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CEO Kathryn Olson: 2012 is the ‘Year of the Woman’

2012: The Year of the Woman

Just one month after we celebrated the 40 th anniversary of Title IX, the landmark legislation’s enduring influence was felt with a fury at the London Olympic Games, where American female athletes dominated everything from archery to water polo.

The attribution to Title IX could not be missed as we witnessed history and glory from the women of Team USA across both individual and team sports, through traditional and new Olympic events. From boxing to judo to basketball, swimming, track (I could name any sport…), American women showed the world what decades of rising opportunities have done to help our daughters and sisters grow into strong competitors.

It’s not by chance that these skilled athletes learned to know and love a sport where they could become “the world’s best.” Through decades of arduous stewardship and leadership, women who came before them helped win the equality to participate, play, compete, and thrive.

“I completely took it for granted,” 11-time Olympic medalist swimmer Natalie Coughlin said in panel discussion on women athletes. “I remember watching the 1988 games and looking up to Janet Evans and Matt Biondi, and I never thought that women didn’t have the same opportunities in sport. It really wasn’t until I got involved with Women’s Sports Foundation where I started to realize all the opportunities that we’ve had because of things like Title IX.” (Cronkite News; August 9, 2012)

As I read Natalie’s comments, I couldn’t have been more proud of the work of the Women’s Sports Foundation, which has always been a leading advocate, champion, and guardian for Title IX. From the work of our founder Billie Jean King and our first president Donna de Varona, through the years of advocacy at every level, the Women’s Sports Foundation has been fundamental to the growth of opportunities to get more girls active. Before Title IX was passed, 1 in 27 girls participated in high school sports; today, 2 in 5 girls are able to play.

And just how great of an impact did we witness? The women in Stars and Stripes accounted for 63% of our country’s total gold medal haul. If the U.S. women had competed as a nation they would have tied for third in gold medals and finished fifth in the overall medal count. The take-away from these Games: if we support them, they will flourish.

“Team WSF” Is Making Our Own Mark in London

  • From the Olympics to the Paralympics, both WSF Leadership and our Gatorade Travel & Training Fund and Rusty Kanokogi Fund grantees give us even more to celebrate. From “WSF on-the-ground” to sports-insider expertise to thought leadership to pure performance, we shared in the thrill that has been “The Year of the Woman:”
  • WSF Chair Benita Fitzgerald Mosley, Chief of Sport Performance for USA Track & Field, had a large hand in the amazing performance of our Track & Field athletes. Athlete spirit, medals, and records reflected the influence of Benita’s leadership and expertise, giving our nation the thrill of seeing Team USA back in the spotlight across track and field events.
  • WSF President Laila Ali, four-time world champion boxer, added color commentary for the debut of women’s boxing. Enhancing this historic appearance, the American women led by Claressa Shields kept the U.S. on the podium stand in a year when the men failed to medal.
  • Angela Ruggiero, WSF President-elect, fulfilled her duties as an IOC board member as she awarded medals throughout the Games. Were you one of the millions of viewers glued to the broadcast of the U.S. Women’s National Team in the soccer finals? That was Angela presenting them with their gold medals!
  • Leading Team USA into the Paralympics, WSF Trustee and former WSF president Aimee Mullins will have a marquee role as Chef de Mission.
  • WSF Trustee Tamika Catchings earned yet another gold medal as she led the women’s basketball team to its 5th consecutive gold medal.
  • Also on the ground in London were former presidents Wendy Hilliard (Director of WSF’s GoGirlGo! program in New York City), Nancy Hogshead-Makar (WSF Senior Director of Advocacy), Donna de Varona, and Dominique Dawes. On behalf of WSF, Wendy tweeted and blogged about the incredible and historic Team USA performances in gymnastics. Click here to read Wendy’s post about Gabby Douglas’ significant night.
  • And perhaps the greatest thrill of all so far was watching 31 WSF grantees represent the U.S. in events covering sailing, rowing, judo, water polo, diving and track & field. Rusty Kanokogi grantee Kayla Harrison won the first-ever gold medal for the U.S. in judo – inspiring our grantee Jordan Mouton in the Paralympics to achieve the same feat in blind judo. And Travel & Training recipient the U.S. Water Polo team – captained by Brenda Villa, WSF Athlete Advisory Panel member – won gold for the first time ever!

The London Olympic Games were monumental for women across cultures and countries:

  • 2012 was the first time every single participating country was represented by at least one female athlete.
  • There were more female athletes competing than in any other Games in history, making up 44.4 percent of the overall participant total.
  • The U.S. isn't the only country that produced more female than male medalists at these Games. China's women won 49 medals and its men 36. The count in Russia was 44-38, and in Australia it was 20-15.
  • Afghan sprinter Tahmina Kohistani vowed to continue running despite physical threats from Islamic fundamentalists in her war-torn country. "It's about the journey," she said. "Being here is more important for me than a gold medal."

Some of the most-buzzed about moments in London:

The U.S. women’s gymnastics team – dubbed the Fab 5 by American media – earned Team gold for the first time since the “Magnificent 7” did it in Atlanta in 1996. The fivesome of Gabby Douglas, McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman, Kyla Ross and Jordyn Wieber showed flawless execution and superb team work on their way to the top of the medal podium.

In the Individual All-Around competition, Douglas flew to gold, giving the U.S. a three-Olympic sweep of gymnastics’ signature event. Her infectious enthusiasm, grace under pressure and out-of-this-world skill will make her one of the most recognizable faces of the summer. Team captain Raisman added another gold and bronze to her London loot, winning the Floor Exercise event competition and earning bronze on Beam. Maroney took silver on Vault.

In the pool, a crop of fresh faces for Team USA was the talk of the swimming competition. 17-year-old high-school senior Missy Franklin lived up to her pre-London hype, finishing the Games with four gold medals and a bronze. Teammate Allison Schmitt ended her Olympic debut with three golds, a silver and a bronze. She was also the anchor swimmer in an exciting come-from-behind victory in the 4 x 200 freestyle relay, setting an Olympic record in the process.

Team competitions also proved golden for American women. Led by WSF Trustee Tamika Catchings, the Americans took their fifth-straight basketball gold. The victory marks the longest winning streak by any team, male or female, in any sport, in Olympic history. With Hope Solo hot in the net and striker Carli Lloyd with feet on fire, Team USA avenged its 2011 World Cup loss, claiming its fourth soccer Olympic gold in a 2-1 thriller over Japan.

WSF grants fueled some major Olympic “firsts” in London. 2010 WSF Travel & Training grantees, the U.S. Women’s Water Polo team, routed Spain 8-4 on its way to the first-ever American Water Polo gold. Team Captain Brenda Villa serves on the WSF Athlete Advisory Panel. 2009 Rusty Kanokogi Fund for the Advancement of U.S. Judo grantee Kayla Harrison became the first American judo gold medalist –male or female – in Olympic history.

Familiar faces remained on top of the podium in London. The dynamic duo of Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh-Jennings simply dominated on the beach volleyball court, only dropping one set on the way to their third-straight gold. Tennis star Serena Williams took her first Olympic title over Maria Sharapova in the women’s singles; she then teamed with sister Venus to win their second consecutive gold in the women’s doubles.

On the track, American women declared their supremacy after a much-discussed, seemingly-disappointing Beijing showing. Allyson Felix, after winning silver in 2004 and 2008, finally got her gold in the 200-meter. Sanya Richards-Ross took the 400-meter and Carmelita Jeter won silver and bronze, in the 100-meter and 200-meter, respectively. The team of Tianna Madison, Allyson Felix, Carmelita Jeter and Bianca Knight closed out the games in gold, setting a world record in the 4 x 100 relay in the process.

Said Kayla Harrison in a summation of how every female Olympic athlete must feel today: "It feels amazing to be a part of something so much bigger than myself. To be able to say I'm a strong, confident young woman and an Olympic champion is amazing. And I hope that we're inspiring a million little girls." (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel; August 12, 2012)

Looking Forward

The Year of the Woman has resonated throughout the media as they herald the great achievements of the female athletes of Team USA and all countries. The dialogue has helped keep WSF relevant in the media, giving us a voice to both celebrate and to alert that work still needs to be done. Click here (L.A. Times) and here (PBS NewsHour) to see some of the coverage we received.

The Olympics set the stage for us to recognize the impact of Title IX and the significance of the Women’s Sports Foundation. Our female athletes heaped moment after moment of excitement, endurance, skill, and determination on us.

And now they have set the stage for all of us to carry our excitement forward to cheer for our Paralympic athletes and recognize the work that not only needs to still be done to help more girls and women through sports – but also to see the work we must continue to help girls and women of all abilities participate, play, compete, and thrive. Stay with us on Twitter for highlights throughout the Paralympics: