Written by Jen Offord


Olympic legends – part four

Rio’s finally here! Jen Offord blows the whistle on her four-part celebration of the women of the Olympiad.

Kaori Icho photo by Marcello.far, via Wikimedia Commons.

Kaori Icho photo by Marcello.far, via Wikimedia Commons.


But before we crack open the caipirinhas and dust off our samba moves like the folk of limited cultural references we are, let’s continue to pay homage to the women of Olympic legend of days gone by.

Shooting – Zhang Shan

As I continue through my archaeological Olympic dig, as it were, it’s become increasingly clear that women weren’t allowed to do very much before 1984. And sure as shit, if they weren’t allowed to run marathons, they certainly weren’t to be trusted on their own with a gun – probably on the grounds of hormones.

Somewhat incongruously, in the surprisingly progressive discipline of shooting, there were a couple of mixed events as far back as 1968. I suppose because there’d be some chaps there to wrestle the shooter out of a hysterical woman’s hand lest her monthly visitor cause her to find an outlet for all that be-dungaree-ed rage.

The Olympic Skeet event all got a bit awks in 1992 when a WOMAN, China’s Zhang Shan, won the gold medal. It was promptly discontinued as a mixed event at the following games.

Rebecca Adlington photo by Richard Gillin, via Wikimedia Commons.

Rebecca Adlington photo by Richard Gillin, via Wikimedia Commons.

Swimming – Rebecca Adlington

Unless you are Michael Phelps or a fully aquatic animal, you don’t seem to get much more than two rounds in the Olympic water, though it still seems a little sad that Team GB’s Rebecca Adlington bowed out of her competitive career aged just 23.

Then only 19 years old, Adlington set a new – and as yet unbeaten – woman’s world record at the 2008 Beijing Olympics in the 800m freestyle event, winning two gold medals in total, catapulting her into the spotlight, perhaps a little unwillingly.

Though she had said as far back as 2009 that the pressure on her after early successes had become overbearing, shouldering huge expectations, Adlington only (“only”) took home bronze medals at the 2012 games and announced she would not compete at Rio.

Table Tennis – Zhang Yining

I can’t comprehend what would make a child decide that they want to be an Olympic table tennis player when they grew up. Surely it would be like becoming an Olympic darts player, but at least you could train for that in the pub.

Still, it worked out for China’s Zhang Yining who completely dominated the ‘sport’ between 2003 and 2009 and won gold medals in the women’s single and women’s team events in both 2004 and 2008 Olympics.

Zhang called it quits in 2011 to head to the US to learn English. And presumably rinse some frat boys at beer pong.

Taekwondo – Hwang Kyung-Seon

Taekwondo is great. It’s one of the few legitimate opportunities in life to kick other people, which is at least as fun as hitting people, (for sport guys – FOR SPORT) and South Korea’s Hwang Kyung-Seon is bloody great at kicking people. She’s got two gold medals and a bronze, making her joint most decorated in her sport alongside two fellas, Hadi Saei and Steven Lopez. She’s also the first ever Korean woman to win and defend an individual Olympic title.

Venus & Serena Williams photo by Emmett Anderson, via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0).

Venus & Serena Williams photo by Emmett Anderson, via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0).

Tennis – Venus & Serena Williams

As is pretty well documented, Serena Williams is quite good at tennis – as is her big sis Venus. As well as having won all things in the world multiple times over and appeared in a Beyoncé video, Serena has three gold medals in the doubles competition, alongside Venus, as well as winning gold in the individual event at London 2012.

But having won a gold medal in the individual competition back in 2000, Venus – very much the Solange Knowles in this partnership, but hopefully less handy with a shoe in an elevator – is currently level with Serena in the haul, sitting at the top of the Olympic tennis medals table above all. Not bad for a couple of lasses, right?

Nicola Spirig photo by Fanny Schertzer, via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Nicola Spirig photo by Fanny Schertzer, via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Triathlon – Nicola Spirig

I’ve tried a sprint distance triathlon before, and to be honest, if I’d ever bothered with an Olympic distance event – a 1,500m swim, 24.9-mile bike ride and a 6.2-mile run – I can’t imagine I’d have bothered going back another two times. So hats off to Switzerland’s Nicola Spirig who struck it third time lucky as 2012’s Olympic gold medallist, having already competed in the Beijing and Athens Olympics in 2008 and 2004.

Volleyball – Ana Fernández

I’m not sure which countries I’d expected to be the world leaders in volleyball; Australia perhaps, or the USA. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine comrades of old Russia and Cuba would be up there in the running.

The top two most decorated volleyball players in the summer Olympics are in fact the Soviet Union’s Inna Ryskal and Cuba’s Ana Fernández who both have four medals, with Fernández just edging it on three gold medals in consecutive games to Ryskal’s two. And I was wrong again – Australia doesn’t even get a look in.

Weightlifting – Zoe Smith

Team GB youngster Zoe Smith has yet to win an Olympic medal, but sometimes it takes more than medals to make a legend. The victim of some absolute Twitter-twattery after appearing in a documentary prior to the Olympics, it takes some pretty impressive lady-balls at any age, let alone at just 18, to give them the best kind of two-fingered salute – victory.

Zoe Smith
Smith made her Olympic debut in 2012 and though she placed in 12th position, she set a new British record in the women’s clean and jerk lifting of 121kg – which is a couple of me, basically, and I couldn’t lift one of me.

Wrestling – Kaori Icho

The final sport of our whistlestop tour of the Olympics is wrestling, which women have only been able to compete in since the 2004 games and we’re still not allowed to compete in the Greco-Roman discipline, but apparently it’s dead boring so you know, that’s fine then.

Japan’s Kaori Icho has won gold in her weight category in three consecutive games, not to mention 10 World Championships, as well as enjoying an undefeated run of 13 years between 2003 and in January of this year. Kaori – whose older sister is also an Olympic medallist in wrestling – we salute you. And not just because we are a little bit scared of you.

Read part one here.
Read part two here.
Read part three here.


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Written by Jen Offord

Jen is a writer from Essex, which isn’t relevant because she lives in London, but she likes people to know it. As well as daft challenges, she likes cats, cheese and Beyonce. @inspireajen