As the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang draw to a close, we look back at the women who broke records, made history and stole our hearts.
The 2018 Winter Olympics saw 2,922 elite athletes descend on Pyeongchang, South Korea, representing 92 nations and competing across 15 sports. Ahead of the Games’ closing ceremony on Sunday 25 February, here are the moments that left us feeling most awestruck and inspired by Olympic sportswomen.
Team GB’s Lizzy Yarnold becomes the UK’s greatest Winter Olympian
Yarnold made history on Saturday 17 February when she took gold in the women’s skeleton race, beating Austria’s Janine Flock by a thrilling 0.45 seconds.
It was the second time the Kent-born athlete has won Olympic gold in the skeleton: she also came first at the Sochi Winter Games in 2014. As a result, Yarnold is now the most-decorated British Winter Olympian of all time, overtaking figure skaters Jayne Torvill, Christopher Dean and Jeannette Altwegg, who all have one gold and one bronze medal each.
Yarnold told BBC Sport: “As each minute passes it becomes more of a reality, but it still is an unbelievable series of events, of everything just coming together.
“There’s a whole dream of if everything goes right. ‘If I do this, if I get this corner, if that transfers, if the speed comes, everything will work magically’. I guess now it’s just relief that everything did go to plan.”
Making Yarnold’s victory even sweeter was the support she received from her skeleton squad teammate and close friend Laura Deas, who took bronze in the same race. Technically, Deas and Yarnold were in competition for the top spot – but, said Yarnold, they have always supported each other.
“We keep each other going with cups of tea and chats along the way,” she said. “It’s a good privilege to share this moment with one of my best friends in the world. Thank goodness we pushed each other and now we can have a holiday.”
South Korea’s curling team charms the world
Otherwise known as the ‘Garlic Girls’, the South Korean women’s curling team emerged as the unlikely stars of the 2018 Winter Olympics. Curling isn’t a traditionally popular sport in South Korea, which didn’t even have a national curling team until the 2014 Sochi Games. But the five women won over their home nation – and the wider world – with their stoic, endearingly nerdy image, underdog status and startlingly strong performances on the ice.
Two of the Garlic Girls are sisters, and all are longtime friends and housemates. The group’s communal nickname is a nod to the key crop of their home region, and each team member also has an individual Spice Girls-style moniker: they’re known to fans as Annie (a brand of yoghurt), Pancake, Steak, Cookie and Sunny (as in ‘sunny side up’ eggs).
The team’s rise to international fame was helped by team captain Kim Eun-jung (aka Annie), who became an internet meme thanks to her steely, never-changing gaze. But fun nicknames and meme-ability don’t equal Olympic success, and the Garlic Girls made their reputation with a formidable showing in a competition usually dominated by northern European nations and Canada. On Friday 23 February they beat Japan in the semi-finals, sending them through to the play-offs for the gold medal.
“The girls have given the town something to cheer for,” Choi Jae-yong, the principal of the teammates’ high school, told the Wall Street Journal. “It’s been a while since there was something to cheer about here.”
US women’s hockey team beats Canada in dramatic showdown
The US and Canada have long been rivals when it comes to Olympic ice hockey, and one of the most electrifying moments of this year’s Games came when the two women’s teams came face-to-face in the finals.
It was a gripping match that ultimately came down to a 2-2 tie, leading to a nail-biting shootout. After US goalie Maddie Rooney saved Canada’s penalty attempt, her teammate Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson stepped up. She feinted to the left, scooted right past Canadian goalkeeper Shannon Szabados, and neatly scored the goal that won gold medals for the US team. It was the first time the US women’s ice hockey team had beaten Canada in the Winter Olympics since 1998.
That winning feint, Lamoureux-Davidson told BBC Sport, is a well-rehearsed tactic named after a Britney Spears song. “I’ve done that thousands of times around tyres just set out on open ice,” she said. “It’s called ‘Oops, I did it again’ and I’m just thrilled beyond words.
“I’ve butchered it a thousand times, ran into tyres, tripped over tyres just working on my hands. I’m just glad it worked out this time.”
Kenya’s Sabrina Wanjiku Simader makes history
Alpine skier Sabrina Wanjiku Simader finished 38th out of 44 in the women’s Super-G competition at this year’s Games. However, her name will still go down in history – because she was the first woman (and only the second person ever) to represent Kenya at the Winter Olympics.
Born in Kenya in 1998, Simader moved to Austria at the age of three when her mother married an Austrian man. Her stepfather operated his own ski lift and encouraged her to pick up the sport – but she wasn’t entirely taken with it at first. “[I thought] ‘Oh no, it’s too cold’,” Simader told Reuters. “I never saw snow and it was like, ‘Oh my gosh, no.’”
And being a black skier on the Austrian slopes wasn’t always easy. “At the beginning it was hard, they were always watching me,” Simader said. But as her technique improved, people were impressed. “They were really shocked a black girl can ski like this.”
Nicknamed the ‘Snow Leopard’, Simader crowdfunded the money to pay for her own equipment, training and travel to Pyeongchang. While she spends most of her time in Austria, she said it wasn’t a difficult decision to represent Kenya at the Olympics.
“My mother is from Kenya, my family is from Kenya,” she explained. “I never want to leave my motherland.”
“It was my stepfather’s dream to have a Kenyan [in the Winter Olympics]. And mine, too. Kenyans are really impressed. They have been really supportive and that gives me power.”
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Images: Rex Features / Getty Images