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Olympic mettle has no gender

August 8, 2012 – 4:25 PM

By Katie Culver

How can one not be inspired by the Olympics?! The 10 days of coverage I’ve watched remind me of my spirited Olympic dreams. As a young gymnast, I was rapt by Nadia Comaneci (the first perfect 10!) in 1980 and by Mary Lou Retton in 1984.

Women’s soccer years ago lacked the prominence it has now. But when I first saw the U.S. team play on TV in the 1999 World Cup, I understood the camaraderie of teammates playing a tough opponent: The elation of success and the exhaustion of defeat.

For many kids, the Olympics seed a dream. For girls, the games provide a tangible, visual image of that dream – a vision hard to come by rest of the year.

This year, however, one thing is striking: The Olympics now offer a dream that lacks gender. Both girls and boys watch the U.S. women’s soccer team in awe; they discuss the feats of Gabby Douglas and Missy Franklin; their comrades cheer on British Rowers Helen Glover and Heather Stanning. Both girls AND boys are excited about sports, and they make no hierarchical differentiation between male and female athletes. That’s big.

Catch this BBC photo of the British Army’s 32nd Regiment Royal Artillery cheering on Stanning:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Media discussion around women’s Olympic sports is behind the curve, falling into the familiar rut with commentary on bikini’s – or not; adequate hairstyles; who’s had a baby. But if you listen to kids talking about the Olympics, they get at the heart of Olympic competition: athleticism and perseverance.

Hopefully, the ultimate dream female athletes have had to work for—in addition to their athletic accomplishments—has finally come to fruition: the recognition of women’s sports as SPORT, not specifically women’s sport and not in critique or comparison to men’s. The female athletes we see are strong and powerful and no one watching at home thinks for a minute that they could compete–guys included.

The Olympics offer intense contests, but these are the culmination of effort and training. Success is not a product of luck, but a narrative of hard work, tenacity and mental toughness—all of which are absent gender. The story is relevant to every child watching the games, imagining that one day – if they work hard — maybe it could be them.

And best of all – male or female — the medals are all the same.

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