7:45 PM ET
Elana Meyers Taylor slapped the front of her bobsled as soon as she slowed down at the finish line. She placed her hands on the front of her helmet, bending her head. When she looked up she had the biggest smile on her face.
“We did it,” she yelled.
She finished 0.52 seconds ahead in the fourth and final heat of the first ever women’s monobob event. She was guaranteed an Olympic medal.
“We did it,” she said again, and the single sentence carried the weight of the past three weeks. Meyers Taylor’s improbable journey to the start line — and now, an Olympic medal — consisted of a positive COVID-19 test after arriving in Beijing, isolating for more than a week without her new-born son, Nico, and producing two negative tests before training began for women’s monobob.
Canada’s Christine de Bruin couldn’t overtake Meyers Taylor’s time. The 37-year-old mom is an Olympic medalist. Again.
In the process, Meyers Taylor made history. She became one of two of the first women — along with teammate Kaillie Humphries — to win a medal at four consecutive Olympics. She also became the oldest American woman to ever win a medal at the Winter Olympics at 37 years and 127 days.
Meyers Taylor’s journey is impressive.
And so is the story of Team USA’s women at this year’s Beijing Games. Of the 16 medals won by the U.S. so far, women have won 13 medals — including the most number of gold medals (4). Of the 27 women’s events so far, Team USA leads the Olympics with the most number of medals: eight. To add to that, Team USA is also the only nation to have four different women win the gold medals: Lindsey Jacobellis, Chloe Kim, Kaillie Humphries and Erin Jackson.
The U.S. women only make up 48% of the Team USA cohort in Beijing, even though that’s the most Team USA has fielded in the history of the Winter Olympics. To give you a comparison: The 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics saw 134 men and 107 women from the U.S., while 116 men and 108 women from the U.S. are currently competing in Beijing.
In comparison, 45% of the athletes at the Winter Olympics are women, which is a record for the Winter Olympics. That number is up from 41% at the Pyeongchang Olympics and — wait for it — 4.3% from the first Winter Games in 1924 (11 women competed among 258 total participants).
To promote gender equality, the International Olympic Committee introduced one new event for women — the monobob — and four mixed events.
It took Team USA five days to win their first Olympic gold medal in Beijing, and the story could not be sweeter: Lindsey Jacobellis is a legend in snowboarding, but the Olympic gold medal had eluded her storied career. That changed when she — in her fifth Olympic Games — won the women’s snowboard cross event, breaking America’s gold-medal drought. The 36-year-old inspired a host of U.S. women to bring home the gold, including herself, when she made a stunning pass in the big final of the mixed snowboard event with teammate Nick Baumgartner.
“Come on, Lindz. Use your experience, girl,” Baumgartner yelled from the sidelines as Jacobellis made one last pass to make history.
She became the first Olympic gold medalist in the debut mixed crossboard event along with Baumgartner. And what’s more incredible: Jacobellis joined two of her women teammates to create history. She became the second oldest U.S. woman ever to win a medal at the Winter Olympics (36 years, 177 days). Meyers Taylor became the oldest, and Humphries became the third oldest (36 years, 163 days).
All achieved in the last week.
The fight for equality doesn’t end here for a lot of these athletes. Meyers Taylor and Humphries have been vocal in advocating for more women’s bobsled events at the Olympics, including a four-woman event, which is now only open to men. There’s also one sport which only has men’s events: The Nordic Combined. It’s a winter sport that includes cross-country skiing and ski jumping and has been a part of the Winter Olympics since its inauguration, but it’s yet to include women’s events.
There’s also work to be done in making the Olympics more inclusive to depict the larger society. In a change in the right direction, figure skating at this year’s Olympics now use the term “women” and not “ladies.” The men were always called “men” in figure skating, but the same equivalent of “women,” was not co-opted until this year.
There was also another important milestone achieved in figure skating this year: Team USA’s Timothy LeDuc became the first non-binary person to compete at a Winter Olympics.
Every one of the 13 athletes who have medaled in Beijing so far have a tale to tell.
Jackson, who stepped on to the ice for the first time in 2016, became the first Black woman to medal in speedskating. And what’s even more incredible is she almost didn’t make it to Beijing. She missed out on qualifying for the 500-meter speedskating event after falling, and her long-time friend and teammate, Brittany Bowe, who finished first, gave up her spot for Jackson. After the medal ceremony, Jackson tweeted, “Cried so much that I put on my medal backward… then cried some more.”
Humphries, who won the first ever gold medal in the women’s monobob event, didn’t even have a country to compete for up until December 2021. She left Canada for the U.S. due to a divisive separation from Bobsleigh Canada, after she accused her former coach of mental and emotional harassment, but didn’t know until the end of December if she would receive her U.S. passport in time to compete in Beijing.
Jacobellis had to wait 16 years after her devastating silver medal in Turin to win her next Olympic medal. Ice dancer Madison Hubbell had to wait until her last ever competitive performance for her Olympic bronze. And, Meyers Taylor dove into a dark place during her COVID-19 isolation from her son, Nico, where she wondered, multiple times, why she was doing this to herself.
Meyers Taylor’s silver medal, in her view, was “the most difficult medal” she has won. To her, it was “better than gold.”