Saturday, 18 August 2012

Women in Sport

We have just witnessed the end of one of the greatest sporting events, the Olympic Games. This year saw the first year that all countries allowed both males and females to compete and for the first time there were more female athletes competing for the United States than male athletes.

When people watch the Olympics the main focus is always on the men. Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps are prime examples. Luckily for South Africa this year the focus was on South Africa's favourite athlete, Caster Semenya.
Caster Semenya at the 2012 London Olympic Games after winning a silver in the 800m
Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images Europe

The flag bearer for the South African Olympic team came in as one of the 50 Athletes to Watch according to TIME Magazine. But us South Africans knew that we would all be watching her before TIME released their list.

It was in 2009 when Semenya was unfortunately accused of suspicious drug use and even had to undergo gender testing. It was a dark time for the athlete and South Africans but we all knew that all that would pass and she would shine brighter than any other South African female athelete.

"God made me the way I am and I accept myself." - Caster Semenya for YOU Magazine

Our flag bearer has united the nation the same way sport unites any nation. For 1 minute and 57 seconds on the 11th of August 2012 South Africans forgot that we ever had problems because our eyes were on South Africa's Golden Girl.

Semenya proved that she wasn't using any suspicious drugs but one female athlete that didn't get away with it was Marion Jones.
Marion Jones at the 2000 Sydney Olympics where she won five medals
The Golden Girl of the 2000 Sydney Olympics was no longer the Golden Girl after she admitted to taking enhancing drugs. At the 2000 Olympics Jones managed to get herself three golds and 2 bronze. The next year at the world championships Jones didn't place first in the 100m event, it was the first time she had lost the race in six years.

Even though her now ex-husband had tested positive for drug enhancers, Jones always denied that she used drug enhancers. However in 2004 the founder of Balco (Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative), Victor Conte admitted to giving Jones the drugs. The International Olympic Committe stripped her of her medals and she was no longer the Golden Girl of American Track and Field.
In 2007 Jones admitted to lying to federal agents under oath about her use of steroids prior to the 2000 Summer Olympics.

It was a sad ending to her career but there are other American females who have been able to achieve great heights without scandal.

The Williams' sister have been a dominant force in tennis since the early 2000s. Serena, the higher ranked sister has been ranked number on five separate occasions. She has managed to win six grand slam titles which includes her gold medal at the recent Olympic Games. Together with her sister Venus she also managed to win the gold medal for the Women's Doubles at the Olympic Games three times (2000, 2008 and 2012).

From the left: Venus Williams and Serena Williams at the 2012 London Olympics victory ceremony
Photo by: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images Europe
Her older sister of one year Venus, has had her fair share of fame as well with tennis and her outfits. The four time Olympic gold winner has done better at Wimbledon compared to her sister who plays her best at any event. They both have won Wimbledon five times and continue to be successful tennis players.
The Williams sisters are two of the only three active WTA players who have made the finals of all four Grand Slams. Maria Sharapova, the Russian tennis player is the other female to have made the final.

But there is another tennis player who made history before Maria Sharapova, Serena and Venus Williams ever came along. Monica Seles is the youngest ever French Open winner. The Hungarian, Yugoslavian and American citizen was just sixteen when she won the title.
Monica Seles
Photo from Getty Images
Before Seles turned twenty she had already won eight Grand Titles. However she had to put her tennis career on hold because in 1993 she was stabbed by a man on court. She started with her career again two years later and won the Australian Open.
During Seles' reign there was another tennis player who was giving her a run for her money.

Steffi Graf, has won 22 grand slam titles. She became the first tennis player ever to win the Calendar Year Golden Slam by winning all four Grand Slam singles titles and Olympic gold in the same year (1998).
Steffi Graf
I think Graf and Seles are the reason why people watch and enjoy women tennis. My mother always asks which sport played by women makes everyone watch and come to a standstill? We always watch football and rugby world cups but do we ever watch the female football and rugby world cups? Tennis is the one sport where men and women are interested in the result of both the male and female events.

It seems as if Graf has a lot to do with making the sport so popular as the number of titles she has won is the most anyone has ever won after the introduction of the Open Era in 1986.

The Williams sisters, Sharapova, Seles and Graf aren't the only women have made history at the Olympic games or in their sport.

Before Caster Semenya was South Africa's Golden Girl we had Penny Heynes, Hestrie Cloete and Natalie Du Toit.
Penny Heyns at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games
Penelope Heyns is the only woman in history of The Olympic Games who has one both the 100m and 200m breastroke. She made history at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. But that was not the only history she made at that those games. Heyns was the first person to win Olympic Gold for South Africa after the apartheid era. I remember her races all to well. I might have only 5 years old but I knew that she was great. She is considered to be one of the greatest breastroke swimmers.

In 1999 she held 5 out of the 6 possible breaststroke swimming world records which was unheard of in swimming.

Read the London Olympics 2012 Blog Post

Natalie Du Toit
Natalie Du Toit, the first amputee to qualify for the Olympic Games (2008, Beijing) and winner of the first David Dixon Award for Outstanding Athlete of the Games (Manchester Commonwealth Games) is a South African swimmer.

While riding her scooter, Du Toit was it by a car on her way back from swimming practice.
Du Toit has won 10 Paralympic Gold Medals. Five at the Athens 2004 Olympics and another five at the Beijing 2008 Olympics.

Another female South African who was successful at on Olympic Games was Hestrie Cloete.

Cloete managed to win herself a silver medal at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games and nine gold medals at various athletic meets and games during her professional career. She even managed to win the Women's Track and Field Athlete of The Year Award in 2003 which is just one of the three international awards she has won.
Hestrie Cloete at the 2004 Athens Olympics
Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images Sport
Semenya, Du Toit, Cloete and Heyns are an inspiration to all in South Africa and the world. In fact all the women mentioned above (maybe excluding Marion Jones) are sources of inspiration to women all over the world. But one girl who is making waves in her sport and the world in general is a sixteen year old from Virgina Beach, America.

You either know her for her gold medal achievements at the 2012 Olympics or her according to some African American women for her unglamorous hair. Either way, you know her. Gabby Douglas or the Flying Squirrel as she is known to many won two gold medals at the recent Olympics.
She is the first African American Olympic gymnastic and first woman of color to become the individual all-around champion and the first American gymnastic to win the individual all-around and team competition at the same Olympic games.
Gabby Douglas at the 2012 London Olympics
Photo by: Michael Regan/Getty Images Europe
There are many achievements behind this sixteen year old but some people, people of her own race decided to talk about her hair rather than the history she has made. Do you know what I call people like that, jealous. Glossy weave or no hair at all, she has made history and that is something that no one could ever take away from her.

If more people looked at what she has achieved in her short life so far instead of worry about hair, more black women would be achieving greater heights. Asking Gabby to be an influence to all black women is too much to ask, but she is influencing many and she doesn't even know it.

Douglas was the female athlete from America to watch. The host team had their own golden girl who made the TIME Magazine's 50 Athletes to Watch. Team GBR's Jessica Ennis won gold for her country at the heptathlon event.
Jessica Ennis at the 2012 London Olympic Games
Photo by: Stu Forster/Getty Images Europe
Ennis has been winning gold and silver medals for the heptathlon and pentathlon event since 2010 at various meets including World Championships and European Championships. The 26 year old has also been ranked number one in the world for the past four years. It was clear that the Olympic Gold was hers and it made sense why she was the poster girl for the London Olympics.
Elena coming in first and her sister Olesya in second at the 2011 Comrades Marathon
Staying with women who like running, Elena and Olesya Nurgalieva are Russian twins well known in Cape Town for dominating the Two Oceans Marathon and have both won the Comrades Marathon a number of times.

Women aren't as recognised as men are in sport. Why that is so we will never know. Luckily for young women all around the world there are women who have come and gone and who are still playing who serve as an inspiration.

Liking sport is not a death sentence for your femininity. Many female athletes competing at the 2012 London Olympics were seen wearing nail art and have admitted to love watching the Kardashians.

The women mentioned above are an inspiration to those who are interested in sport and those who aren't.

Someone who follows their dreams and makes them reality inspires anyone and I hope these women inspire you all.


Anonymous said...

Interesting read!
Keep blogging,I always enjoy reading your posts.

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