Almost 45 years later the promise of Title IX is manifest in Rio where women’s athletics are not only more entertaining, but oftentimes more compelling and …better than their male counterparts.
Written by Kyle Magin
Shooter Ginny Thrasher started the Olympics off with a bang for U.S. women Saturday. The 19-year old Virginian won the first medal of any sort–and a gold at that–in the 10 meter air rifle competition in Rio de Janeiro.
It kicked off a day featuring a win over France by the criminally-underpaid USWNT–America’s one true soccer team–and Venus Williams’ first round match in the women’s singles tournament. Little sister and living legend Serena takes the court tomorrow and, like a slew of American women from Missy Franklin to Vashti Cunningham and Simone Biles, came to Rio with targets on their backs as the premier female athletes in all the land.
It should feel good to come from a country that has done some social engineering–via Title IX, the WNBA and *some* corporate sponsors willing to reward talent rather than viewership numbers in *some* situations–to ensure its girls have a clearer path to athletic stardom than many of their sisters around the world. The U.S. women who marched into Maracana Friday night are every bit as intimidating as their male counterparts.
This week, we found out, it’s only going to go better. In Tokyo in 2020, softball re-joins the schedule of events, and you can set the swagger on stun when the next generation of one of the greatest U.S. international teams ever marches into the opening ceremonies.
Softball, which has been off the Olympic docket since London for a lot of reasons that have to do with politics and baseball, is a quintessentially American event. From Atlanta to Beijing, the ladies hung three golds and a silver, respectively, behind such monsters as Jennie Finch and Cat Osterman.
It’s important that softball re-join the schedule because the sport is one of America’s tallest silos for female athletic talent. Any given spring, 1.2 million American girls will take a softball field, trailing only soccer for female participation with 1.7 million. It’s sponsored by nearly every little league, high school and college that supports baseball as well. A diamond is the first field of competition many of our children see, and for women to have no big stage after the college world series ends at some point in their early 20s is heartbreaking.
Softball was axed because the International Olympic Committee saw it as a companion sport to baseball, which wouldn’t make an allowance with its season to send its best players to the games. Without a viable pro league, softball didn’t have that problem–which is why you’ll see the apex of the sport in Tokyo.
As Finch pointed out after the sport was axed: “Over 140 countries play this game. …you don’t have to be six-four. You don’t have to be 200 pounds. We have all different shapes and sizes. The sport tests so many athletic abilities, from hand-eye coordination, to speed, to agility, to quickness. We’re finally at the pinnacle, we’ve finally been established. Please don’t take this away.”
Now, though, it’s back. And, as much as we’ve enjoyed USWNT’s turn in the spotlight during softball’s absence, I think there’s enough room for the other giant of women’s sports to step back onto the podium.