Next Woman Up: Highlighting Female AAPI Athletes Impacting the Game

With women’s sports gaining more popularity in recent years, it has become a platform where we have the pleasure of witnessing female athletes excel and make history. And since March is International Women’s Month, what better way to celebrate than to highlight some of these individuals for their achievements and lasting impact on the game?

1. Naomi Osaka

A four-time Grand Slam champion, the first Asian player to ascend to the Women’s Tennis Association, and the first Japanese citizen to win a Grand Slam singles title — Naomi Osaka has done it all. A fierce competitor on the court, she also is an avid advocate for social justice and uses her platform to spread worldwide awareness to these issues. In 2020, Osaka flew to St. Paul, Minnesota to take the streets with protesters after the murder of George Floyd and take a stand against police brutality. Later that year, she competed in the 2020 U.S. Open and wore seven face masks with the names of George Floyd, Trayvon Martin, Ahmaud Arbery, Elijah McClain, Tamir Rice, and Breonna Taylor written on them.

2. Han Xu

Chosen in the second round of the 2019 WNBA draft by the New York Liberty, Han Xu quickly became a favorite amongst Liberty fans. A Shijiazhuang native in China’s Hebei province, Xu became the first Chinese-born player to hear her name called at the WNBA draft since Zheng Haixia in the 1997 inaugural edition. Last season, the 6-foot-10 center averaged 8.5 points and 3.6 rebounds.

3. Michelle Kwan

At the age of five, Michelle Kwan began her ice skating career and would win her first competition two years later. Fast forward to 1994, she would find herself landing a spot as an alternate on the U.S. Olympic team. Upon retiring in 2006, Kwan received her master’s degree in international relations from Tuft University and now serves as the U.S. ambassador to Belize. To keep in touch with her Olympic roots, she was elected to the Board of Directors of Special Olympics International. Kwan has been a lifelong supporter of the Special Olympics, attending the events locally, regionally and internationally. Kwan continues to use her platform to advocate for people with disabilities around the world.

4. Kristi Yamaguchi

Kristi Yamaguchi competed in both singles and pairs competitions through 1990, qualifying for the world championship in both events. Yamaguchi would place fourth and fifth respectively in those events. She later would drop out of pairs to concentrate on singles competition and accomplish her first world championship title in 1991. Competing in the 1992 Albertville Olympics, Yamaguchi would bring home the gold medal in her program. Once she retired from professional competition, Yamaguchi continued to stay involved in the sport by taking part as a commentator for events like the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and working for NBC Sports and Today.

5. Chloe Kim

Bursting into the snowboarding scene at 14, Chloe Kim became the youngest gold medalist at the 2015 X Games. Once Kim became of age to compete in the Olympic Games, the stage was set for her at the 2018 PyeongChang Games. A fan-favorite to home and overseas fans, Kim quickly became a household name after being the youngest participant to win Olympic gold in the halfpipe event. She also was recently honored at our 20th Unforgettable Gala where she was awarded the Pechanga Athlete on Another Level.

6. Amy Chow

A two-time Olympian, Amy Chow was a part of the first U.S. women’s team to win an Olympic gold medal in gymnastics. Though she first competed for the U.S. in 1992, she found international notability as a member of the group known as the “Magnificent 7.” The seven gymnasts (Shannon Miller, Dominique Moceanu, Dominique Dawes, Kerri Strug, Amy Chow, Jaycie Phelps, and Amanda Borden) outscored their main competition Russia and two-time defending world champs Romania to secure the team gold medal at the Olympic Games Atlanta 1996. After retiring from professional competition, she transitioned to medicine and graduated from Stanford School of Medicine. Today, she is a licensed physician and surgeon.

7. Sunisa Lee

By the time Sunisa Lee was 12, she had already reached the highest level of the women’s development program run by the USA Gymnastics. Lee soon after would find her way onto the 2020 Olympic gymnastics team, becoming the first Hmong American to compete at the Games. There, she would capture the individual all-round gold medal, making her the fifth consecutive American woman to win the prize. Lee is currently in her sophomore season at Auburn University with the intention of defending her gold medal at the 2024 Paris Games.

8. Eileen Gu

Eileen Gu, also known by her Chinese name, Gu Ailing, started skiing when she was 3-years-old. Born in the United States, Gu decided to represent China during the 2022 Beijing Winter Games. She established herself as an elite freestyle skier when she won gold medals in Freeski Halfpipe and Big Air, and a silver medal in Freeski Slopestyle. After her performance at the Games, she enrolled as an undergraduate at prestigious Stanford University.

9. Asuka

Known as “The Empress of Tomorrow” Kanako Urai or, by her stage name, Asuka, made her WWE debut in 2015 after competing professionally overseas in Japan under varying companies. She has created quite the resume IF that weren’t enough, Asuka also won the first ever Women’s Royal Rumble match. Later this year, she hopes to win the Raw Women’s Championship when she takes on Bianca Belair at Wrestlemania 39.

10. Hidilyn Diaz

Before taking home what would be her country’s 11th medal, Olympic weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz became the first athlete to win gold for her home country of the Philippines. Prior to her win, the Philippines held only silver and bronze medal placements. At the 2020 Olympics Games, the 30-year-old Diaz set an Olympic record lifting a combined weight of 224 kilograms, and led to her securing the top spot in the women’s 55-kg class in Tokyo. With her sights set on the Paris Games next year, Diaz knows the rough road ahead as she looks to qualify for her fifth straight Olympic Games.