Tales of the OlympicsAugust 26, 2008
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?
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.