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The Impact of Young Women in Professional Sports

In the past few years, a movement in women’s sports has led to younger athletes competing on the national or international stage, and succeeding at that high level against players much older than them. Traditionally, athletes in sports such as basketball and volleyball waited until after their collegiate careers ended to begin their professional careers. However, sports such as soccer, swimming, and tennis have thrown that tradition out the window. Now, athletes as young as 12 are competing on the Olympic stage, contributing to the youth movement that is sweeping through female sports. 

Sky Brown, 15, Skateboarding 

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Sky Brown has been enamored with skateboarding since discovering the sport at her preschool’s skate park. Brown never had a coach growing up, so she learned all of her tricks from YouTube videos. She first skated onto the scene in 2016 at the age of eight by competing in the Vans US Open. She was unable to medal at the event, but came back a year later in 2017 to place second in the Asian Continental Finals. She officially became a professional athlete in 2018 at the age of 10 and is currently the youngest professional skateboarder in the world as well as Nike’s youngest sponsored athlete in the world. However, her career was put in jeopardy in May of 2020, when she suffered a ghastly fall from a halfpipe which left her with several skull fractures and a broken left wrist and hand. Nevertheless, Brown came back stronger than ever. In a video posted online, she got help from Skateboarding legend Tony Hawk to conquer her fear of the mega ramp. The video was filmed only four months after the accident occurred. Brown went on to compete for Great Britain during the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo earning the Bronze medal in the women’s park event and most recently won the 2023 World Skateboarding Championship with a combined score of 90.83 making her Great Britain's first skateboarding world champion at only 14 years old.

Kayla Han, 15, Swimming 

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Kayla Han broke onto the national stage in 2021, making headlines when she qualified for the USA Olympic Swimming Trials. At only 12 years old, Han was by far the youngest competitor in the field. She also gained notoriety after a clip of her winning the 400m Individual Medley (IM) B-final went viral, becoming the most viewed video from that year’s U.S. Olympic Trials. Although she didn’t make the 2020 Tokyo Olympic roster, she continued to improve her times and won a Silver Medal at the 2022 Junior Pan Pacific Championships in the 400 IM. Later in 2022, Han competed in the 2022 Winter Junior US National Championships in La Mirada, CA, and placed third in the 1650-yard freestyle and second in the 200-yard butterfly b-final. Now, Han will look to make the U.S. Olympic Roster and compete at the 2024 Paris Olympics. 

Alysa Liu, 18, Figure Skating

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(Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Alysa Liu came into the national spotlight in 2019, at age 13, when she broke Tara Lipinski’s record as the youngest U.S. figure skating champion. That same year, she became the youngest woman to land a Triple Axel internationally, and at age 14, she became the first U.S. woman to land a quad in competition. While she was forced to withdraw from the U.S. Figure Skating Championships due to a positive COVID-19 test, she successfully petitioned her way onto the Olympic team as the highest-ranked American in international competition during the season. When she debuted in the Olympics, she was the top American, finishing in 7th place. She followed up her Olympic performance well, winning a bronze medal at the World Championships. Shortly after, on April 9, 2022, Liu made the decision to retire from figure skating, saying that she felt satisfied with how her career had gone, had completed her goals of competing in the Olympics, and was ready to move on. Her early retirement marked her as the first U.S. women’s singles skater to not make a bid for a second Olympics since 2002 Olympic gold medalist Sarah Hughes. Despite retiring after her first Olympics, Liu left a lasting impact on the figure skating world at a very young age. 

Alyssa Thompson, 18, Soccer

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(Ezequiel Becerra/AFP)

Alyssa Thompson has made history in the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) by becoming the first high school player to be selected first overall by Angel City FC during the 2023 draft, even before completing her final semester in high school. She is considered one of the brightest stars in the future of women's soccer and became the most expensive players in NWSL history since Alex Morgan. Earlier this year, she played for the United States Women's National Soccer team in the FIFA Women’s World Cup, which was held in New Zealand, causing her to miss her own high school graduation. This season, Thompson played in 14 games, 12 of which she started, for Angel City FC, scoring three goals and providing one assist.

Coco Gauff, 19, Tennis

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Coco Gauff has achieved remarkable success since debuting in women's tennis in 2018 and has been a tennis prodigy since she began training at the age of 10. She recently became the first American teenager to win the US Open since Serena Williams in 1999 after defeating Aryna Sabalenka in this year’s women’s singles. In 2019, at 15 years and 7 months, Gauff became the youngest WTA Tour singles champion at the Linz Open. She made history at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics by becoming the youngest American tennis athlete to participate in a summer Olympics since Mario Ancic in 2000. Unfortunately, she had to pull out of the tournament due to testing positive for COVID-19. As of Sept. 11, 2023, Gauff is ranked at no. 3 in the WTA world ranking. She has been inspiring the younger generation of tennis players and holds a record of 169-79 in singles.

Chloe Kim, 22, Snowboarding

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Chole Kim came into the spotlight at the age of 14 during the 2015 X Games. She posted scores of 90.0 and 92.0 to win the event ahead of U.S. Snowboarder Kelly Clark flipping the snowboarding world on its head. Since then she has had big achievements including two Olympic gold medals and four X Games gold medals. In 2018 at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics Kim became the youngest woman to ever land two 1080-degree spins in a row at the Olympics. She continues to dominate the sport. Kim took off from X Game in 2023, but the world will be waiting to see if she will return in 2024 to try and go for a sixth gold medal.

It’s important to note that these aren’t the only young athletes changing the face of women’s sports. Many sports across the country and the world are featuring athletes under 21 competing professionally. In the past, athletes such as Kerri Strug (14 years old at the 1992 Olympics), Dominique Moceneau (14 years old at the 1996 Olympics), and Tara Lipinski (15 years old at the 1998 Olympics) competed at young ages. 

Now, some of the most notable young athletes are Melanie Barcenas (15, NWSL - San Diego Wave: youngest NWSL player), Katie Grimes (17, Swimming: first athlete to qualify for 2024 U.S. Olympic team), Athing Mu (21, Track and Field: 800m gold medal, 4x400m gold medal, at 2020 Tokyo Olympics), Hend Zaza (14, Table Tennis: youngest athlete to compete in Olympic table tennis), Kokona Hiraki (15, Skateboarding: won a silver medal in the women's park event at the 2020 Olympics), Rayssa Leal (15, Skateboarding: won a silver medal in women's street skateboarding at the 2020 Olympics), and Chloe Ricketts (16, NWSL - Washington Spirit: second youngest NWSL player). These athletes, as well as many others, make up the new wave of young athletes captivating women’s sports and dominating the world stage.




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