With the Olympic flame extinguished in Rio de Janeiro, the world bids farewell to the 2016 games.
It also says goodbye to some of the greatest athletes to have ever graced the Olympic games — Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt. Although, if you ask me, I think we’ll see one, if not both, of them again in 2020 at Tokyo. (But that’s a story for another time.)
Speaking of the future, the women of Team USA have shattered many more glass ceilings, while setting a gold standard moving forward. They have become an example for the rest of the world, who needs to catch up to them.
The United States boasted the largest Olympic roster with 554 members, and for the second straight time, the women (291) outnumbered the men (263).
The women took home more medals (61 vs. 55) overall, but also combined for 27 of Team USA’s 46 golds.
If the U.S. women were their own country, it would tie the entirety of Team Britain for most gold medals in this year’s Olympics. This domination and level of accomplishment is unrivaled by the female athletes in other countries, let alone some of the men.
This all seemed unimaginable many years ago.
In 1972, Team USA’s male athletes tripled the amount of medals women brought home. In today’s games, you have gold medalists like Simone Biles in gymnastics and Allyson Felix in track and field. Back then, Team USA gymnastics couldn’t find the podium and had no gold medals came from the race track.
However, that same year, Congress passed Title IX. The act prevented any discrimination based on gender in regards to education programs and institutions that receive federal funding. Although Title IX covers various facets of gender equality and discrimination, it changed the face of athletics moving forward. Female participation in sports skyrocketed as a result and 44 years later, the country is reaping its benefits.
The culture has changed globally overall as well, with the 2016 Rio Games featuring the highest percentage of female participants (45 percent) and Olympic events (47.4 percent) in history.
With more opportunities, more women around the world are taking advantage of them. In the United States, they are making history.
Some of these women are becoming household names. Swimmer Katie Ledecky smashed world records and brought in four gold medals and a silver. At age 19, she hasn’t even hit her prime yet.
Gymnast Simone Biles became the most decorated U.S. gymnast at a single Olympics with her collection of four golds and a bronze. Sprinter Allyson Felix added a pair of gold medals, giving her the most career golds for any woman in track and field.
The “Final Five” gymnasts–consisting of Biles, Madison Kocian, Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, and Laurie Hernandez–posted the largest margin of victory in 56 years over second-place Russia en route to a successful title defense.
Brianna Rollins, Nia Ali, and Kristi Castlin notched the first-ever podium sweep in a women’s Olympic track and field event, finishing in the top three slots of the 100m hurdles.
The women’s basketball team won its sixth straight gold medal; they haven’t lost a game since 1992.
Then, there were a number of firsts.
Kayla Harrison (judo) and Claressa Shields (boxing) became the first Americans in their respective sports to defend their Olympic gold medal titles. Gwen Jorgensen and Helen Maroulis gave the stars and stripes their first gold medals in triathlon and women’s wrestling, respectively.
Simone Manuel became the first African-American female swimmer to win gold, while New Jersey native Ibtihaj Muhammad became the first Muslim-American to compete in a hijab, helping the U.S. women’s fencing team to a bronze medal.
With all these milestones and achievements, some have wondered if the United States’ women are doing too much. Their dominance and talent have left the others in the dust, creating a lack of true competition.
I say, nonsense.
This argument has been brought up before with the men’s basketball team. Team USA women’s basketball head coach Geno Auriemma had been asked if his teams were ruining basketball (He’s also the head coach of the UConn women’s basketball team, so he knows a lot about winning.) With a winning streak that has lasted over two decades, the women’s national basketball team has yet to meet its match. Until then, keep it that way. If you have the talent, flaunt it.
This is a competition where the best athletes in the world are sent to represent their country. Wouldn’t it be more insulting if the United States wins with their B-Team athletes? Winners set a high standard and a mark for others to follow.
We’ve seen a few instances where the rest of the world has caught up to the United States. For example, Sweden’s upset win in penalty kicks to knock the United States women’s national soccer team out of medal contention for the first time ever. While Hope Solo’s reaction after the game isn’t exactly model behavior, the United States’ loss made Sweden’s win that much sweeter.
Allyson Felix took silver to the Bahamas’ Shaunae Miller in the women’s 400m final. While Miller won with a controversial dive for the finish line, it just goes to show the effort and willpower needed to win gold and beat one of the best female runners in Olympic history.
Over time, there will be even more female Olympians and more events to look forward to. Some countries were late to the game, with Qatar, Brunei, and Saudi Arabia becoming the last national Olympic committees to send a woman to the Olympics. Those three countries didn’t do so until 2012, and will have even more work to do in order to catch up with the rest of the women around the world, but it’s a promising start.
With Michael Phelps retired, the United States will begin its search for a new face of the Olympic team. Based on the recent trends and the amount of women that emerged to the forefront on the world’s biggest stage of competition, it appears that the search will conclude with a woman.
Phelps was the flag bearer in this year’s opening ceremony, it’s only fitting that Biles had the honor for the closing.
Although the cumbersome flag was twice her size, she handled it just fine.