A new generation of female athletes is taking on the world.
It's been a good year, to say the least, for Bright: She got married in June, served as her native Australia's flag bearer during the opening ceremony at the Olympics, and, despite suffering two concussions during mid-season practice sessions, came home with a gold medal in the halfpipe. Her winning run in Vancouver was one for the ages, punctuated by a switch backside 720, a contortionist's move with a blind landing that confounds most top snowboarders. She nailed it after falling hard during her previous run. "After my crash, the first thing I thought was 'Oh, well, that's that,'" the 23-year-old says nonchalantly. "But then I remembered it's only one run that counts." Bright grew up skiing with her parents in New South Wales's Snowy Mountains, strapping her feet to a snowboard for the first time when she was 11. Since turning pro in 2000, at age 14, she's won a steady stream of major competitions, including the X Games superpipe in 2007 and 2009. A perfectionist on snow, Bright now calls Salt Lake City, Utah, home, in part because she can take advantage of the Northern Hemisphere's bigger snowfalls. "I can always get better," she says. This winter, she's determined to get more time on her board off the halfpipe. "I still love to compete," she says, "but I didn't get a single powder day in last year. When I'm done with snowboarding, I want to be known as a great rider, not just a halfpipe competitor."
You wouldn't peg 18-year-old Conlogue as a fighter. She hails from kick-back Santa Ana, California, in Orange County, and has made a name for herself in a sport whose athletes use the word soul without irony. But at age four, right around the time she learned to surf, Conlogue gleefully whupped a bunch of six-year-olds in a taekwondo skills tournament. "I was technically supposed to be older," she says, "but they let me in because I was gnarly." No kidding: As a 14-year-old, in 2007, Conlogue won a surfing gold medal as a member of the U.S. team in X Games 13; in 2008, she won five individual competitions, including the Surfing America USA Championships' Girls Under 18 division; and in 2009 she won the biggest competition on the U.S. mainland, the Hurley U.S. Open of Surfing, held at her home break in Huntington Beach. "She's an amazing talent," says big-wave rider Greg Long. "She's already one of the most formidable opponents in women's surfing." And now that she's graduated from school and can focus on surfing full time, Conlogue is only going to get better. She trains roughly six hours a day in the water, simulating the 20-minute heats common in competitions. "You only get those 20 minutes to put on a show," she says. "I don't want lack of conditioning to be the thing that hinders me." Next up is scoring a spot on the ASP World Tour, which should happen next year. "It's all I want," she says. "It's been a goal of mine since I was ten." And once she does make the tour? "I want a world title. Who knows where I'll go from there."
"I have a very competitive side," admits Puccio, 21, who was introduced to climbing at age 13 along with her younger sister Casey by their mother. But it was Casey, at first, who was the better climber. "She was nine," says Puccio. "I couldn't have my little sister beat me. It drove me." And how. At age 16, Puccio won the first professional-level competition she entered, the 2006 American Bouldering Series Open National Championships. Since then, she's established herself as one of the top American competition climbers, winning a string of ABS titles and, in 2008, the International Federation of Sport Climbing Bouldering World Cup at the Teva Mountain Games, in Vail. "Some people don't like climbing in front of a crowd," she says. "But that's why I compete. I love feeding off the energy." Not that she can't perform on a lonely crag. On routes in Colorado, California, and Texas, Puccio has notched seven V12's, one of the hardest boulder problems a woman has sent. "I'd love to climb some V13's, V14's," she says. She already has a heavily overhung problem scoped out near her home in Boulder, Colorado, that could rate a V13. "With men, they're up to, like, V16," she says. "Women can get to that level, too. It's just that there aren't that many trying. At least not yet."
Yes, she's the younger sister of Julia Mancuso, who, after taking home a pair of silver medals in Vancouver, became the most decorated female alpine skier in U.S. Olympic history. But best to let Sara bring that up. "I'm my own person," she says. That person, it turns out, is one of the most promising young freeskiers of her generation. After a seven-year hiatus from competitive skiing, Mancuso surprised everyone last year by coming in fifth at the Freeskiing World Championships, held at Utah's Snowbird resort. "I raced until I was 13," says Mancuso, who turns 21 in December, "but I stopped having fun with it. When I came back, I was just hanging out with my friends, learning to have fun again." One of those friends happened to be Mike Wilson, 24, a freeskiing phenom who invented an off-axis double-rotation move called, of course, the Wilsonflip. "Sara has more potential than anybody," says Wilson. "She's got the strength to jump cliffs and the skills to handle terrain that a lot of people simply can't." Heading into her sophomore year on the freeskiing tour, Mancuso's goal is to perform consistently in every event. "I try to jump off something bigger and scarier every single day," she says. "My sisters [her oldest, April, is a doctor in Michigan] have achieved a lot. I want to be as successful as them." And if she tires of skiing again, Mancuso already has an alternative career rolling. In July, she released a four-track demo album of indie/pop music with guitarist Jason Powers. She's also relocated to Los Angeles—at least when it's not snowing in the Sierra.
Credit Shoemaker's mom, Mae, for her endurance genes: Mae has run every Boston Marathon for the past 20 years, including the 2007 race, a month after she was diagnosed with breast cancer. (Mae's doctor agreed to postpone surgery until after the race.) Shoemaker, 26, has long displayed that same tenacity in triathlon, and in the past few years of competition she's proven herself to be a force in a sport often dominated by competitors in their thirties. Her résumé includes second-place finishes at the 2009 USA Triathlon Elite National Championship, the 2009 Pan American Championships, and San Francisco's grueling Escape from Alcatraz race, this past May. Shoemaker, now based in Los Angeles, found her way to triathlon after her freshman year at Harvard—she competed on the swim team and majored in psychology—spurred on in part by older brother Jarrod's success as a runner. (Jarrod went on to make the 2008 U.S. Olympic triathlon squad.) "I was never trained in running, but because my brother was such a good runner, I knew that genetically I could be," she says. "Getting into triathlons was a natural progression." Shoemaker's life these days is pretty simple: Swim, bike, run, eat, rest; repeat. But in her limited downtime, she's taken small acting roles in indie films. "I told my mother when I was little that I wanted to be the first person to win an Oscar and a gold medal," she says. First step is making the 2012 Olympic team. "Everything I do in the next two years is focused on that," says Shoemaker.