USA Sent Rio the Largest Delegation of Women in Olympic History and They Delivered “Bigly”**
The United States has brought home 121 medals from the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio — reaching a lifetime count of 1,000 medals. It was a historic performance as the most won by the US in 30 years and the 3rd most in Olympic history by any country. We participated in 30 sporting events and earned medals in 22 of them. The Americans led the 200-country ranking after securing 46 gold, 37 silver and 38 bronze medals. Indeed something to celebrate for the pride it fosters here back home, the inspiration it imparts and the remarkable power it has to unify a nation — particularly in a cringe-worthy presidential election year.
The United States’ 555 athletes were comprised of 262 men and 292 women. As a result, the United States now owns the distinction of having the largest contingent of women from one country to participate in the games … in Olympic history. That’s huge.
What’s notable about this accomplishment is that the women of Team USA didn’t just go, they delivered. Of the 121 overall medals awarded to the United States, 61 medals went to women (50.4%). When the headcount from team sports is included, that number jumps to more than 150 medals for women contributing to a win. Men delivered 56 medals (46.3%) with more than 100 men contributing to a win. USA women's ‘golden girls’ earned 50% more gold medals (27) than the men (18) — bringing home the bacon and frying up in a pan. If USA women were a country, the group would have been tied for second in gold medals.
If USA women were a country, the group would have been tied for second in gold medals.
Drawing on a diverse population helped Team USA rack up its winnings. The Summer Games saw two Muslim American women adding to the nation’s pride. Ibtihaj Muhammad, the first hijab-wearing American to participate in the games, earned Bronze in the team sabre fencing and Dalilah Muhammad nabbed gold in the women’s 400-meter hurdles.
More than 30 American athletes identify as Asian American and they competed in a variety of sports. Lia Neal helped deliver silver as member of the women’s swimming 4 x 100M freestyle relay.
African American women hauled in 48 (40%) of the U.S. medals from a diverse array of sports including swimming, gymnastics, water polo, volleyball, fencing and track & field. This medal count included a Gold, Silver and Bronze sweep in 100m hurdles.
And stereotype breakers Simone Biles (5 medals in gymnastics), Simone Manuel (4 medals in swimming) and Allyson Felix (3 medals in track) racked up 12 medals among the three, and each ranked in the top 10 USA multiple medal winners in Rio.
Three additional power-house women, Katie Ledecky (5 medals), Lilly King (2 medals) and Madeline Dirado (4 medals) brought the number of women making the top 10 USA medalers list to a total of 6. And together these 6 ladies scored 23 medals.
Maddy Dirago, a Latino American, is in the company of Diana Taurasi who helped win gold in basketball and the infectious 16 year old Laurie Hernadez who brought home 2 medals in gymnastics.
Hernandez was among the youngest to represent the U.S. While the average age of the USA team member was 26 years old, there were 45 athletes on the US roster who were born in 1981 or earlier. There are several notable women who gave ageists among us something to ponder including 37 year old Kim Rhode who delivered a bronze in Women’s Skeet;
38 year hold Kerri Walsh Jennings who brought home a bronze in women’s beach volleyball;
cyclist Kristin Armstrong captured gold a day before her 43rd birthday — making her the oldest woman to win an individual medal since 1908; and Beezie Madden leaped to a silver in the equestrian jumping competition as the elder of Team USA at 52.
The images are powerful. The personal stories behind each athlete motivating.
And the display of our blended cultural tapestry is a reminder of what makes America great.
Why did American women dominate in Rio? Experts point to the passage of Title IX here in the United States over 40 years ago which outlawed gender discrimination in education or educational programs like athletics. Thus enabling equal access and an opportunity to cultivate raw talent regardless of gender.
This principle holds true globally as well. PRI (formerly Global Post), analyzed the distribution of Olympic medals awarded to 98 countries from the 2012 Games and compared that with each nations’ Gender Inequality Index (GII). This index assesses how well women are doing in a country, compared to its men, in areas such as such as health, economic status, and social and political empowerment. They found that the “more equality between genders in a nation, the more Olympic medals the country won.” In other words, if you train them they will win.
PRI’s reports other research efforts that further explain that globally, when women are brought into the workforce, it creates national wealth that frees both genders to pursue and perfect athletic skills. Nations that hold to gender stereotypes and block access to education and training, on the other hand, fall prey to a natural selection of sorts. Evolve or loose.
In short, “women’s empowerment predicts Olympic success.” If broad and equal access to athletics helped the USA excel in athletics, what other disciplines could we improve upon as a nation by eliminating barriers to access? Science, Engineering, Technology and Math (STEM)? Funding for women-led ventures?
Team USA exemplified the benefits of blending the best of our diverse pool of citizens. We now must get on with the work of applying this philosophy to every corner of American society from media, to entrepreneurship and yes, to elected office. Ask yourself, ‘why aren’t we casting our nets as wide as Team USA has to deliver victory in other areas’? As outstanding as our Olympic Women’s performance has been, this should be the rule not the exception. We live in a time when the success of women should no longer be remarkable it should be a given.
** Allegedly uttered by a candidate on a campaign trail.