Team USA’s Top 18 Women Of 2018

By Blythe Lawrence | Dec. 26, 2018, 12:01 a.m. (ET)

 

Here’s to the history-makers, the record-breakers, the comebackers and the dominators. As has become tradition with Team USA, this past year was the year of the woman in sport, with groundbreaking achievements at the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, plus on fields of play in countless summer sports. From Olympic gold medals to world records, U.S. women continued to set new standards in 2018. In a memorable year for Team USA women, these 18 stood especially tall:

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Jamie Anderson, Snowboarding

Everything but Anderson seemed about to topple over during the women’s slopestyle snowboarding final in PyeongChang. On a course buffeted by high winds and iced by temperatures in the mid-teens, Anderson was literally a pillar of strength as she cruised down the mountain. The zen 27-year-old’s first run was so good that she had assured herself a second consecutive Olympic gold even before her second go at the course, turning her final run into more of a victory glide. Anderson, known as the “Mountain G.O.A.T.” (greatest of all time), is the first woman to own two Olympic golds in snowboarding, and she also took home a silver medal as big air snowboarding made its Games debut. She first started her year with slopestyle gold and big air bronze at X Games, and later won the Burton U.S. Open in March.

 

Kathleen Baker, Swimming

Whether setting up her teammates for success at short-course worlds or basking in the glory of a world record all her own at the U.S. championships, the versatile Baker proved herself as one of the stars of U.S. swimming in 2018. The 2016 Olympic relay gold medalist set a new world record in the 100-meter backstroke at July’s U.S. championships, finishing in 58 seconds flat. She followed it up with four medals at August’s Pan Pacific Championships in Japan, including gold in the 200-meter backstroke. She then hauled in another four at this month’s FINA short course worlds in China, including silver for the 200 back and golds with the American medley relays, where she swam in the preliminary rounds.

 

Simone Biles, Gymnastics

The overarching storyline of Biles’ career has been absolute domination, but the question was whether Biles could continue her winning streak following a yearlong hiatus post Rio. Any doubts disappeared at July’s U.S. Classic, Biles’ first competition since Rio, where she debuted two scintillating new tumbling passes and showed off improved execution on all events; the following month she won a record fifth all-around national title, plus all four events. At 21, an age once considered old for a top female gymnast, Biles gave arguably her most dominant performance yet at November’s world championships in Doha, Qatar, claiming her fourth world all-around title (becoming the first woman ever to win four) as well as golds on vault, floor exercise and with the U.S. team; silver on uneven bars, her “weak” event; and bronze on balance beam. Did we mention she did all that with a kidney stone? Dominant she remains.

 

Brittany Bowe, Long Track Speedskating

The former inline skater began her year by capturing her first Olympic medal, a bronze in team pursuit in company with teammates Heather Bergsma, Mia Manganello and Carlijn Schoutens in PyeongChang, ending an Olympic medal drought that extended back to 2002 in women’s long track speedskating. The medal went with her three individual top-five finishes in PyeongChang. Then in March, she won a silver medal at the world sprint championships. For all that, it’s the end of 2018 that has proven golden: The 30-year-old Floridian has been fire on ice on the world cup circuit so far this season, racking up 10 medals, three of them gold, and leads the world cup standings in the 1,000-meter.

 

Kate Courtney, Cycling

Courtney’s 2018 is a story of realized potential: In her first year on the senior circuit, the former U23 world silver medalist graduated to wearing the rainbow stripes in elite cross-country at her first full-fledged UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Switzerland. The first American woman in 17 years to win the mountain bike world title, she overtook Denmark’s Annika Langvad late in the race and held on for the win, capping off a highly impressive debut season that included four top-10 world cup finishes.

 

Jessie Diggins, Cross-Country Skiing

So exciting was the finale of the Olympic women’s cross-country team sprint that commentator Chad Salmela’s “Here comes Diggins!” call of the final seconds of the race became an iconic sound from the Games. Diggins displaced Sweden’s Stina Nilsson in a last-second lunge over the finish line to secure the gold medal, which marked the first medal of any color for the U.S. women’s cross-country team and the first gold for the nation. All told, Diggins competed in six events in PyeongChang and earned the best-ever finish by an American in every single one. She collapsed on the ground just over the line after the team sprint and was embraced by teammate Kikkan Randall, but she didn’t stay down for long. Two months later, she was back doing what she loves in the final world cup races of the season, where a string of podium finishes put her second overall in the world cup standings, the best finish by a U.S. woman in 36 years. Also in March, she was second in a 30-kilometer world cup race, marking the first U.S. women’s long distance podium ever.

 

Laura Graves, Equestrian

Astride her faithful Verdades, Graves’ silver showered year began with a second-place finish at the FEI World Cup Dressage Final in April in Paris. Horse and rider then helped the U.S. dressage team secure a team berth at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 at the World Equestrian Games in North Carolina. The 31-year-old also steered her steed to an individual silver medal in individual competition, as her accolade-filled season included becoming the first American to be ranked No. 1 in the dressage world rankings.

 

Adeline Gray, Wrestling

At her comeback worlds following a shoulder injury that hampered her 2016 Olympic performance and kept her out of competition all last year, Gray looked like she’d never spent a day out of training. The 27-year-old Californian defeated Rio Olympic champion Erica Wiebe of Canada for the privilege of facing 2017 world champion Yasemin Adar of Turkey in the 76 kg. world final, where she handily claimed a fourth world title, and first since 2015. Gray’s four world golds ties her with wrestling legend Tricia Saunders for the most by an American woman.

 

Kendall Gretsch, Para Nordic Skiing

It would be accurate to say that Gretsch was ahead of the pack at the 2018 Paralympics: 32 seconds ahead in 12-kilometer sitting cross country skiing and 24 seconds ahead in sitting biathlon, precisely. Thus, the 27-year-old from Wisconsin earned the first biathlon gold ever won by a U.S. athlete at an Olympic or Paralympic Games. Not bad for someone who put aside her main sport (in this case, paratriathlon, where she is a three-time world champion and has won every one of the nine international races she’s entered) to try something new..

 

Brenna Huckaby, Para Snowboarding

The only American athlete to go undefeated in individual competition in PyeongChang, Huckaby proved untouchable in her Paralympic debut, returning from South Korea as the newly minted champion in snowboardcross and banked slalom. The former gymnast and mom of a 2-year-old daughter, who competes on a prosthetic leg, will go down as the first-ever Paralympic champion in banked slalom, which made its debut in PyeongChang but appears to have real staying power — much like Huckaby herself.

 

Chloe Kim, Snowboarding

It wasn’t just that Kim made history by becoming the youngest female snowboarder ever to win an Olympic medal when she took gold in halfpipe. With the medal already locked up from an impeccable first run in the women’s final in PyeongChang, the charismatic 17-year-old from Torrance, California, went into her final run with the image of her 75-year-old Korean grandmother rooted clapping from the stands rooted in her mind. The “this one’s for you, grams” run was the best yet: Kim landed back to back 1080s — an Olympic first — as she sailed to a near-perfect 98.25, nearly 10 points better than her closest competitor. Cue a social media sensation. In 2018 she also won the Toyota U.S. Grand Prix, Dew Tour, U.S. Open, X Games … and an ESPY.

 

Katie Ledecky, Swimming

This year brought changes but no less glory for Ledecky, whose five Olympic gold medals in Rio made her a household name. In March, Ledecky announced she was turning pro, then proceeded to shatter her own world record in the 1,500-meter freestyle in her first race as a pro, shaving five seconds off the record she set in 2015 and finishing a full 49 seconds ahead of her nearest competitor. She dominated the distance events at the Pan Pacific Championships with golds in the 800 (where she set a meet record), as well as the 400 and 1,500 free, plus bronze in the 200 and silver in a relay. This past month she dominated winter nationals in the 400- and 800-meter free, finishing lengths ahead of her competition. New season, same Ledecky.

 

Shawn Morelli, Para-cycling

With three world titles, Army veteran Morelli redefined road warrior in 2018, leading the way in the time trial and road race for the third and fourth consecutive times, respectively, at the UCI Para-cycling Road World Championships in Italy despite medical problems that caused her training to be “hit and miss” at times. She also picked up a gold in pursuit on the track this season. The double Paralympic gold medalist from 2016, now 42, credits striving to gain more to bring to the track in competition as one of the secrets to her success.

 

Mikaela Shiffrin, Alpine Skiing

The slalom sensation tripled her Olympic medal collection in 2018, leaving PyeongChang with gold in giant slalom and silver in combined to go with her slalom title from 2014. She then wrapped her season with a second consecutive overall world cup crystal globe. Impressive as those results are, there’s every indication that the Shiffrin has only scratched the surface of what she’s capable of. So far this season, she’s won six of the 10 races she’s entered on the world cup circuit and joined an elite club of only six other women to have won world cups in all five of the traditional alpine skiing events. Add in the sixth event, the relatively-new parallel slalom, and Shiffrin stands alone as the only person of either gender to have captured a victory in all of them. With 50 victories and counting on the world cup circuit, the 23-year-old is poised for even bigger things in the future.

 

Oksana Masters, Para Nordic Skiing

Masters’ route to the 2018 Paralympics veered off on an unexpected detour when she fractured her elbow two weeks before leaving for the Games. Never one to settle, Masters grit her teeth and carried on with the help of doctors, trainers and loads of sports tape. Her persistence paid off: Her five-medal haul in PyeongChang included golds in the 1.5-kilometer cross-country sprint and the cross-country 5K, the first golds in a career that has now spanned four Paralympic Games. Even more impressive, partway through that medal haul she pulled out of a race, being carried off the course after a fall and returned the next day to win the first Paralympic gold of her decorated career. Masters, now 29, continued her success at this month’s Para Nordic Skiing World Cup, where she earned a complete set of medals.

 

Kim Rhode, Shooting

Hitting a near perfect 58 out of 60 targets at the ISSF World Cup in South Korea in April, Rhode shot down her own world record en route to picking up three world cup gold medals over a season that often saw her going toe to toe with surging teammate Cailtin Connor. Rhode, a six-time Olympian who has a medal from every Games she’s attended, was edged by Connor at September’s world championships in South Korea, with Amber English filling out the all-American podium to give the U.S. its first ever sweep in women’s skeet and assure two athletes a berth to Tokyo 2020. Their scores also combined to win a world title in the team skeet competition.

 

Allysa Seely, Paratriathlon

Seely’s disappointing 2017 served as motivation for a golden 2018, where she went undefeated in all ITU paratriathlon competitions and recaptured the world title in typical dominant fashion. The gold medalist in her discipline’s debut at the 2016 Paralympics, Seely moved from Arizona to take up residence at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and is looking to defend her gold at Tokyo 2020.

 

Katie Zaferes, Triathlon

A concussion in a bike crash during her first race of the season didn’t keep Zaferes from taking a silver medal at the world championship, the best result of her career. It was a long road to the podium. After the concussion, Zaferes fought back to medal at the next four world cup stops and ended up recording a podium finish in six of the eight total WTS events. The 2016 Olympian, 29, also finished third at the WTS Grand Final in Australia in September, which led to the world silver medal (based on the season-long series ranking), continuing an ascent that began with a fifth-place finish in 2015, fourth place in 2016 and third last season.

Blythe Lawrence is a journalist based in Seattle. She has covered two Olympic Games and is a freelance contributor toTeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.