The 2012 Olympics: A Giant Leap For American Women

Photo courtesy of Dave Holt

For Team USA, the 2012 Olympics in London have been referred to as “The Title IX Olympics”. This time around, there are more female athletes (269) representing our nation than males (261), a first for the United States in Olympic history.   Some of those women were able to compete in boxing as a women’s division was added to the Games this year. As of Tuesday morning, the women on the US Team had earned more gold medals than the men, leading 18-10 in that count, while in the overall medal count, the women have won 53% of all medals earned. To celebrate and honor the female presence at this year’s Games, let’s look at a few of the women making headlines.

Photo courtesy of On Being

Gabby Douglas: You can’t mention history-making performances at the Olympics without mentioning
“The Flying Squirrel." Last week Gabby became the first African-American gymnast to take the gold in the All-Around competition. Why do we love her? Because she is a gracious winner.   As she told reporters following her victory, ”the glory goes up to Him (God), and the blessings fall down on me.” Because she has the most electrifying, contagious smile that can light up an arena full of spectators. Because she has the strength to take her detractors in stride. From the moment she won gold, critics came out analyzing her hairstyle and complaining that she lacked the neat and tidy up-dos that many other gymnasts sport in competition. When asked about the criticism, the sixteen-year-old replied, "I don't know where this is coming from. Where is it coming from? What's wrong with my hair? I just simply gelled it back, put some clips in it and put it in a bun. Are you kidding me? I just made history? And you're focusing on my hair? I just want to say we're all beautiful inside out.” Finally, as a mom, I love it that she listens to hers. When asked her reaction to being the first African-American to earn gold in the All-Around, Gabby replied, “I want to inspire people. My mother said you can inspire a nation.” One more fun fact: while training for the Olympics, Gabby left her home in Virginia to come to Iowa and train with Liang Chow, the same coach who helped Shawn Johnson earn Olympic gold in 2008. Gabby’s host mom was there beside her mother, cheering her on in London.

Photo courtesy of Matthew Reeve

Katie Ledecky: Gabby Douglas isn’t the only teen phenom taking the Olympics by storm. Fifteen-year-old Katie Ledecky–the youngest member of Team USA–took home the gold medal and set a new US record in the 800m freestyle event. Ledecky is notoriously shy, taking up swimming as a way to make friends. Fun fact: As a soon-to-be sophomore in high school, Ledecky may have a gold medal, but she doesn’t have a driver’s permit. Another interesting detail: Ledecky never swam in a major competition prior to the Olympic tryouts in June, as her coach wanted her to keep her focus on the big picture.

Photo courtesy of André Zehetbauer

Lashinda Demus: Demus is a hurdler for the USA who placed third in the semi-finals Monday, earning a spot in the final competition. While she has not (yet) medaled, there is much to admire about her enduring spirit. Demus made the Olympic team in 2004 and the World Championship team in 2005. By 2006, she had become the top-ranked hurdler in the world, reaching the pinnacle of her career and looking ahead to the 2008 Olympic Games. At least she was, until learning she was pregnant. With twins. Demus struggled with her conflicting emotions during her pregnancy. On one hand, she almost resented being pregnant, because it came just as her career aspirations were finally coming together. On the other hand, she felt terrible for feeling that way, because she loved her unborn babies and knew they didn’t deserve any blame. After the birth of her twins, Demus struggled with post-partum depression. Training for the 2008 Olympics helped Demus lose her fifty pounds of ‘baby weight’ and helped lift her mood. Though she narrowly missed making the 2008 team, she says looking at her boys’ faces reminded her of what’s really important. Fun fact: As you watch Demus run, you will notice she has two special fans cheering her on in the stands–her sons, Duaine and Dontay.

Photo courtesy of Jon Smith

Of course, the USA is proud of all of our female athletes (and male athletes), not just the ones mentioned here. Our women have earned medals in a variety of invents, including boxing, which as I mentioned is in its debut year for women. Women from other countries have much to be proud of as well: Saudi Arabia sent a female judo competitor to London this year–the first female athlete Saudi Arabia has ever sent to an Olympic Games. So before the Olympics wind down this weekend, check out the finals in many events, cheer on the women, and celebrate the fact that they are making history, every single day.