From the first American to land a triple axel to the first Nigerian bobsled team, these are the game-changing athletes to look out for.
Photo (L) by Xin Li via Getty Images;
Photo (R) by Harry How via Getty Images.
As athletes from around the globe gather for the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, audiences have more to cheer about than gold medals: This year, the games also offer a remarkable showing of athletes making history for their countries, sports, and communities.
This year, the US boasts 242 athletes competing in the games. This team—which includes 11 black athletes, 11 Asian-American athletes, and the first-ever openly gay male athletes to represent the US at the Olympics, freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy and figure skater Adam Rippon—is the most diverse US winter team in history in terms of both race and gender.
But women athletes are also shaking up the games through many “firsts.”
Meet some of the changemakers at this year’s games below.
Mirai Nagasu: The First American Woman to Land a Triple Axel at the Olympics
On Monday, figure skater Mirai Nagasu became the first American woman—and third woman overall—to land a triple axel in the Olympics during the women’s free skate competition. The triple axel, which requires three-and-a-half rotations in mid-air, is considered one of the most difficult moves in figure skating.
After completing her routine, 24-year-old Nagasu pumped both fists while receiving a standing ovation from the crowd. She finished fourth in the 2010 Olympics but was snubbed in 2014 when US officials didn’t choose her for the team. After the performance, Nagasu told Washington Post reporters, “It’s historical and something no one can take away from me. I wanted to make America proud.”
While Team USA took home a bronze team skate medal—behind Canada’s gold and Russia’s silver—Nagasu left an audience favorite. Next week, she will return to the rink to compete in the women’s competition.
Maame Biney: The First Black Woman on the US Olympic Speedskating Team
Before the games even started, 18-year-old Maame Biney made history as the first black woman to join the US Olympic speedskating team. On Saturday, the Ghana-born high school senior made history again by placing second in the 500-meter short-track event, making her the first black woman representing the US—an, this year, the only American athlete overall—to reach the quarterfinals for the event.
Before arriving at the competition, Biney told NPR, “When I get on that line, I’ll be like, ‘Holy moly! I’m actually here. This is the Olympics! That means I get to inspire other kids, maybe all over the world, to just go out there and do what you love, because you never know. You might just accomplish your goal.”
Later in the Pyeongchang games, Biney will compete in the 1,500 meters event.
Erin Jackson: The First Black Woman on the US Olympic Long-Track Speedskating Team
Erin Jackson only had four months of training in long-track speedskating before she entered the US speedskating trials in January. After qualifying, Jackson told the New York Post, “I wasn’t expecting it at all. I was still going to ‘learn to speed skate’ classes just before I was going to the trials.”
Jackson’s qualification alone makes history; she is the first black woman on the US Olympic long-track speedskating team. This year marks Jackson’s first Olympics but she’s no novice to high stakes competition. Jackson has competed for the US in inline skating at the Junior World Championships and was named United States Olympic Committee female Athlete of the Year for Roller Sports in 2012 and 2013.
“It’s a pretty exciting thing, especially since you don’t see many people of color in the Winter Olympics,” Jackson told TIME. “You might have a young black girl watching these Winter Olympic sports thinking, ‘Well, there’s not anyone like me out there. I don’t know if there’s a place for me in these sports. But I’m looking forward to being in the Winter Olympics and showing, OK, we do have some representation in these sports.”
Chloe Kim: Team USA’s Young Snowboarding Sensation
In February 2016, at just 15-years-old, Chloe Kim became the first-ever female snowboarder to land back-to-back 1080 degree spins while competing at the US Snowboarding Grand Prix. There, Kim received a perfect score of 100, a feat that had until then only been achieved by Shaun White.
Now 17 years old, Kim is already aweing spectators at the Winter Olympics. During Monday’s qualifying runs, she scored 91.50, almost four points more than any other competitors. She also won over the internet’s heart, when she tweeted, “Could be down for some ice cream RN” during snowy competition. Watch her Tuesday in the women’s halfpipe final.
Seun Adigun, Akuoma Omegoga, and Ngozi Onwumere: Nigeria’s First Bobsled Team
Seun Adigun, Akuoma Omeoga, and Ngozi Onwumere are three Nigerian women who live in Texas. All three were once college track and field athletes. Now, the three are taking their athletic prowess to the snow, making history as the first-ever Olympic bobsled team from any country in Africa.
Adigun ran the 100-meter hurdles for Nigeria at the 2012 Summer Olympics but was eliminated early on. She is now competing for Nigeria for the second time after founding the bobsled team herself. “There’s no reason why people should feel like there’s only one land they need to stay in,” she told TIME. “Diversity explains to people that there are no limits in this life.”
Sabrina Simander: Kenya’s First Alpine Skier
Nineteen-year-old Sabrina Simader was born in Kenya and raised in Austria. This year, she is not only the first-ever alpine skier to compete for Kenya at the winter Olympics, she is the only athlete from the country at this year’s games.
Simander represented Kenya at the Winter Youth Olympics in 2016 and the world skiing championships in Switzerland in 2017. “Because I’m a Kenyan, that makes me exotic and some people think I can’t ski well,” Simander told Reuters. “At the beginning, people looked at me—OK, a black skier always get looked at—but when your performances get better and you improve, you win them over.”