Gabby Douglas. Jessica Ennis. Missy Franklin. Ye Shiwen. And
don’t forget the Olympics’ first female judo fighter from Saudi
Some scoffed at early hype that the games would be a breakout
moment for women, but 11 days in, female athletes have dominated
the headlines. Save for a few bursts from Michael Phelps and the
indomitable Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, it’s hard to imagine the
London Games without them.
Certainly, the 2012 Games would have lacked a majority of their
defining moments, like Douglas soaring gracefully over the balance
beam, or the supremely fit Ennis taking heptathlon gold for host
Britain, or the six women’s world records swept away in the pool,
as opposed to just three by the men. Or the last-minute, overtime
header by Alex Morgan that sent the U.S. women’s soccer team to a
white-knuckle semifinal victory against Canada.
And at least for the United States and China, the runaway medals
leaders have been women. Through Tuesday afternoon, U.S. women had
won 19 golds and 34 medals overall, compared to just 10 golds and
29 medals for American men. Chinese women have also won more golds
than men, and have outmedaled their countrymen 40-to-28.
Male headliners like the U.S. Dream Team have continued their
march to likely basketball gold, but without much pizazz – and
virtually no defense. Other men have disappointed.
The American men’s gymnastics team, favored to win gold, ended
up fifth. Britain’s cycling god Mark Cavendish failed to win the
road race on the first day of competition. And the host nation’s
athletics captain and gold medal hopeful Dai Green finished off the
podium in the 400-meter hurdles.
Meanwhile, superstar American women have risen to the occasion.
Take Serena Williams, who defeated Maria Sharapova to win gold in
singles tennis, then teamed with sister Venus to bring home the
doubles title as well. Or the ”Fierce Five” U.S women gymnasts,
who not only won gold but are being hailed as perhaps the greatest
team of all time.
Even most of the bad news at these games has involved female
athletes, like the eight women badminton players sent home for
intentionally trying to lose, and the Greek triple jumper expelled
for a racist tweet.
Timo Lumme, the director of television and marketing for the
International Olympic Committee, said the dominance of female
athletes has sparked a surge in viewership of the games among
American girls, evidence that women’s success is already inspiring
the next generation. Ratings are 89 percent higher among 12- to
17-year- old girls than for the hit teen drama ”Glee,” the
highest-rated network show in that demographic.
”You look at athletes such as Katie Ledecky, the 15-year-old
who won the 800-meters (in swimming), and the massive amount of
social media activity. … What you are seeing is a real confluence
of interest which is translating into the inspirational qualities
of the athletes being spread to as many people as possible.”
To be sure, the men have also had their moments.
Going into the games, all eyes were on Bolt to defend his title
as the world’s fastest man, and he did it in pulsating style,
setting an Olympic record in the process. Phelps finished his
career as the most decorated athlete in Olympics history. Bradley
Wiggins took gold in the time trial, weeks after becoming the first
Briton to win the Tour de France. And Andy Murray finally broke
through at Wimbledon, beating Roger Federer in the final.
But 2012 will be remembered for the women.
For the first time, the United States sent more female athletes
than male to the games, joined by Russia, Canada and China; Saudi
Arabia, Qatar and Brunei sent female athletes to the Olympics for
the first time. And the addition of women’s boxing means women are
competing in all 26 events, another first.
Saudi judo fighter Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani was
little match for her Puerto Rican opponent, but she won the
admiration of many back home. Those who claim her inclusion was
little more than window-dressing covering the Gulf kingdom’s
restrictions on female citizens ignore the fact that the teen’s
story put those issues squarely in the public eye.
”It fills me with pride to see that the path female athletes
like I helped open has been taken by so many women competing at
these games,” said Theresa Zabell, a two-time gold-medal-winning
sailor who is part of Madrid’s efforts to win the 2020 Games,
noting that Spanish women have dominated, winning five of the
country’s six medals.
Zabell, the Olympic champion in Barcelona in 1992 and in Atlanta
four years later, said she could have competed as a teenager in the
1984 Games in Los Angeles but for the fact that female sailors were
still not allowed.
”This seems impossible today, but it is a sign of how things
have changed,” she said, adding that she hoped the performance of
women in future games will ultimately become a non-story.
”The best thing will be when there is no need to mention it,”
she said. ”Because that will mean we have truly reached
Follow Paul Haven on Twitter:
- 3rd time the charm? US women see gold within reach
- Hope’s glory: Solo leads US to Olympic soccer gold
- Phelps wins showdown, 20th medal
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