With the start of the Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, we are inundated with Olympic news and athlete bios. I love that part, the bios. My favorite Super Bowl commercials, collectively, were those that reflected on the tenacity and strength of a few select Olympic athletes. Almost unbelievable dedication. Loved ABFTTB; Slalom Gold Medalist Mikaela Shiffren's motto since she was a child. Always Be Faster Than The Boys. When she was just six years old and already a skier she got an autograph from 3 time Olympian Heidi Voelker who passed along that same acronym, which helped to form Mikaela's future. Today, it is a sticker on Mikaela's helmet and something she heartily passes along to the next generation of girls.
By the time that next generation of girls hit the Olympics I am hopeful that female athletes will finally account for a full half of the participating athletes, worldwide. It looks like we are at about 44% this year, from an early Olympic Committee estimate, but precise numbers haven't been released yet. In America alone, 135 men to 108 women this year, though the women outnumbered the men in the Summer Olympics in Rio so I feel like we are fairly even in the US.
But here is where we started as women in the Olympics. In the beginning (1896, Athens, Greece) women were not allowed to compete at all. The mere idea of the inclusion of women was called, "impractical, uninteresting, unaesthetic, and incorrect" by an Olympic Committee head. Try telling that to Lindsay Vonn today. But I digress. The following Olympics in Paris, France, 1900, included a grand total of 22 female athletes, compared to 997 males. The very first US female Olympic Gold Medal Winner: Margaret Abbott. However, she never received a gold medal for her incredible accomplishment in golf. Instead, she received a porcelain bowl. A Porcelain Bowl. Does anyone else see the irony in that?
Interesting fact I learned this morning. Fifty years ago at the Grenoble, 1968 Olympics, the only gold medal that America took home was the one that belonged to Peggy Fleming. That was it. No other gold for the United States. She was just 19 years old and all of 5'4" tall. Her mom made her famous green skating dress. And she wowed the nation, and the world.
Fast forward. For the first time, at the London Olympics in 2012 (coincidentally the same year that women were officially allowed to participate in every sport), American women medaled more than American men, 58-45. In Sochi 2014 the men and women tied (unless you count the entire women's hockey team), and then in Rio 2016 the women were back to winning, 61-55. Yes, technically they are all winners, I know. But my point is, more and more American women are medaling. That didn't happen out of sheer determination (though that was certainly part of it).
It happened because the playing field was leveled. It happened because Title IX happened. And girls, for the first time in this country, were allowed equal access to the field to grow up on. And within a generation, women dominated. Every word of Title IX matters.
I am not here to say that female athletes are better than male athletes. I'm just saying that women REPRESENT. And I'm saying that the women's road to the Olympics has been fraught with more than their share of obstacles off the course, off the field, and out of the stadium. Nevertheless, they persisted.
Go For the Gold! Go Team USA!!
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