It was a year of firsts and drought-ending victories and big numbers and sports bra-related controversies. It was also another year of reckoning with the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal.
Continuing a year-end tradition, it’s time to revisit nine stories — in honor of Title IX — that attempt to capture the range of what happened in women’s sports in 2018. Some stories made big headlines. Some played out on a smaller scale. They’re stories that recognize accomplishment and progress and perseverance.
Des Linden ends Boston Marathon drought for American women
The 2018 Boston Marathon will be remembered for its rain, relentless headwinds, near-freezing temperatures and Des Linden’s run to victory. In April, Linden became the first American winner of the women’s open division in 33 years. She finished in a weather-slowed 2:39:54.
But it wasn’t about the time. It was about her perseverance on the day. It also was about the example she set. Like Shalane Flanagan’s victory at the 2017 New York City Marathon, Linden showed that American women belong among the very best female marathoners in the world. Even though Linden won in wild weather in which every pro runner struggled, it doesn’t make that any less true. Marathon racing in the elite field is always about more than fast times. It’s about speed and strategy and running savvy, about knowing your body and yourself. You’ve got to have it all and have it all come together on race day. Linden showed what it looks like when it does.
US wins gold in Olympic hockey
The US women’s Olympic hockey team ended another drought at the Olympics, in PyeongChang. Of course, they did it in dramatic fashion. In the gold-medal game, Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson scored a triple-deke goal in the sixth round of a shootout. That gave the US a 3-2 victory over rival Canada. It had been 20 years since the US claimed Olympic gold. And it had been almost one year since the US players threatened to boycott the 2017 World Championships. Coincidence? It’s hard not to see a link between Olympic gold and the near boycott. The top US players risked their national team careers with their boycott strategy in their fight for equality. They appeared to emerge from that fight more united, more invested, more confident, more fearless, more determined, more driven. You can never have enough of those qualities when going after Olympic gold.
Paid maternity leave for pro golfer Stacy Lewis
Pro golfer Stacy Lewis, a two-time major champion and 12-time winner on the LPGA tour, went on maternity leave in July. What’s the big deal about that? Her main sponsor, KPMG, said it would pay the full value of her 2018 contract. It’s a move toward more gender equality in sports. Why? Because female athletes shouldn’t feel forced to choose between motherhood and pro careers. Male athletes don’t worry about how they’ll make money when they want to start families. Like Serena Williams and the debate over protecting the seedings of pregnant tennis players, Lewis and KPMG drew attention to maternity leave issues in women’s sports. For athletes who compete as individuals and whose contracts typically require them to play a certain number of events, Lewis and KPMG show the right way forward.
Women’s basketball getting more into the numbers game
Craving more women’s basketball statistics? Well, Basketball Reference and Her Hoop Stats has you covered. In August, Basketball Reference introduced its first database for the WNBA. The new database lets reporters and fans search the entire history of the league for player stats. In November, Her Hoop Stats unveiled version 2.0. The new version expands the site’s statistical offerings to Division 2 and Division 3 college programs. The more statistics available for women’s sports, the more they can be part of conversations that compare and rank players and drive fan interest. Statistics can also spark story ideas and encourage in-depth analysis. That all helps showcase women’s sports and show the value of female athletes.
Standing ovation . . . for fans of women’s pro soccer
The North Carolina Courage won the 2018 National Women’s Soccer League championship. No real surprise there. The Courage dominated throughout the regular season, setting NWSL records for the most wins, points and goals. But the title game set another, maybe more impressive, mark. The match between the Courage and the Portland Thorns took place before a capacity crowd of 21,144 at Providence Park in Portland, Ore. That’s an attendance record for a women’s pro league final in the US. While fans regularly pack Providence Park for women’s pro soccer, the more record-setting attendance figures the better. Given all the haters, you can never have enough data points that prove fan interest in women’s sports. And you can never give enough attention to those big crowds.
Women, only women, calling games together
It was a year of firsts, especially in the broadcast booth. In August on FS1, a Sunday night MLS game between the New England Revolution and D.C. United featured play-by-play announcer Lisa Byington, analyst Danielle Slaton and sideline reporter Katie Witham. It was believed to be the first time an all-female crew called a game played by one of the top five men’s pro leagues. In September, veteran sports broadcasters Andrea Kremer and Hannah Storm became the first all-female duo to call an NFL contest. They’ve covered Thursday night games for Amazon. Women should be given more of these sports broadcasting opportunities because it’d be nice to have seconds and thirds and fourths and, eventually, do away with the counting because hearing all female broadcast teams isn’t all that unusual.
Here comes Julia “Hurricane” Hawkins . . . in record time
There’s something about female athletes who were born well before Title IX. Something about the way they seize the sports opportunities they have now. Something about the way they show it’s never too late to compete. Julia “Hurricane” Hawkins is one of those athletes. She’s 102 years old. And at the 2018 USA Track & Field Masters Indoor Championships, she set a world record in the 60-meter dash for the 100-plus age division. She crossed the finish line in 24.79 seconds. Hawkins got into running on her 100th birthday. So, technically, she’s at the beginning of her career. Here’s hoping Hawkins will keep sprinting down the track with her determined, distinctive short strides for years to come.
Sports bra controversies . . . still
It’s been more than 40 years since the sports bra was invented. But it clearly still makes some men uncomfortable. At the US Open, French tennis player Alize Cornet briefly revealed her black and red sports bra while switching her top around. The chair umpire declared a code violation. Outrage followed. US Open organizers expressed “regret” and clarified the shirt change policy for women. In October, Rowan University cross-country runners in sports bras proved too much for the university’s football coach. Following an athletics department meeting, the cross-country teams learned there was a long-standing “shirts required” verbal policy. Again, outrage followed. The school said it will create a new written policy that allows sports bras without shirts. The lesson: In the US, if you try to police women’s bodies in 2018, you’re in for a fight that you can’t win.
Nassar scandal reaches top levels of Olympic sport
Looking back at the year in women’s sport, there’s no escaping the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal. The fallout from the scandal continues to rock the top levels of Olympic sport and reveal how little executives at the US Olympic Committee and USA Gymnastics really cared about the safety of young, female gymnasts. While Nassar was effectively given a life sentence in January, the futures of USOC and USA Gymnastics remain uncertain. The USOC moved to decertify USA Gymnastics in November. Then, an independent investigation found two top USOC executives did nothing when they learned about allegations against Nassar. All along the survivors of Nassar’s abuse have said that the USOC and USA Gymnastics were complicit. The sports world is listening and believing them now. In 2019, let’s see what changes the survivors want in Olympic sports governance and follow their lead.
Fair Play is a regular column that explores the challenges girls and women face in today’s sports world, as well as their athletic accomplishments. Shira Springer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @ShiraSpringer.