Or American swimmer Missy Franklin, also young at 17. Nicknamed “The Missile” for her prowess in the pool, this native of Colorado will have the opportunity to win multiple medals in the next two weeks.
Maybe one day she’ll catch up to Natalie Coughlin, 29, another swimmer who on Saturday tied fellow Americans Jenny Thompson and Dara Torres as our country’s most decorated female Olympians of all-time with a staggering 12th medal — which Coughlin received for her role on the 4x100 relay team, even though she didn’t swim in the finals.
Perhaps we’ll be captivated by Malaysian shooter Nur Suryani Mohamed Taibi, who’s competing during these games despite the fact that she’s more than eight months pregnant.
Or two-time U.S. champion gymnast Jordyn Wieber, a 17-year-old Michigan native who won the all-around title at the 2011 World Championships. Wieber’s teammate, little Gabby Douglas, is another to watch. Born in Virginia but trained in Des Moines, she showed off the depth of the U.S. team by beating Wieber at the U.S. Olympic Trials.
And then there’s American sprinter Allyson Felix. Denied 200-meter gold by Jamaican adversary Veronica Campbell-Brown in both 2004 and 2008, this could be the year the 26-year-old Californian earns some measure of vindication.
The fact that we’ll have so many talented women to watch, not just from our own country but abroad, is testament to the legacy of Title IX.
An interesting footnote for the historical record: If the American men’s soccer team hadn’t given up a last-minute goal to El Salvador in a qualifying match, it likely would’ve made it to these Olympics and given Team USA more men than women.
Some countries, like Japan and Australia, flew their men’s teams to London business class while their women flew coach. The popularity and marketability of female athletes still relies on physical appearance far more than it does for male athletes.
And there’s the prism through which we should view these games: More remains to be done. Greater acceptance and promotion of gender equality in America only exposes the backward thinking in other places.
Saudi Arabia, for instance, is taking a real step this summer in allowing women to compete. But the Saudis did so only under intense pressure from the outside world. One of their women, Sarah Attar, was born and raised in California and speaks no Arabic. Her family asked Pepperdine, where she runs track, to delete pictures and names of relatives from her online profile.
As Olympic historian David Wallechinsky points out, the important thing isn’t whether Attar and other women from traditionally oppressive countries can compete as much as whether they can be celebrated in those countries. Symbolism matters, but only if the message gets across.
“I just think, do you really think they’re going to show her running in Saudi Arabia?” Wallechinsky says. “You really think they’ll be uplifted?”
This is where we can be reminded of the progress still to be made, even back home in America. Participation in girls high school sports has risen 900 percent since the passage of Title IX. But Sandler — the godmother of that pivotal legislation — points out that girls in the U.S. still have fewer opportunities today than boys did 40 years ago.
The revolution continues.