Saturday, August 18, 2012

Women roar at Olympics

There are many individual moments that can be taken from the Olympics that ended earlier this week. The opening and closing ceremonies were spectacular as London got a chance to showcase itself to the world.
Additionally, there were specific performances that grabbed our attention. The men’s basketball team sent a message to the world that the United States is still the dominant nation when it comes to this sport. Swimmer Michael Phelps climaxed his career by staking claim to the title of most prolific athlete in Olympic history. Jamaican runner Usain Bolt also reminded us that he remains the baddest man on the planet when it comes to the 100- and 200-meter dashes.
However, the biggest story (from an American point of view) has to be the performance of the women representing the United States. Women won two-thirds of the gold medals our nation brought home and were the primary reason our country won the most medals.
If it was not for the women, where would we be? Of course, it has not always been this way. Title IX legislation in the 1970s paved the way for women to get more equitable treatment when it came to sports. True, there were women’s sports before that, but their options were more limited.
Women's basketball did not become an official Olympic sport until the 1976 games in Montreal. The women’s marathon did not come until eight years later in Los Angeles. Those are two sports we take for granted now, but the opportunities were not there a generation ago.
Because of this growth, women provided some of the most memorable moments of the London games. The soccer team provided thrills by beating Canada in a controversial semi-final and then gained a measure of revenge against Japan who beat them a year before in the World Cup.
The women's basketball team was as dominant as the men's. The only negative comment I can think of regarding them is that they were coached by Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma (as a Tennessee grad, he is a little hard to swallow).
And, of course, there were the individual performances. Seventeen-year-old Missy Franklin appears on her way to becoming the new face of American swimming. She won four gold medals and one bronze. With her bubbly personality and unique style, she will likely reap a lot of publicity as the media looks for a new swimming focal point now that Michael Phelps is leaving.
Also, Gabby Douglas caught the world’s attention by becoming the first African-American to win the all-around gold medal in gymnastics. Like Franklin, stardom awaits her.
The emergence of women on the global Olympic stage showed itself in other ways. As hard as this may be to believe, this is the first time all competing nations sent female athletes. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Brunei sent women athletes for the first time. For those who believe that progress is slow in the United States, consider what the women there must be going through.
We can only imagine where women in those countries could be in 40 years if their nations start showing a commitment to providing athletic opportunities for them. As stated earlier, some Olympic sports that seem common place now were put in place for women only 30 years ago.
For further perspective, I can remember going to basketball games when I was a boy and the girls still were playing the old six-on-six format. Basically, it was a three-on-three format at each end of the court. Looking back, it seems pretty weird, but that was the way it was.
Progress is being shown so let’s continue to encourage the girls and women in our communities.

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