Moira Gordon: ‘The most historic fact is that for the first time ever every nation has female representation’
HEATHER Stanning and Helen Glover did it. They got Team GB’s first gold of these Olympics. It was also the maiden gold for any British women in the sport which has delivered countless such victories for our men.
It was the start of something that should be the lasting legacy of this games. This was the Olympics where gender ceased to be a hindrance. In sport firsts always count but some matter even more than most.
While every medallist – male and female – has dedicated a lifetime to getting their bodies and minds in the kind of peak condition needed to beat the field and should be lauded, the female medallists will argue that it has actually taken over a century to get them into the position they are now.
At the original Olympics in ancient Greece, women were not even allowed to watch, let alone participate. They were permitted a role as spectators in the first modern Games in 1896, but could not compete until Paris 1900. Even then it was a handful of carefully chosen disciplines considered appropriate for frail and genteel ladies.
How things have changed. The so-called fairer sex now compete across all the sports, with women’s boxing making its debut next week. It means there are more medals up for grabs than at any previous Games.
While Britain have 262 women taking part, representing 48 per cent of the team, for both the USA and Canada, female competitors actually outnumber the men. It is notable but the most historic fact is that for the first time ever, every nation at these Games has female representation. The triumph for some, such as the Somalian 400m runner Zamam Mohamed, who carried her nation’s flag, and the competitors from Saudi Arabia, Brunei and Qatar, was simply being there. For others the real target has been the podium. There have been successes and near misses but every one should be considered an inspiration.
There will be girls in societies where their sex has already doomed them to a life deemed inferior to their brothers, who have been offered a glimpse into something which could elevate their self-worth. That is the value of sport. London won these Games based on promises of lasting legacies and that is a priceless one.
Even in this country, where sport is ingrained in the public psyche and our girls can set higher goals than other women around the globe, the emergence of so many role models from London 2012 can only be considered a positive.
Studies show that while more women now watch sport, the number of participants in Great Britain has shown no significant increase in recent years. It remains fewer than 15 per cent of the female population. Less than two hours of PE in schools each week is pitiful and does not help, stereotyping and issues with self-confidence and body image also contribute and have to be tackled but having someone to look up to will help.
“You’ve inspired my eight year old daughter to take up rowing!” read one of the tweets to rower Katherine Copeland. “Maybe we’ll see her on Team GB in 2020.” And that was before the Teessider had even won gold with her partner Sophie Hosking in the lightweight sculls. There were similar messages flooding the message boards for their female team-mates. Whether in judo, where Gemma Gibbons and Karina Bryant secured podium places, on the water, like the rowers and sailors, in it, like Rebecca Addlington, or on the athletics and cycle tracks, there have been countless achievers for the next generation to try to emulate. And with a week to go, it’s unlikely that the Team GB ladies are finished yet.
The majority of women who do get involved in any kind of fitness in this country cite swimming, gym and athletics as the primary focus. Those sports have their posters girls but in these games other sports have hogged headlines. Through Victoria Pendleton, cycling has undoubtedly received a boost, while Katherine Grainger et al have proved that rowing also provides a pathway to Olympic fame and glory. They are also the darlings of the media and the public who are happy to register femininity alongside their sporting prowess and dedication.
The euphoria is tangible for now, and sporting bodies need to tap into that quickly. The key is simply getting girls involved in sport, any sport because as Helen Glover proved, specialising and finding the right niche can come later.
She only took up rowing four years ago. But she has been a sports fanatic since childhood. In the early days it was hockey and cross country. “She has got great willpower and great strength and has always been a very fine athlete,” said her dad. “She doesn’t take anything for granted, she trains like mad. To some extent I am surprised by how well she’s done but that’s just Helen. She is a bit of a one-off.”
But the warming fact is that she isn’t a one-off. She is, however, one of a minority. That’s what these Olympics have to change. There is a momentum and there is a, justifiable, sense of awe and pride that must be tapped into.
Just when the nation was beginning to fear for our medals tally, Glover and Stanning weighed with the first gold of many. They, along with every other medallist, have done their part. But the true success of these Games will be in their legacy. And the hope is it will be a lasting one.
GOOD RIDDANCE TO BADMINTON RUBBISH
THE Olympics will always have detractors, people who feel the original ethos has been swamped by commercialism, and cynicism long since overhauling idealism. So, I’m thrilled to see the non-trying badminton players banished.
One complained her dream had been taken from her. Maybe she should have thought about that when she started playing god with those of her rivals.
On a day when Team GB men’s rowing eight stretched themselves to such an extent in the quest to finish first, that they left themselves spent and in agony and unable to hold on for silver, those badminton wannabe losers and their gamesmanship was insulting to those who give their all.
The Olympics is a stage where you should always have to perform at your best to attain the top prize and if you’re not willing to do that, you shouldn’t be there.
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