Ahead of Rio, Jen Offord takes a look back at some of the women who have made Olympic history.
Given the overwhelming lack of media attention garnered by it, you’d be forgiven for thinking women’s sport hadn’t existed until #ThisGirlCan invited it into our living rooms alongside a banging Missy Elliot soundtrack last year. Funny thing is though, women have been sportsing for bloody ages! Who knew, right?
The Olympic games continue to be a brilliant showcase for women’s sport (especially since we’re now allowed to compete in all but one of the disciplines), putting it out there for all to see alongside and with comparable billing to the men’s contest.
In the run-up to the Rio games, we’ll be looking back at the female legends dominating previous years.
Archery is one of those sports you feel instinctively the Brits should be good at, even if for no other reason than Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, but it transpires we’re actually fully shit. We’ve only won four (bronze) medals since 1972; still, with Russia at the bottom of the medal table at least we can be confident of one Olympic sport in which all the competitors aren’t (possibly) juiced off their tits.
Funnily enough, South Korea is the big daddy (mummy) of this discipline and they don’t come much bigger than Kim Soo-Nyung, with six Olympic medals including four gold – one more than all Russia and GB medals put together.
She’s not just the most decorated female archer of all time and the World Archery Federation’s Athlete of the 20th Century, she’s also the most decorated archer of all time and South Korea’s most decorated athlete of all time, full stop.
Known for her bold, one-legged unitards and generally glamorous vibes, Florence ‘Flo-Jo’ Joyner elevated women’s athletics to the next level back in the 80s.
She dominated the track at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, following up her silver medal four years earlier with FIVE gongs in one Games. Four of which were gold.
Flo Jo is not only considered the fastest woman of all time, but she also did it in her own unique style, making running cool. She’s perhaps best described by sports journalist Anna Kessel as her “real-life She-Ra” of Princess of Power fame.
Flo Jo retired after her success in Seoul, around the time it was announced random out-of competition drugs testing would commence in 1989, fuelling speculation that her incredible achievement came as a result of performance-enhancing substances.
However, after her death in 1998 aged just 38, Prince Alexander de Morode – then chair of the International Olympic Committee’s medical commission – told The New York Times: “We performed all possible and imaginable analyses on her. We never found anything. There should not be the slightest suspicion.”
China: Wang Xiaoli and Yu Yang
South Korea: Jung Kyung-eun and Kim Ha-na, and Ha Jung-eun and Kim Min-jung
Indonesia: Meiliana Jauhari and Greysia Polii
Not all legends are necessarily ‘good’, right? I mean, look at Candyman; you know who he is right, and you wouldn’t say that prick’s name five times in front of a mirror either, I’m betting.
Badminton is to me the most benign of all sports; a sport I could tolerate playing as a teenager when I didn’t much care for being physically active, because I never broke a sweat doing so, despite being a prime candidate for sport-related sweating, given my level of fitness. It’s a sport practised by people who want to feel like they earned that cake but categorically don’t want to run anywhere. I love badminton.
So imagine the mirth when the most benign of sports became the subject of the greatest controversy of the 2012 Olympics*. These Olympic Lady Legends are so dubbed for all the wrong reasons as FOUR teams were disqualified from the women’s doubles competition for fixing matches – which is basically the sporting equivalent of getting into a fight at a Coldplay concert.
*aside from moving poor people out of Stratford so as not to give the area a dodgy vibe and G4S failing to turn up for work.
Unsurprisingly, the United States dominates the basketball competition at the Olympics, with the women’s team picking up SEVEN gold medals since 1972, when women first competed in the event (36 years after it was introduced in 1936 – there’s a theme here…). So there are a few possible candidates with multiple medals to their name.
Though compatriot Lisa Leslie won four gold medals to “[Michael] Jordan-esque” Sheryl Swoopes’ three, basketball is all about being super cool, in my humble opinion, and with the Nike Air Swoopes being the first Nike trainer to be named after a female player, Swoopes certainly had that checked off the list.
It’s still sort of shocking that women weren’t actually allowed to box at the Olympics until 2012’s Games, but then again we weren’t allowed to run the marathon until as late as 1984 so perhaps it shouldn’t be so surprising.
Team GB’s Nicola Adams therefore signed her name in the history books as the first ever woman to win a gold medal for boxing at an Olympic Games. Though I sometimes think it’s a bit unfair that she be lauded as a historic figure over the winners of the other two weight categories, her record since the Games has been impressive.
On top of her Olympic gold in 2012, she’s added the 2014 Commonwealth gold, 2015 European Championship gold and 2016 World Championship gold, meaning Yorkshire woman Adams currently holds a full complement of titles.
She goes into the Rio games hoping to become the first British boxer to successfully defend their title since Harry Mallin in 1924.
Voted the Independent’s most influential LGBT person in Britain in 2012, Adams is not just an accomplished athlete but a role model, bringing boxing into the mainstream of women’s sport with her trademark cheeky swagger.
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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