Women were a majority of the U.S. Olympic Team, and they took home a majority of the country’s medals, en route to a dominating performance across the board at the 2012 London games.
Women won 56 percent of the overall medals for Team USA, and 66 percent of the gold medals. US Women won team gold in soccer, basketball, beach volleyball (they also won silver), gymnastics, the women’s 4x200m freestyle relay, rowing, the women’s 4x100m medley swimming relay, tennis doubles and the 4x400m track relay.
That impressive list doesn’t even begin to cover the litany of individual medals won by American women, from Gabby Douglas’ all-around gold in gymnastics, to swimming golds for Missy Franklin, Allison Schmitt, Rebecca Soni and Dana Vollmer, to the tennis title won by Serena Williams, to five individual golds in track and field.
So dominant were the U.S. women that had they seceded to form their own team, they would have been third in the medal count.
There are any number of reasons why the U.S. women were dominant, but one very clear one is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year: Title IX. In an article in Discovery, Mary Jo Kane, director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport, gave the legislation full marks in moving America toward dominance in women’s athletics.
“Title IX has fundamentally altered the landscape of what it means to be female and an athlete,” Kane told Discovery. “In one generation, we’ve gone from girls hoping there is a team to girls hoping they make the team.”
While there’s no question that women’s sports lag behind men’s in attendance and funding, Title IX did, at least at the school level, ensure that women were given equal opportunity with men. That women would not merely be allowed to play, but that their sports would be given funding and respect, and at the college level, scholarships.
Two generations after it passed, Title IX has helped transform the landscape of women’s athletics. It’s no longer considered unusual for a girl to play sports growing up; indeed, it’s become more unusual for girls not to play a sport. With more girls starting sports, more girls have the opportunity to learn that they like them, and the more girls who play sports as kids, the more women who excel at sports as adults.
This doesn’t just help women on the field, of course. It also benefits them off the field, where participation in athletics has been shown to improve everything from health to future earnings. More than that, it benefits America, and not just by giving us more gold medals. In the past 40 years, we’ve doubled the percentage of the population that is told it can compete, can strive, can work as a team. This cannot help but benefit our society; just as sports benefit when more girls participate, so we all benefit when more of us can compete on an equal footing.
Image Credit: Pete McClintock