Earlier this month, I had the great privilege and opportunity to attend the London Olympic Games — fulfilling my lifelong dream of seeing the Olympics and having the chance to do so in the city in which I grew up. It was truly the experience of a lifetime, and not just because I’m a lifelong athlete and sports fan. These games were historic in many ways, particularly for women, and it was truly an honor to witness them live. As the festivities in London continue with the start of the Paralympics this week, I wanted to share with you five observations about these games.
5. I’m proud to say that London carried out its role as host admirably. Our experience as attendees was stress-free, the transportation system worked perfectly, and the organizers had clearly put a lot of thought into the logistics.
4. While I admire Britain’s National Health Service, and was a frequent user of those services as an accident-prone child and teenager, I’m not sure they deserved quite so prominent a role in the opening ceremony. Just saying.
3. It was interesting to learn how, for so many athletes, both here and abroad, winning an Olympic medal would change their lives forever, and in many cases, help lift them and their families out of poverty.
2. It was equally interesting to learn about how many athletes in the US live at or below the poverty line. Few make enough money through sports to support themselves, and the US Olympics Committee – a 501(c)(3) – does not raise enough to sponsor every athlete.
1. In so many ways, this Olympics was about the rise of women in sports, though it was still clear that there is, in some places, a long way to go (one example being the stories about the Japanese and Australian women’s teams travelling coach on the same plane as the men’s teams, who flew business class). For Team USA, women ruled, winning 59 of the total 104 medals, and 29 of the 46 Gold medals won by the US team. This was also the first time in history that the US sent more women athletes to the Olympics than men. The successful turnout has been attributed, in part, to Title IX. An increase in women’s sports at the Olympics also led to every country present having at least one woman on the team for the first time ever.
We do have a way to go to ensure that male and female athletes are on equal footing when it comes to sponsorships and ticket sales. Increasing opportunity, interest and visibility is a wonderful thing – and not just for female athletes. A fundamental shift in sports can lead to more prospects and confidence for women and girls in all areas. Seeing a woman with talent and a dream holding up a gold medal on a podium in London makes so many more things seem possible.
Nicky is president of Washington Area Women’s Foundation.