Tales of the Olympics

August 26, 2008
An art performance of the Beautiful Olympics

An art performance of the 'Beautiful Olympics' (Photo credit: Xinhua)

 I wanted to write a piece about women in the Olympics and found myself moved by stories that weren’t necessarily about medal winners at all. Here are some Olympic tales that moved my heart. Do you have any others to share?

While I loved watching the opening ceremonies and enjoyed the beautiful views of China and of course the sports events themselves, I did wonder at the lack of coverage of anything not so positive about the country. Some argue it’s best to keep news and sports separate, but I think that when it’s a global event and the country is also highlighted, we need to hear the bad with the good. I read this morning of two elderly women who apparently applied to protest in one of the designated protest “zones” established alongside the Olympics. These women were actually sentenced to a labor and “re-education” camp instead.
Samia Yusuf Omar of Somalia (Uberpics)

Samia Yusuf Omar of Somalia (Photo credit: Uberpics)

My eyes did get teary, I confess, when I watched the Somali runner Samia Yusuf Omar. She came in last in the 200 meter — to a stadium of standing, cheering fans as she finally crossed the finish line, t-shirt flapping in the wind. Her starting time was so slow it didn’t even register on the clock, but after I read her story of living and training in Somalia I admired her courage and accomplishments even more. She’s a true inspiration for anyone facing almost insurmountable odds who wants to accomplish a lifelong dream.

How about that Dara Torres, who at age 41 won her 12th medal in five Olympic games? When asked what advice she would give others, she said, “Don’t put an age limit on your dreams.” I heard one story about Darra that captivated me most of all. Just before one of the races, she learned that another swimmer’s suit had torn. Instead of just taking advantage (anyone watching swimming at all recognizes the importance of these new high-tech suits), Dara went to an official and requested a delay so that this women, a competitor, could change. That’s sportswomanship!

Ok, ok, some home-team bragging rights. Here are a few highlights: How about the American women’s basketball team, the “greatest women’s team ever”; our women gymnast medal winners, some as young as 16; Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh “cruising” to their second gold medal win, a feat never achieved in their sport before; and Mariel Zagunis, gold medal winner in the women’s individual sabre competition (no, I didn’t see it, but it must have been something!).

Of course, we’ve all heard about Michael Phelps’ amazing record-breaking eight gold medals. I loved watching the races and cheered him and the rest of the team along with everyone else. Now we’re reading about his turning gold to green with the $100 million in endorsements he may receive. Making money as a successful athlete is a question for another day, but I can’t help reflect that women don’t have equal opportunity when it comes to endorsements and sponsorship money, if previous track records are anything to go by (pun intended). Make sure to read AAUW’s Behind the Pay Gap to get a picture of the earning curves at all levels, and check out our Women’s Educational Gains and the Gender Earnings Gap. And don’t forget to tell us any heart-warming Olympic stories you may have.

Christy Jones, CAE By:   |   August 26, 2008


  1. Avatar Kelley says:

    I agree that there did seem to be fewer “get to know the athlete” segments this time around.

    Thanks so much for pointing us to that article about Samia–I had not heard about her before your post. What an incredible woman; what terribly tragic circumstances.

  2. christyjones christyjones says:

    There are so many stories, it’s impossible to know all of them, that’s why it is nice to highlight those you may have heard. Thanks for sharing yours.

    Also, was it just me? Did the Olympic coverage this year have a lot less of those personal “get to know them” stories than in years past? It’s those that make such an event so real.

  3. Actually my favorite Olympic moments related to the reporting of Mary Carillo. I’ve seen her do the commentating on tennis but I thought she stood out (no pun intended – she is tall) on the personal interest stories of the games; how different customs are viewed, etc. What an improvement! On a funny note there was a cartoon in this past weekend’s Washington Post of a couple having pillow talk about who had such an excellent grasp on foreign affairs, who made them feel safe, great knowledge… was it Obama…. no; was it McCain… no – it was Bob Costas!!

    While the country did a great job of producing the spectacle – I wonder what the true age is of the Chinese gymnasts and whether or not they had an unfair advantage.

  4. Avatar Carol Keefer says:

    I liked your focus on all competitors, not just the winners. The focus by you and Yahoo on Samia Yusuf Omar reminded me of the subaltern character in the book, . There was a woman in a blue dress who carried a basket of weapons to the Somalian fighters right in the midst of the combat. I always wondered what her story was because she had no voice in the book. Thanks for providing such information.

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