When the Winter Olympics began in 1924, women competed in two of 16 events. It was an improvement over the first Summer Olympics in 1896, which did not include any women competitors – but it was still far from equality.
Even in the 21st century there were still sporting events where women were not allowed to compete. For example, women’s ski jumping was added to the Olympic program as recently as 2014. Whereas the men have been competing in it since the first Winter Olympics in 1924.
But we’ve come a long way. Now sports cannot be added to the Olympic program without also containing a women’s event — a new rule since 2012. The Winter Youth Olympic Games Lausanne 2020 will mark the first Winter Olympic event with full gender balance, and the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 will have 48.8% female participation, a record for a Summer Games.
In honor of Women of Team USA Week, we took a look back at the past 24 Winter Olympics to see when women began competing in various events, and how well the U.S. women have fared.
1924 – Chamonix
Though women were barred from competing at the ancient Olympics, the first Winter Games — which were originally known as “International Winter Sports Week” — only saw 11 women taking part out of 258 competitors. At the time there were only two events open to them of the 16 total: women’s figure skating and mixed pairs. Beatrix Loughran won silver for Team USA in women’s figure skating.
1928 – St. Moritz
Switzerland was the home to the second Olympic Winter Games, and the first time the Games were held in a different nation from the Summer Games of the same year. Women competed in the same events they did in Chamonix, and this time Loughran took the bronze.
1932- Lake Placid
No new sports were added to the Olympic program this year, and women were not yet added to the existing Olympic sport disciplines of bobsled, cross-country skiing, ice hockey, Nordic combined and ski jumping. In figure skating, American Maribel Vinson won bronze in the women’s singles competition, while Loughran won her third Olympic medal: silver in pairs with Sherwin Badger.
1936 – Garmisch-Partenkirchen
Alpine skiing was added to the Olympic program at these Games, with one event – the combined, consisting of downhill and one of slalom – held for men and one for women. Garmisch-Partenkirchen marked the first time no U.S. women medaled at a Winter Games.
1948 – St. Moritz
With 12 years having passed since the last Winter Olympics, these Games were named the “Games of Renewal” due to the gap in time caused by World War II.
Alpine skiing added separate downhill and slalom races to the program this year, following the success of the combined format the previous Winter Games.
Gretchen Fraser medaled in two of the three women’s alpine events in Switzerland, with her gold in slalom marking the first Winter Olympic gold medal for a U.S. woman and the first gold medal by a U.S. skier. She also took silver in the combined.
1952 – Oslo
Despite cross-country skiing being included in the Olympic program since the inception of the Winter Games, women were not able to compete until the Oslo Games.
In Norway, men competed in two individual events and a relay, while a 10-kilometer women’s event was added.
The U.S. took home its most women’s medals yet at these Games with alpine skier Andrea Mead Lawrence winning both the slalom and giant slalom races, Tenley Albright taking silver in women’s figure skating, and Karol Kennedy and brother Peter Kennedy earning silver in pairs.
1956 – Cortina d’Ampezzo
The 1956 Winter Olympics was the year that the Olympic oath was sworn by a female athlete for the first time — Italian alpine skier Giuliana Chenal-Minuzzo, who won bronze at the 1952 Oslo Games was given the honor.
While the men had one cross-country skiing event added for four total in Italy, the women were also given a second: the 3×5-kilometer relay.
The 1956 Games marked the first time two U.S. women shared a Winter Olympics podium, with Albright advancing to gold and Carol Heiss taking silver in women’s singles skating.
1960 – Squaw Valley
The 1960 Gamess in California saw the introduction of biathlon, but only for men, and women’s speedskating. Women would now have four speedskating events, just like their male counterparts, as opposed to none.
American Jeanne Ashworth took home the bronze in the 500-meter, marking the first of 28 women’s long track speedskating medals the U.S. has won to date.
For the first time ever, U.S. women won more medals than the men at these Games. Heiss took home figure skating gold four years after her silver, teammate Barbara Roles joined her for bronze, alpine skier Penny Pitou won two silvers, her teammate Betsy Snite won a silver, and Nancy and husband Ronald Ludington earned pairs bronze.
1964 – Innsbruck
Luge debuted in the 1964 Olympics, with events contested in men’s singles, women’s singles and doubles. Cross-country skiing also added a third women’s event.
Alpine skier Jean Saubert won the only true women’s medals for the U.S. at these Games, taking two silver medals. Figure skater Vivian Joseph and her brother/pairs partner Ronald Joseph finished fourth at the time but were later awarded the bronze medal.
1968 – Grenoble
For the first time at the Games, gender tests for women were introduced, as well as doping controls for both men and women.
While no new women’s events were added, the women of Team USA had a historic Games of their own, winning five of the country’s seven medals, including its sole gold from figure skater Peggy Fleming. The other four medals came from three speedskaters.
1972 – Sapporo
These were the first Olympic Winter Games organized in Asia, and one Team USA would remember for a long time. Seven of the eight U.S. medals came from women, which included the country’s first women’s speedskating gold medal from Dianne Holum. Anne Henning matched that feat the following day.
Barbara Cochran won gold in slalom, her teammate Susan Corrock took bronze in the downhill, while Holum and Henning each picked up another medal.
1976 – Innsbruck
Ice dance made its Olympic debut in 1976, when Americans Colleen O’Connor and Jim Millns skated away with the bronze.
Dorothy Hamill returned the U.S. to the top of the women’s figure skating podium at these Games, while U.S. women’s speedskaters again picked up four medals, highlighted by Sheila Young’s 500-meter gold.
1980 – Lake Placid
On home ice, Linda Fratianne earned silver in women’s figure skating, while speedskater Leah Poulos-Mueller won two silvers and teammate Beth Heiden took bronze.
Heiden’s brother Eric stole the show at these Games – as did the U.S. men’s ice hockey team (Miracle on Ice, anyone?) – winning gold in all five men’s speedskating races.
1984 – Sarajevo
Only one women’s event was added to the Games this year: the 20K for women’s cross-country skiing, which gave women a total of four races, the same number as the men.
The U.S. women’s performance was led by Debbie Armstrong and Christin Cooper taking gold and silver in giant slalom. Rosalynn Sumners won silver in figure skating, and yet another sibling team – silver medalists Kitty Carruthers and Peter Carruthers – medaled in pairs.
1988 – Calgary
When Canada hosted the Olympic Winter Games for the first time the number of events increased from the previous Games by seven.
Alpine skiing made the biggest jump when it went from five to 10, adding super-G for the first time and bringing the combined back.
Bonnie Blair won two speedskating medals for the U.S., while Debi Thomas and Jill Watson earned bronzes in singles and pairs figure skating, respectively.
1992 – Albertville
At the last Winter Games to be staged in the same year as the Summer Games, Albertville saw the addition of two new disciplines to the program: freestyle skiing and short track speed skating, both of which contained events for women. These Games also marked the long-awaited first appearance of women’s biathlon, with three events (same number as the men). Cross-country skiing also added a fifth women’s event, just as it did for the men.
With these changes, there were nearly 200 more women competing in Albertville than Calgary.
The U.S. won 11 medals in France – nine of which came from women, including all five golds. Kristi Yamaguchi won women’s figure skating gold and Blair speedskating gold, while moguls skier Donna Weinbrecht and short track speedskater Cathy Turner were golden in their event’s debuts.
1994 – Lillehammer
Aerials joined moguls on the freestyle skiing program at these Games for both men and women.
Blair was once again in the news when she made history by becoming the first woman to win three consecutive speedskating titles in the 500-meter and to win a second 500/1,000 double. Turner also defended her gold in short track, while alpine skier Diann Roffe won the super-G for her second Olympic medal and first gold.
1998 – Nagano
The Nagano Games saw roughly 250 more women compete than Lillehammer.
While men began competing in ice hockey at the 1920 Summer Olympics – and had since played at every Winter Games since – women were finally added to the Olympic program in Japan this year.
The U.S. women won gold over Canada at the women’s Olympic debut, quickly establishing the two powerhouse nations that have continued to medal every Games since.
Snowboarding was also new, with both men’s and women’s events in giant slalom and halfpipe. Nagano was the only Winter Games to feature giant slalom, with it becoming parallel giant slalom for every Games since.
In the halfpipe, Shannon Dunn secured the bronze and began a medal streak that has seen the U.S. women medal in every Winter Olympics thus far, including four consecutive double-podiums starting in 2006.
Curling also returned to the Olympic program after men last competed at the first Games in 1924. But this time it returned with a men’s and women’s event. While the U.S. men secured a bronze in 2006 and a historic gold in PyeongChang, the women have yet to reach the podium.
Among the eight U.S. women’s medals in Nagano was Nikki Stone’s gold in aerials, the first and still the only gold medal Team USA has won in the event.
2002 – Salt Lake City
When women’s bobsled was added to the program in Salt Lake City, Vonetta Flowers became the first black athlete to earn gold at a Winter Games (led by pilot Jill Bakken). The American women have gone on to medal in bobsled at every Games since – the only nation to do so.
Skeleton also returned to the program in Salt Lake City, this time allowing women to compete for a medal for the first time after men competed in 1928 and 1948.
Tristan Gale came away with gold and Lea Ann Parsley won silver for the United States and in the United States.
The home Games brought Team USA a whopping 34 medals, compared to the 13 earned in Nagano.
Eleven of those medals were earned by women, including golds by figure skater Sarah Hughes, halfpipe snowboarder Kelly Clark and long track speedskater Chris Witty.
2006 – Torino
For the first time, live video coverage of the Olympic Games was available on mobile phones. With the new addition in technology came the inclusion of three new events: mass start biathlon, team pursuit speedskating and snowboardcross, all of which had both men’s and women’s events.
Snowboardcross received the most attention, with Team USA’s Lindsey Jacobellis taking silver for what remains the country’s only women’s snowboardcross medal to date.
Out of Team USA’s 25 medals in Italy, only eight were earned by women, plus one mixed gender medal when Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto took silver to return the country to the ice dance podium for the first time in three decades.
The other women’s medalists were highlighted by alpine skier Julia Mancuso and halfpipe snowboarder Hannah Teter, who both won gold, and Rosey Fletcher, who won bronze in parallel giant slalom for what is still the only women’s alpine snowboarding medal by an American.
2010 – Vancouver
Skicross was added to the program, but United States has yet to send a woman in this event.
The United States took home a record 37 medals in British Columbia, including 13 earned by women.
At her third Games, Lindsey Vonn won her first Olympic medal, a gold in the downhill, which marked the first downhill gold by a U.S. woman. Three days later she took bronze in super-G.
2014 – Sochi
In addition to a nation hosting the Winter Olympics for the first time, 12 new events were added to the Sochi Games; many of which were added in an attempt to give the Games a younger feel – and to work toward gender equality. The twelve events were: figure skating team event, luge team relay, biathlon mixed relay, women’s ski jumping, slopestyle skiing (men and women), slopestyle snowboarding (men and women), halfpipe skiing (men and women) and parallel slalom snowboarding (men and women).
After enduring legal battles, women’s ski jumping was finally added to the Games 90 years after men began jumping. American Sarah Hendrickson was the 2013 world champion but a knee injury left her unable to compete leading into the Olympics. She entered the Games unranked and was thus awarded a spot in history as the first woman ever to jump at the Olympics.
Contributing to 13 of Team USA’s 28 medals, the U.S. women saw a number of highlights.
In luge – a sport that began at the Games 50 years earlier – Erin Hamlin made history when she became the U.S. woman to win an Olympic medal in the sport of luge the first American of either gender to medal in singles luge.
Eighteen-year-old alpine Mikaela Shiffrin won gold in slalom to beceme the youngest-ever Olympic champion in the history of the event.
Slopestyle snowboarder Jamie Anderson and halfpipe skier Maddie Bowman won gold in their events’ Olympic debuts, while slopestyle skier Devin Logan took silver in hers.
Meryl Davis and partner Charlie White won the first American ice dance gold in history.
Perhaps the most historic achievement was that of Lauryn Williams, who partnered with Elana Meyers Taylor to win silver in bobsled, making her the first U.S. woman in history to medal in both the summer and winter Games. Williams owns Olympic gold and silver in track and field from the 2004 and 2012 Games.
2018 – PyeongChang
This year’s Winter Olympics saw women competing in 44 events — a far cry from the two they started with in 1924. Despite men still having an additional five events, this was the most events for women at any Winter Olympics.
For the first time in 20 years, U.S. women won more than their male counterparts, earning 12 of 23 and contributing to two mixed gender medals.
Some of the historic achievements this time were rooted around age and teamwork.
Chloe Kim became the youngest women’s snowboarder to win an Olympic gold medal at age 17, while Lindsey Vonn became the oldest women’s alpine skier to medal at age 33.
The U.S. women’s ice hockey team returned to the top of the podium for the first time in 20 years, beating rival Canada in a shootout. And Jessie Diggins and Kikkan Randall won the cross-country team sprint for the first U.S. women’s cross-country medal, first U.S. cross-country gold and first U.S. cross-country medal in 42 years.