Women will constitute 40% of competitors at this year's Games, with the United States fielding more women (269) than men (261) -- a reflection of the successes of Title IX. The U.S.'s oldest (Karen O'Connor, riding at age 54) and youngest (Katie Ledecky, swimming at age 15) competitors this year are both women.
But in the U.S., remarkably powerful women's teams tend to be overlooked in favor of men's teams in the same sport.
I've posted before about this phenomenon with respect to U.S. women's soccer, which is ranked first this year, having won the gold at the past two Olympics, but has in the past lost media coverage to the far less spectacular men's soccer team. While that phenomenon may be changing (see, e.g., the front page of the print edition of yesterday's NY Times), the same complaint was made this year by the U.S. women's basketball team. How many IntLawGrrls readers knew that they'd won gold at the last four Olympics?
Discrimination is alive and well in other realms as well. The NY Times reports that the Japanese women's soccer team -- winner of this year's World Cup -- flew coach class to London's games, while the men's soccer team flew business class. The same unfortunate treatment was handed to the Australian women's basketball team. Though the media has proudly trumpeted male-female categories in every sport now that women's boxing and kayaking have been added, a British athlete filed a discrimination suit against the London Organizing Committee for its failure to include female canoeing events -- that sport, for now, remains male only.
Good news as well that there are two Saudi women competing in this year's games, a remarkable achievement given the country's severe restrictions on female participation in sports. One, Sarah Attar, was born and raised in California and currently attends Pepperdine University -- certainly a role model for her female co-nationals but not one that many are likely to be able to emulate. Qatar and Brunei are also sending women to the Olympics for the first time, and a Qatari female athlete, Bahiya al-Hamad, will carry that country's flag.
Despite the gaps that remain, supporters of female athletes will cheer at the "mama power" on display at the London Olympics.
Nur Suryani Mohamed Taibi will be eight months pregnant as she competes for Malaysia in the 10-meter air rifle event, making her possibly the most heavily pregnant competitor in Olympic history. She thinks pregnancy has helped her stability, an important element in shooting events, and looks forward to telling her daughter, "You are very lucky, you’re not born yet and you already went to the Olympics.” Amy Acuff will be competing in her fifth Olympic games as a high jumper and mother of a two-year-old. She said, “You come back stronger after having a baby. . . There’s definitely some mama power.” Another mom, Dara Torres, who's competed in five Olympic games, failed to qualify for this year's team. Bowing out with grace at the age of 45, she was content to spend time with her six-year-old daughter and cheer on the U.S. team.