13 Asian Female Athletes Who Made History at Tokyo Olympics 2020
- Momiji NishiyaMomiji Nishiya
- Hidilyn DiazHidilyn Diaz
- Nesthy PetecioNesthy Petecio
- Siobhan HaugheySiobhan Haughey
- Sarah LeeSarah Lee
- Sunisa LeeSunisa Lee
- Liu ShiyingLiu Shiying
- An SanAn San
- Panipak WongpattanakitPanipak Wongpattanakit
- Huang Hsiao-wenHuang Hsiao-wen
- Greysia Polii and Apriyani RahayuGreysia Polii and Apriyani Rahayu
- Lee KieferLee Kiefer
- Maggie MacNeilMaggie MacNeil
The Tokyo 2020 Games was the most gender-balanced Olympics yet and these Asian female athletes stood out from the competition
This year’s Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games was the most equal, gender-balanced and well-represented ever, according to the International Olympic Committee. Women made up 49 per cent of all participating athletes for the first time in the Olympics’ 125-year history.
Having Japan as the host country also boosted the overall performance of the Asia-Pacific region. Asian athletes brought home 204 medals, and the Philippines, Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan and India broke their previous medal hauls. Athletes of Asian descent also set records competing for the US and Canada.
Before the opening ceremony, we profiled Asian female athletes to watch and now we celebrate those who made history and brought pride to the region and their families and fans.
At 13 years old, Momiji Nishiya is Japan’s youngest gold medalist and ensuring that the future of skateboarding—which made its debut at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics—is bright. Nishiya clinched the gold medal at the women’s street event, which had the youngest athletes at the Games competing. Her win also secured Japan’s first-ever women's skateboarding gold on home soil.
The young Olympian said, “I welled up in tears because I was beyond happy,” when describing her feelings upon winning the gold medal.
Weightlifter and Gen.T honouree Hidilyn Diaz won the Philippines’ first-ever Olympic gold. Diaz bagged the gold medal in the women’s 55kg weightlifting and broke Olympic records—finishing with 126kg in the clean and jerk, and a total of 224kg. It’s not the first feat for Diaz, who in the Rio 2016 Games ended the country’s 20-year medal drought when she nabbed a silver medal. Her Olympic gold in the 2020 Games is the latest achievement in a sport dominated by men.
Diaz said that winning is a “dream come true” and encouraged the young generation in the Philippines: “You can have this dream of gold too. This is how I started and finally, I was able to do it.”
Filipino athlete Nesthy Petecio is the first Filipino female boxer to win an Olympic medal, ending the Philippines’ boxing medal drought since Mansueto “Onyok” Velasco's silver medal win at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Petecio’s win is especially remarkable in a boxing-crazed country where men usually capture the attention, notably, right-division world champion Manny Pacquiao. She also flew the flag for the LGBTQ community, dedicating part of her win to them.
“A lot of people think that boxing is only for boys. But as women [boxers], we already earned the respect,” she said in a previous interview.
Region: Hong Kong
Siobhan Haughey became the first Hong Kong athlete to win a medal for swimming as well as the first athlete to win multiple medals at one Olympic event. Haughey clinched silver medals at both the 100m freestyle and 200m freestyle events. She also set new Asian records for both—52.27 in 100m freestyle and 1:53.92 in 200m freestyle.
“I feel very touched by all the support around me. If I didn’t have my coach’s guidance I would have not been able to succeed,” said Haughey in a post-race interview, after winning her second Olympic medal.
Region: Hong Kong
Cyclist and Gen.T honouree Sarah Lee became the first athlete from Hong Kong to bring home medals from two Olympic Games—the first is a bronze medal in women’s keirin at the 2012 London Olympics while the second bronze medal is in women’s sprint at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Lee’s win guaranteed Hong Kong’s best-ever Olympic performance to date.
“I have been representing the Hong Kong team for 13 years. Without the Hongkongers being there for me, I would not be on the podium today,” she said after winning her second-ever Olympic medal.
Sunisa “Suni” Lee is the first Hmong American Olympic gymnast and the first to bring home a gold medal in the all-around gymnastics competition at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Lee’s achievement continued America's 17-year winning streak in the sport.
Lee’s journey to an Olympic gold medal wasn’t easy; she faced injuries, lost relatives to Covid-19 and had to deal with a tragic accident that left her father paralysed. Her father, John Lee, said that his daughter's achievement is the “greatest accomplishment of any Hmong person in the US ever.”
Sport: Javelin throw
Liu Shiying has become famous as China's first women’s javelin Olympic gold medallist. Her powerful throw of 66.34 metres secured her the gold medal and also a place in the record books as the first Asian athlete to win an Olympic gold medal at the sport. Her win also made her the second Chinese athlete to be crowned Olympic champion in any field event.
Region: South Korea
An San continues South Korea’s winning streak in archery with her third Olympic gold medal at the women’s individual archery event in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. The decorated athlete holds gold medals in the recurve women’s team and mixed team competition, becoming the first athlete in the entire Tokyo Games to win three medals; the first archer in the sport’s history to secure three podium finishes in a single Olympic game; and the first Korean athlete to bring home triple gold medals at one Olympic event.
“The moment when the arrow leaves the bow you have to be completely concentrated. You have to have your mind as free as possible. In the moment that I shot the arrow, I really felt that it was a ten. I was completely sure and I was very happy about it,” said An San.
Thailand’s Panipak Wongpattanakit broke new ground as the first Thai woman to win Olympic gold medal in taekwondo. It was also Thailand’s only gold medal at the Tokyo 2020 Games. The current number one taekwondo practitioner in the world, Wongpattanakit also boasts a collection of gold medals from major international tournaments such as the Asian Games and the World Championships, plus a bronze medal from the Rio 2016 Games.
While it may not be a gold medal, Huang Hsiao-wen achieved a milestone for Taiwan when she won a bronze medal in boxing—Taiwan’s first-ever in the sport. The 23-year-old boxer debuted at the Tokyo 2020 Games and generated buzz when she won in a landslide victory against her opponents in the second round and quarter finals.
Huang highlighted the significance of a tattoo on her chest, containing encouraging words from her father: “Boxer girl, remember why you started” and she said that she felt “extremely honoured” to have brought glory to Taiwan.
Greysia Polii and Apriyani Rahayu
Badminton duo Greysia Polii and Apriyani Rahayu brought pride to Indonesia when they won the first-ever women’s doubles pair gold medal for the country. Their win also made Indonesia the second country behind China to have won titles in all five badminton events. The duo—34-year-old Polii and 23-year-old Rahayu—attribute their success to their age difference, combining both experience and youth to make a “perfect combination” that ultimately proved successful in Tokyo.
“We're happy because this success also belongs to the Indonesian people,” said Polii to Olympics.com
Filipino American fencer Lee Kiefer became the first US women’s fencer to win gold in the individual foil competition at the Olympics. The right-handed foil fencer is also a four-time NCAA champion, ten-time team Pan American champion, and three-time Olympian. In the Rio 2016 Games, Kiefer already made a name for herself as the first American woman to earn the number one world ranking in foil fencing.
“To come out here and to feel good about your fencing is what all the athletes strive to do and hope you have a medal at the end, so I have everything,” Kiefer said after the finals.
Maggie MacNeil made history when she brought home Canada’s first gold medal of the Tokyo 2020 Games from the women’s 100m butterfly event. Even more impressive is that she also went on to win a silver medal from the women’s 4x100 freestyle relay and bronze medal from the women’s 4x100 medley relay. The Chinese Canadian star swimmer is not only the current Olympic champion but also the current world champion and Americas’ record holder in the women’s 100m butterfly event.