Title IX is why I’m an Olympian

By Joan Benoit Samuelson

In high school, I ran with the boys. It was never really about beating them, I was simply racing the clock. So how much did my gender matter? A lot, apparently. The girl’s track teams weren’t given varsity status and I wasn’t allowed to compete for more than a mile out of concern for “my delicate ladylike” frame.

And because I chose to practice with the boys, my high school refused to give me the school’s most valuable athlete award despite winning the state championship.

Title IX, the law that transformed women’s sports in the U.S., turns 45 years old in June 2017, and we want to celebrate.

They used to say women just weren’t built to run. That we’d be unable to bear children, that we’d become “old too soon.”

I’m a 60-year-old mother of two and I run close to 70 miles a week. In fact, I ran six miles the day my son was born. Running is a perfect entryway for young women interested in sport. It’s affordable and it’s accessible — you can start running anywhere.

There are many factors that led our nation to discard old biases and doubts and the role that women should only applaud athletes rather than become dominant athletes ourselves.

One of them is the landmark Title IX legislation, which was signed 45 years ago this month. Title IX stated that “no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, or denied the benefits of, or be subject to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving federal assistance.”

Even though collegiate athletics weren’t explicitly mentioned, the positive impact of those words on women in sports was transformative. Before Title IX was enacted just over 300,000 women and girls played high school or college sports. Now there are more than 3.3 million.

It’s still a bit surprising that it took an act of Congress to kick-start the athletic equality movement, but it sure did work. Title IX is why I am an Olympian and it’s why the women of Team USA continue to earn the most medals at the Olympic Games.

And our women aren’t just better than their competition — they also outcompete our men, winning six more medals in Rio than the men.

Beyond the medal tables, women are emblematic of the highest ideals of the Olympic movement. The Olympics are about dreams and aspiration, about overcoming obstacles and about fairness. Female athletes have come a long way.

As a young runner, I dreamt about the Olympics, and I fought back when I was told I couldn’t do it. Title IX and the Olympics finally put us on a fair playing field.

The Olympic ideals are what led me to 1984. The LA84 Games meant a lot to me, and not only because I won the first women’s Olympic marathon. There is something magical about welcoming the world to our country.

And there’s nothing like representing our country on home soil.

So, I think it is time to bring the Olympics and Paralympics back to the United States. It’s no secret the Olympic Movement needs a new direction for the future. I believe Los Angeles can create a transformative Games in 2024 just like the City of Angels did in 1984.

Angelenos love the Games, and you can feel it. They are united, they are optimistic, they are creative and most importantly they are committed to creating a legacy to inspire the next generation, just like we did in 1984.

In 2024, I hope to welcome the world’s greatest women’s marathoners to where this Olympic event began, at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum under the LA summer sun.

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