For a little over 100 years, women have been able to participate as athletes in the Olympic Games. As the Olympics take place in Sochi, let's take this opportunity to remember and celebrate American women who have participated in and won Olympic Medals in winter sports.
Although a Norwegian figure skater when she won gold medals at the 1928, 1932 and 1936 Olympics, Sonja Henie became an American citizen in 1941. She started skiing after receiving her first pair of skates when she was six years old. After dominating the ranks of figure skaters, Henie became a movie star. Her first movie, One in a Million, was released in 1936 and featured her skating. She graced the cover of Time magazine in 1939 and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. She has been inducted into several sports Halls of Fames and is one of many Olympic athletes featured in the book Her Story: A Timeline of the Women Who Changed America.
Like Henie, figure skater Peggy Fleming started skating at a young age. She has stated that her skating was a family endeavor:
I became a skater because of my mom. It is not stretching the point to say, 'We became a skater,' two people, one pair of skates. We each had a job to do to make me a champion skater, and I certainly didn't do it on my own.
When she won America's only gold medal at the 1968 Grenoble Olympic Games, Fleming represented the return of American figure skating from a 1961 plane crash that had decimated the program. Pictured on the cover of Life magazine for her Olympic gold medal, she became a professional figure skater and, later, a television announcer. She is also a breast cancer survivor.
Family was also pivotal to all-around athlete Beth Heiden's Olympic appearances as a speed skater. She and her brother Eric Heiden (an Olympic speed skater as well) were featured together on a cover of Time magazine. She won a bronze medal at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics in speed skating and later competed in cycling, hockey and cross country skiing. Today, she is still an athlete.
Bonnie Blair's family was so into speed skating that his father dropped her mother off at the hospital to give birth to Bonnie while taking Bonnie's older siblings to a competition. She set her sights on Olympic gold when she was 12. In her first Olympics (1984), she finished eighth in the competition. With passion, determination and persistence, she became the first American to win Olympic gold medals in three straight Olympic Games (1988, 1992 and 1994), and the first American woman to win five gold medals in the history of the Olympics. She is considered the most decorated American woman in the history of the Winter Olympics.
Debi Thomas has never solely focused on one objective. She began figure skating when she was five years old. Thomas won a bronze medal at the 1988 Olympic Games while she was a student at Stanford studying engineering. She was the first black woman to win a figure skating medal (from any country and in any sport) at the Winter Olympics and she was featured on the cover of Time magazine. After retiring from skating, Thomas attended the Northwestern University Medical School. Today, she is an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in knee and hip replacements.
Picabo Street was named at three years old by her family when they had to get her a passport. Her name is taken from a town near where she grew up and is Native American for "shining waters" or "silver creek." Street won a silver medal in the 1992 Olympics in the downhill event and a gold medal in the Super G event at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan. She skied, but did not medal, in the 2002 Olympics. Shortly thereafter, Street retired from competitive skiing.
From athletes to astronauts to engineers to doctors to television writers and entertainers, women have done -- and continue to do -- amazing things throughout American history. Many women athletes have been inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame. We salute their accomplishments and are proud to stand on their shoulders.
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