Women have come a long way since being virtually non-existent during the ancient Olympic Games, which began in 776 B.C.
When the modern Olympic Games were introduced in 1896, female athletes were excluded because engaging in sports was believed to impede their primary function which was to reproduce.
Four years later, during the second Olympics, women were allowed to compete in non-contact sports like lawn tennis, golf and as a member of the sailing crew.
More than a century later, 36 women are stepping into the boxing ring for the first time to slug it out for flag and country. The inclusion of boxing means that women are now represented in every Olympic sport.
But, it took time to get to this stage.
Swimming in long skirts
The Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport (CAAWS), who documented the Women’s Olympic Games of the early 1900s, said women’s groups had to fight hard to get women included in more Olympic programs.
In 1928, women were finally allowed to participate in Olympic track and field events.
Frenchwoman Alice Milliat spearheaded the fight for Olympic equality. According to the CAAWS website, “She was the first to significantly push the [International Olympic Committee] towards gender equity, and her achievements prepared the ground for subsequent advances.”
Even when women were first allowed to compete in swimming, countries like the United States refused to join unless women were allowed to wear long skirts in the pool, which may seem ridiculous now, but which was probably culturally appropriate at the time.
Women are smashing world records
Today, at the London 2012 games, 16-year-old Chinese swimming sensation Ye Shiwen smashed the world record for both women and men, when she swam faster than gold medallist Ryan Lochte in the same event for men, the 400-meter individual medley.
There are also more women in the U.S. and Russian Olympic teams for the first time, and, though African and Muslim female athletes started participating in the 80s, Saudi Arabia finally sent its first two women to the competition. Now, all National Olympic Committees (NOC) have women on their team.
As well, a record 45% of the total number of athletes in London is women, and more NOCs had women carrying the flags during opening ceremonies.
Still, the fight for total equality continues. Only 14 out of the 100 representatives in the International Olympic committee are women, but that will certainly evolve.
What’s truly significant about the London 2012 Olympics in the her-story of women in sports is that the opportunity to participate in the greatest games has now become even. This bodes well for the future and inspires a new generation of athletes to be dream of being faster, higher, and stronger regardless of gender.
Patricia Bermudez-Hizon is an accomplished sportscaster, tv and events host, mother of two boys, wife of a basketball player turned golf addict, free lance producer and writer, sports junkie, breastfeeding advocate, founder of the "Everyday Is Your Birthday Foundation" and director for the "High Five Hope Foundation". Get to know more about her on her blog www.patriciahizon.com and follow her on twitter @patriciahizon.
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