as well Pan American Games gold medal in August.
Mikaela Shiffrin, Alpine Skiing
There was no one more dominant in ski racing in 2019 than Mikaela Shiffrin. The three-time Olympic medalist had one of the sport’s best seasons ever, winning a record 17 world cup races in 26 starts, as well as world titles in slalom and super-G. In the process she won her third world cup overall crown, in addition to season titles in slalom, giant slalom and super-G. Known early in her career for excelling in the technical events, Shiffrin proved to be a threat across all events in 2019 and became the first skier to win world cups across all six events. Picking up where she left off in the new season, Shiffrin raced to her 41st world cup slalom win in the season opener in November, breaking a 33-year-old record to become the winningest slalom skier ever. With six podium finishes in nine races so far this season, Shiffrin is already running away with the overall world cup title standings.
Leanne Smith, Para Swimming
Smith not only won her first world title this year, she won her first three. Competing at the world championships for just the second time, Smith swam to victory in the women’s 150-meter individual medley. Despite moving up a class from SM3 to SM4, she set a Pan American and world championships record with her time of 2:56.49. Not yet finished, she then won two more gold medals and set two more Pan American records, claiming victory in the 50-meter breaststroke SB3 and 100 freestyle S3. The 2020 Paralympic hopeful also won five national titles and picked up three medals at the world series event in Glasgow, Scotland.
Regan Smith, Swimming
Smith is just a senior in high school, but after her breakout 2019 she’s poised to take the world by storm in Tokyo. The 17-year-old Smith shattered Missy Franklin’s esteemed 200-meter backstroke world record in her semifinal heat at the world championships in South Korea with a time of 2:03.35 before winning the gold medal by nearly three seconds. Several days later she broke another world record in the 100-meter backstroke while swimming the opening leg of the women’s 4x100-meter medley with a time of 57.57. The women would go on to win the gold medal and set a new world record in the race with a time of 3:50.40, making it three world records for Smith over the course of the meet. Showing her stroke versatility, Smith also won her first senior national title in the 200-meter butterfly just days later in California.
Alise Willoughby, Cycling
The two-time Olympian pedaled her way to her second UCI BMX World Championships title in three years in 2019 and will head into the Olympic year No. 2 in the world in the UCI rankings. In addition to her gold medals at worlds in 2017 and 2019, she also won the 2016 Olympic silver medal. Willoughby’s consistency showed when she won six world cup medals in eight world cup starts this season, highlighted by four silver medals, and the eight-time national champion fought back from an early crash to win the bronze medal at the national championships in March.
Deja Young, Para Track and Field
Young successfully defended her world title in the women’s 200-meter T47 at the World Para Athletics Championships this fall, not only proving she’s still the one to beat at the distance but also setting a new championship record with a time of 24.47 seconds. Despite suffering her first defeat in Paralympic competition in the 100-meter, Young nonetheless won the silver medal and set a new world record during her preliminary heat, finishing in 11.92 seconds. Young also brought home a second gold as part of the 4x100 universal relay. A few months earlier, Young won three golds at the Parapan American Games Lima 2019.
Katie Zaferes, Triathlon
Showing remarkable consistency, Zaferes won three of her first four ITU World Triathlon Series races and earned a silver medal in the other. After winning the gold medal in the Grand Final for her fourth win of the season, Zaferes was awarded the overall series title for the first time; her career had been leading right to that world title, finishing fifth, fourth, third and second in the years prior. She’s the first world triathlon champion from the U.S. since Gwen Jorgensen in 2014 and 2015. The only blemish on her season was a crash on the bike during the Olympic test event in August, ending her hopes of qualifying for a second U.S. Olympic Team at that event. Not all is lost, though, as Zaferes can still qualify for Tokyo in 2020.