It’s been a man’s arena for millenniums. The ancient Olympic games in Greece didn’t allow female competitors. Even female spectators were banned for most events.
The first ‘modern’ Olympics in 1896 was an all-male club, as the feeling was women sports would be “uninteresting” and ”impractical.” Four years later, the 1900 Olympics in Paris finally had a handful of female competitors – in lawn bowling, tennis, golf, equestrian, yachting and croquet. Yes, croquet.
Over the decades, more events were added for women, such as swimming (1912), gymnastics (1928) and track (1928), marathon (1984) and, over the past couple decades, women now compete in traditional men’s sports such a wrestling, weight-lifting, judo and, the introduction of boxing in London.
For the first time, women and men compete in all the same sports. Also for the first time, every country has sent female competitors to the Games as Muslim countries Qatar, Brunei, and Saudi Arabia agreed to allow female participants.
It’s been a long hard fight for equal participation, equal rights and equal representation. Now at the London Olympic Games, it seems the gender imbalance has returned. But it’s the men who have faded. The women, at least in London, rule. They have taken over the spotlight in just about every sport.Pick a sport and the images generated are those of the women athletes, particularly American women.
How about gymnastics? Those five American girls – led by effervescent Gabby Douglas – led all competitors in athleticism, drama and diva-ness. We don’t remember the men doing much of anything.
How about soccer? The U.S. women’s extra-time 4-3 victory over Canada in the semifinals stands alone as the Games most compelling event. Then the Americans battled Japan Thursday for the gold medal in another remarkable game, a 2-1 victory. The men, because there is a 23-under age restriction, was regulated to apathy. Without the game’s greatest players, who cares?How about beach volleyball? Misty May Treanor and Kerri Walsh won their third straight gold medal and no doubt cleaned up in the TV ratings. The men – not so much.
Swimming? Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte, Nathan Adrian and Cullen Jones had their moments but so did a parade of competitive and compelling women, Missy Franklin, Jessica Hardy, Allison Schmitt, Rebecca Soni, Dana Vollmer and Natalie Coughlin. The women just seem more spirited and more engaging, as you can see in the video the swim team put together (at the bottom of this story).Track & Field? Like swimming, there are great stories on both gender sides. World fastest human Usain Bolt and world’s fastest prosthesis Oscar Pistorius are terrific stories. But they couldn’t match the drama of Lolo Jones, Allyson Felix, winning her first gold in the 200-meters in her third opportunity, and South Africa’s 800-meter champion Caster Semenya, who has had some questioning her gender side.
By Wednesday, the U.S. had won 34 gold medals. Of those, 23 were won by women.
The women are simply more interesting to watch, and easier on the eyes, such as New Zealand field hockey star Charlotte Harrison (at the top), who is among most of the ‘hottest” athletes lists this week.
Women were handed an unfair start to the Olympic experience but they’ve made up the stagger on the men and taking them on stride for stride.