Rio 2016 Team USA: Olympiad of the Female Athlete

The dust has settled. Medals were won and lost. Tears were shed, legends were created, and superstars born.

One thing is for certain, the 2016 Olympic Games were one for the books! 

More than 10,000 athletes, representing 207 nations, competed in 31 sports in Brazil, with 306 sets of medals awarded over the course of the Games.


Team USA had a spectacular Games, and for the second successive Olympics, they topped the medal table. They won 121 medals, including 43 golds. This is the 17th time overall they have achieved this, and in Rio, Team USA hit the incredible milestone of winning 1000 golds, and 2500 Olympic medals overall, two pretty historical milestones!

Sitting in Houston airport, about to fly out to Rio, it struck me how lucky I was to be a part of such a superstar team. Serena and Venus Williams were in the lounge with us as we waited for our flight, and it was great to see how even elite-level Olympians were star struck (myself included!) Among other greats, we met Kim Rhode, a 6-time Olympian and one of three 6-time Olympians from the USA. California alone, had 124 athletes at the Games, and won 50 medals which is more than a lot of countries did!

Even more interesting is the fact that the USA took a total team of 554 athletes to the 2016 Olympic Games, of which a whopping 292 were female, more than any other country in the world, and at 53% - more women in the team than men. These incredible women went on to win 61 of Team USA's medals, and 27 of the 46 Golds (59%), including 5 more in mixed events. According to NPR "If the U.S. were divided into two countries, one male and the other female, those 27 golds for the women would tie them with Britain for most of any country, put them one ahead of China, and far ahead of the American men and everyone else."

USA Women's basketball won their 6th straight gold medal, the women's eight has been unbeaten at an Olympic and World Championship level since 2006, and women's beach volleyball has been on the podium since it became an Olympic sport in 1996. 

 Our small Canoe Sprint team was made up of Maggie Hogan, and with myself as coach, a 100% female team, and the first time this happened since 1936.

ParaCanoe made its debut at the Paralympics, and Alana Nichols, Kelly Allen and Ann Yoshida represented the USA along with coach Deb Paige, another 100% female team.

Being a part of such a large, and strong team was an amazing experience. And as a female athlete in a male dominated sport, it was great to see the women of Team USA shine. They were not only the largest female contingent of any nation in all of history, but so incredibly successful as well. I feel that of the many reasons for this success, across such a wide spectrum of sports, a lot of credit must be given to the introduction of Title IX by U.S. Congress in 1972. 

In the Munich Games of that year, American women won only 23 medals compared to the 71 from the men's team. Title IX banned sex discrimination in education programs that receive federal funding, and sports such as women's rowing and women's basketball have become some of the biggest benefactors of this pipeline of talent. Of the 554 athletes in this year's US team, nearly 80% came from this collegiate system.

Interestingly, the domination of the women in Team USA and the fact that a higher percentage of all the medals won by Team USA were won by women, (which was the second successive Olympics to have this phenomenon) did not really make mainstream media.

Lets face it, women's sport does not draw as much attention as men's. We compete on the same courts, fields, rivers, and oceans, but we definitely do not get onto the same TV screens and print media. For 17 days in August, female athletes are on equal footing to their male counterparts. As a female athlete, I feel that this is one of the greatest aspects of the Modern Olympic Games.

This was not always the case, and according to the founder of the International Olympic Committee, Pierre de Coubertin "an Olympiad with females would be impractical, uninteresting, unaesthetic and improper." In 1900, when women were first permitted to enter the Olympic Games, they represented just 22 of 997, or 2.2% of the athletes.

We have come a long way since then, with women making up 45% of all competitors in Rio. 

Another improvement is that of all the events at the Games, 47.5% will have female competitors.

  

Once all our races were over, we spent some time watching other events, including track cycling, gymnastics, track & field, bmx and the field hockey gold medal match between GB and Holland. Watching the world's best put it all on the line never ceases to amaze me, and remind me how skilled human beings are. 

After watching the synchronized swimming finals, I was blown away at the competitive level and can't imagine the number of training hours that go into the sport. And then I went to watch the women's mountain bike! The skill level was out of this world, and I am pretty sure I would have died if I had tried to emulate what these petite, superwomen were doing on their bikes!!

Being at a Games, and being at home watching a Games on TV is always worlds apart, as the media can take things out of proportion. And for once, the press got bad press! 

A great article on Huffington Post UK really highlighted the blatant sexism of the press, and even though we are making huge grounds towards equality in sport, we still have a long way to go. 

 

 I think my personal favorite was when Andy Murray was interviewed by journalist John Inverdale who commented that he is the first person to win 2 Olympic tennis golds, and Murray casually mentions that Venus and Serena Williams have won about 4 each!

 

One thing is for certain, we are on the right path, and it is a pretty exciting time to be a woman in sport!

I know that our daughters will be a part of a society that equally pushes our young male and female athletes to become the powerful champions of the future.


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