Who will be Australia’s 100th female Winter Olympian?

The Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games will see a significant milestone – Australia’s 100th female Winter Olympian – but exactly who that will be is not that simple.

Australia’s first Winter Olympic representative, speed skater Ken Kennedy, took part in the 1936 Games in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, but it wasn’t until 16 years later in Oslo that we sent our first female competitors – figure skaters Nancy Burley and Gwen Molony. Since then, a further 94 have competed – bringing the total to 96. Another nine women will make their debut in Beijing.

Our women have competed at every Games since 1952 except Grenoble 1968 and Sapporo 1972, and in every sport/discipline except ski jumping, ice hockey and curling. Tahli Gill will make her debut in curling’s mixed doubles event in Beijing, while women do not take part in Nordic Combined.

Here are some summaries of Australian women at the Winter Olympics.

Australia’s participants by gender

Year Venue Disciplines Men Women Total
1924-32 No participants
1936 Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany 1 1 0 1
1948 St Moritz, Switzerland No participants
1952 Oslo, Norway 4 7 2 9
1956 Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy 3 8 2 10
1960 Squaw Valley, USA 6 26 4 30
1964 Innsbruck, Austria 1 5 2 7
1968 Grenoble, France 3 3 0 3
1972 Sapporo, Japan 2 4 0 4
1976 Innsbruck, Austria 3 5 3 8
1980 Lake Placid, USA 4 6 4 10
1984 Sarajevo, Yugoslavia 5 8 2 10
1988 Calgary, Canada 6 16 2 18
1992 Albertville, France 9 16 7 23
1994 Lillehammer, Norway 9 20 7 27
1998 Nagano, Japan 8 16 8 24
2002 Salt Lake City, USA 5 14 13 27
2006 Turin, Italy 10 23 17 40
2010 Vancouver, Canada 11 20 20 40
2014 Sochi, Russia 11 29 31 60
2018 PyeongChang, South Korea 10 28 23 51
Total 163 96 259

Australia’s participants by sport

SPORT Men Women Total
Alpine skiing 28 20 48
Biathlon 3 3 6
Bobsleigh 25 5 30
Cross country skiing 14 7 21
Curling 0 0 0
Figure skating 15 18 33
Freestyle skiing 19 22 41
Ice hockey 17 0 17
Luge 2 2 4
Nordic combined 1 0 1
Short track speed skating 14 5 19
Skeleton 3 4 7
Ski jumping 0 0 0
Snowboarding 13 10 23
Speed skating 9 1 10
TOTAL 163 97 259

Note: Jenny Owens represented Australia in both Alpine skiing and Freestyle skiing

And despite comprising well under half of our Winter Olympic participants (37 per cent), our women have punched well above their weight compared to the men. They have produced 7 of our 15 medals (including 3 of 5 gold) and provided our best results in 7 of the 13 disciplines in which Australia has competed: Alpine skiing, biathlon, bobsleigh, skeleton, luge, cross-country skiing and snowboarding.

Australia’s women’s medallists

Athlete Sport Event Year
Gold (3)
Alisa Camplin Freestyle skiing Aerials 2002
Torah Bright Snowboarding Halfpipe 2010
Lydia Lassila Freestyle skiing Aerials 2010
Silver (1)
Torah Bright Snowboarding Halfpipe 2014
Bronze (3)
Zali Steggall Alpine skiing Slalom 1998
Alisa Camplin Freestyle skiing Aerials 2006
Lydia Lassila Freestyle skiing Aerials 2014

Youngest women’s competitors

Age Athlete Sport/Discipline Event Year
14 years, 281 days Aileen Shaw Figure skating Ladies’ singles 1960
15 years, 137 days Britt Cox Freestyle skiing Ladies’ moguls 2010
16 years, 227 days Tracy Brook Figure skating Ladies’ singles 1988

Oldest women’s competitors

Age Athlete Sport/Discipline Event Year
37 years, 49 days Jacqui Cooper Freestyle skiing Aerials 2010
35 years, 161 days Kerryn Pethybridge-Rim Cross country skiing 7.5km 1998
34 years, 282 days Maria Despas Freestyle skiing Moguls 2002

So back to the original question. Who will be Australia’s 100th female Winter Olympian?

Well, it’s not that simple.

As Bill Mallon wrote in an Olympstats blog last year https://olympstats.com/2021/07/22/who-is-an-olympian/ somewhat surprisingly, the International Olympic Committee has no strict definition for an Olympian. Furthermore, the World Olympians Association has changed its definition a number of times and National Olympic Committees (including Australia’s) often have different policies about who is an Olympian.

The definition all depends on at which moment an athlete “becomes” an Olympian. Is it when they are selected, sometimes months before the Games? Should it be when they receive their accreditation or enter the Olympic Village? Do they become an Olympian if they march at the opening ceremony? When their name appears on the entry list or the start list for an event? What if they participate in official training at the Olympic venue – compulsory in sports such as bobsleigh, luge and skiing – but withdraw (say, due to injury) and don’t make it to the start line? Should competitors who took part in demonstration events or sports be counted?

In my opinion, only athletes who have competed in sports on the official program should be counted as Olympians. Furthermore, an athlete becomes an Olympian the moment an official fires the starter’s pistol or blows the whistle to start the game (or they are substituted onto the field of play in a team sport) for the event proper. Athletes who do not start an event or only take part in training should not be counted.

So, with apologies to Alpine skier Ondine McGlashan who went to Sarajevo in 1984 but withdrew before competition began, Tarsha Ebbern (ski ballet 1988) and Kylie Gill (aerials 1992) who competed in demonstration (non-medal) events, and Tess Coady who withdrew from the Big Air after an injury sustained in a training run in PyeongChang in 2018, a total of 96 women have competed for Australia at the Winter Olympics.

Here’s how the 100th is set to unfold in Beijing, bar any mishaps or late schedule changes:

  • #97: Tahli Gill will be the first Australian woman in action with curling’s mixed doubles getting underway three days before the opening ceremony (Wednesday, February 2)
  • #98: Qualification for the women’s moguls takes place the day before the opening ceremony (Thursday, February 3), with Sophie Ash the only one of four Australians in the event set to make her Olympic debut
  • #99: Tess Coady is set to make her Olympic debut in women’s snowboard slopestyle qualifying on the morning of day 1 (Saturday, February 5). Note that the Australian Olympic Committee recognises Tess as having competed at PyeongChang 2018 despite withdrawing due to injury before the event began. She does not appear in the official results.
  • #100: The first qualification run of the women’s freestyle Big Air gets underway at 9.30am Beijing time on day 3 (Monday, February 7) with Abi Harrigan set to claim a unique place in Australian Olympic history.
  • #101: Abi will be followed shortly after (from 10.15am on day 3) by Alpine skier Katie Parker in the women’s Giant Slalom.

And a big shout out to Australia’s first female Winter Olympian Gwen Molony, who who is still going strong at 89.

Categorized as Olympics

By davidclark

David Clark is an experienced writer and researcher who has worked with every major Australian television network including Seven, Nine, Ten, ABC, SBS, Foxtel and Fox Sports, alongside some of the country’s best-known sports commentators and television producers. He has also worked with other major media organisations such as Fairfax Media and AAP. David is also the author, co-author or contributor to over a dozen books including Australia Through Time, Australian Sport Through Time, The Great Aussie Sports Quiz Book, 50 Years: Celebrating A Half-Century of Australian Television and Big Things: Australia’s Amazing Roadside Attractions.

1 comment

  1. I agree with your definition – the time/date that an athlete first appears in Olympic competition – a hard and fast definition and limits subjectivity.

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