Since the opening ceremonies on August 5th, let’s just say that I might or might not have accomplished much else. Perhaps, it’s a good thing that the Olympics come around only every 4 years because it’s nearly impossible to pry away from the TV when so many world class athletes are competing in one place.
Legend goes that around 6th century B.C. Hercules, son of Zeus, and the mortal woman Alcmene, founded the Olympic Games in the sacred land of Olympia, Greece. Just like now, these Games were perhaps one of the most famous sporting festival of its time; even so there were no women participants in any events. Not until the 1900 Games in Paris did women compete for the first time in five sports: tennis, sailing, croquet, equestrianism and golf.
Women competing in track and field events for the first time in 1928
So let’s just take a minute and say a collective 'amen' at how the times have changed! The on-going Games of the XXXI Olympiad in Rio de Janeiro is studded with so many strong and amazing female Olympians from around the world that it seems inconceivable that these Games ever took place without women. Here are some of the incredible female Olympians to watch out for in the 2016 Summer Olympics.
Katie Ledecky, 19, Swimming, USA
To be only 19 and already have broken over eleven world records in swimming has to feel amazing! From Maryland, Katie made her Olympic debut at 15 years old in the 2012 London Olympics thereby being the youngest athlete at those games from the USA. She is the current world record holder in the 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyles and American record holder in the 500y, 1000y and 1650y freestyles. She is committed to attend Stanford University in Fall 2016. (Image source)
Yusra Mardini, 18, Swimming, Syria
One of the 10 athletes making the first ever Refugee Olympic Team, Mardini, like many Syrians, fled Damascus last year on a dingy, eventually swimming in the Mediterranean Sea to pull and steer the tiny boat full of refugees to safety towards the Greek Island of Lesbos. Her journey is one of the most incredible stories of survival and hope, already making her a winner in our books. (Image source)
Rafaela Silva, 24, Judo, Brazil
Her Gold medal in Judo is Brazil’s first in the 2016 Games, bringing pride to the host country and especially to the people of Cidade de Deus, or the City of God, where Silva grew up. Contrary to the name, this is Rio’s toughest neighborhood; it is infested with violence, drug trafficking, gangs, and poverty. Silva’s parents enrolled her in free judo classes as a child to keep her out of trouble, but trouble found her anyway and she was often caught up in fights and expelled from school. Her couch saw potential in her aggression and frustration, and channeled it to make Silva into an Olympian. Scenes of her engulfed in the cheering crowd after her victory was perhaps one of the most emotional moments in the games thus far. (Image source)
Simone Biles, 19, Gymnastics, USA
It is being said that the 2016 Women’s USA Gymnastics team is the most invincible the world has ever seen. Making up this dream team is Simone Biles, who at just 4 foot-9 is a force to reckon with. Mary Lou Retton, who in 1984 Olympic won the first all-around gold medal in gymnastics for a U.S. woman, has declared that Biles is in her own category and that she may be the most talented gymnast she has ever seen! Biles has won every single all-around competition she’s entered since the 2013 P&G Championships. What’s more, she has pioneered “The Biles”, a signature gravity defying tumbling move on floor exercise. (Image source)
Oksana Chusovitina, 41, Gymnastics, Uzbekistan
Now, to put things in perspective, when Simone Biles was born in 1997, Oksana Chusovitina was already an established female Olympian in gymnastics having won five world medals and an Olympic gold. At 41 years (and with a son who is 16 years old), the Rio Games will be her 7th Olympic appearance. While most of her competition is still in their teen years, Chusovitina is proving that age is just a number. She made her debut in the 1992 Barcelona summer Games representing the then Soviet Union, which, folks, isn’t even a country any more! (Image source)
Veronica Campbell-Brown, 34, Track and Field, Jamaica
From the land of Usain Bolt, also comes Veronica Campbell-Brown, simply “VCB” to her fans, who will make her 5th appearance in Olympic’s track and field games. Born in 1982 to a poor and large family of nine brothers and sisters in Clark’s Town, Jamaica, her talent was discovered as she was running barefoot in her school’s sports day competition. Considered one of the greatest female sprinters of all time, she specializes in 100m and 200m races. The first woman from Jamaica to win gold in a sprint race at the Olympics she is an inspiration to countless young girls like her back in her hometown and around the world. (Image source)
Kristin Armstrong, 43, Cycling, USA
Armstrong (no relation to Lance Armstrong) had the ride of her life as she cycled to the finish in the soaking rain this past Wednesday in Rio. She claimed her third consecutive gold medal in road cycling the day before her 43rd birthday. For someone so decorated, she has chosen to remain under the radar and away from big endorsements, leading a fairly quiet life as a mother and the director of community health at a hospital in Boise, Idaho. On age, Kristen told NPR that "I think that for so long we've been told that we should be finished at a certain age. And I think that there's a lot of athletes out there that are actually showing that that's not true.” She called motherhood her secret weapon for keeping focused and said, “for all the moms out there, I hope that this was a very inspiring day.” Indeed! (Image source)
These female Olympians are nothing short of the gods and goddesses that the Games were created eons ago to honor. Their tremendous strength, tenacity, and athleticism is, well, jaw-dropping to say the least but also inspiring for all of us who are enjoying these games from the comfort of our couches. And you know what, may be I will wake up at the crack of dawn for that run that I keep talking about, and may be you can make it to that yoga class after work.
Anything is possible, right?
PS// Anyone have Kristin Armstrong's publicist's number? We want to send her a Po Campo Kinga Handlebar Bag!
About the Author
Chika Gujarathi is a freelance writer who lives with her two young children, husband, and a bike named Linus in Raleigh, NC. She blogs about her adventures at TheAntibland.com