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Women Who Wouldn't Go Away

Posted: 07/27/2012 9:45 am

Beyond the athletic breakthroughs, the quest for excellence, and the amazing personal stories, this year's Olympic Games in London offer another reason to celebrate. As Kavitha A. Davidson, a really talented HuffPost intern with a passion for sports, writes in this week's cover story, the 2012 Games represent several milestones for women athletes: women's boxing will make its debut; Qatar and Brunei are sending women athletes for the first time; and, in another first, every sport is now open to female competitors.

These developments, each one seemingly small in itself, are part of a larger story in the world of women and sports. Last month we celebrated a milestone in the story, with the 40th anniversary of Title IX, which has had lasting positive effects on women's athletics. Kavitha's piece, featuring interviews with women athletes and coaches from the 1960s to today, brings that legacy into sharp focus just in time for this year's Games.

Whether they competed years ago or are suiting up for the first time in London, the women featured here are bound together by their talent, determination, and passion for their respective sports. And they are part of an ongoing narrative going back decades. Like Nancy Lieberman, the basketball star who was part of the USA's silver medal-winning 1976 squad in Montreal, the first year women's basketball was included as an Olympic event. Or Claressa Shields, who will represent the USA in London as part of our country's first-ever women's boxing team. She is 17.

The basketball coach Lin Dunn puts it this way: "I'm thrilled now to see some of these young women that have benefited from the work through the last forty, fifty years of women who just wouldn't go away."

In addition to spotlighting the demands women athletes have made over the years, Kavitha's piece also illustrates the ways in which the powerful forces of the status quo have worked to stifle and slow down women's efforts. The history of women's sports is filled with fears, rumors, and junk science: including the shibboleth that women are too delicate for contact sports, that they might suffer reproductive damage, or sexually lose control of themselves. Even Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympics, said in 1928 that the exertions that distinguished male athletes were "much to be dreaded" when it came to women.

As silly as these claims sound to us today, they still prevail in many different forms, in countries like Saudi Arabia, which forbids women's participation in national athletics but is sending two female athletes to London in what some critics say is merely a PR move.

"As far as female athletes have come, there's still work to be done," Kavitha writes. In the coming weeks, as the eyes of the world turn to London, we have an amazing opportunity to tap into the spirit of the Games, celebrate the progress women athletes have made so far, and give thanks for the women who just wouldn't go away.

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