U.S. Female Olympians Outshine Most Countries

Aug 13, 2012
Originally published on August 13, 2012 4:46 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Well, the London Olympics are now over, but here is a remarkable statistic left behind. If American women had competed as their own country, they would've tied for third in the gold medal count and finished fifth in total medals. They won a record number of gold medals and far more medals overall than American men. That's one reason that, in London, these games will go down as the women's Olympics. Here's NPR's Howard Berkes.

HOWARD BERKES, BYLINE: American women won 29 of the nation's 46 gold medals and 58 of 104 medals overall, producing indelible images. Boxer Claressa Shields with her arms raised high in victory. Tearful Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh with hands over their hearts on the beach volleyball medals stand. And backstroker Missy Franklin looking from the pool to the scoreboard and seeing the number one.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Winner of the gold medal and Olympic champion, representing the United States of America, Missy Franklin.

(APPLAUSE)

BERKES: Franklin said it was long and hard hours in the pool that made her the most-decorated woman of the London Olympics, with four gold medals and a bronze. But there's also growing participation in sports inspired by Olympic success in the past. Brenda Villa spent the last four Olympics winning medals with the U.S. Women's water polo team, which won its first gold here in London.

BRENDA VILLA: There's more young girls playing water polo. They grow up to want to be an Olympic water polo player. So awareness and just we've been more visible since, I guess, Beijing, so more girls playing at a younger age. I think that's what's helped in our case.

BERKES: The United States Olympic Committee says the American women's medal count in London is due in part to Title 9, the 40-year-old federal law that prohibited gender discrimination in school sports. Scott Blackmun is the U.S. Olympic CEO.

SCOTT BLACKMUN: Title 9 really gave us a head start because of our really national commitment to make sure that young women in particular were getting the opportunity to be involved in sports. So it's something that we're proud of, but I think, you know, the rest of the world is clearly, you know, doing the same thing at this point. So we're glad we got ahead of the curve.

BERKES: Success for American women also attracts unwelcome attention. A New York Times story said 100 meter hurdler Lolo Jones is in the spotlight not because of athletic achievement but because of her exotic beauty and marketing. Jones, the Times story declared, had a slim chance for a medal. She actually finished fourth, just a tenth of a second behind the bronze medalist. But winning medals doesn't shield women from scrutiny that has nothing to do with athletic achievement.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: On the floor representing the United States of America, Gabrielle Douglas.

(APPLAUSE)

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AMERICAN GIRL")

GREENE: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.