by Meg Heery
August 6, 2012
Where to begin This weekend was so jammed with unbelievable moments for women Olympians that its tough to take it all in. Beginning and ending with contests that created a 72-hour explosion of civic pride all across the UK, women from a dozen nations crushed a slew of world records.
Rather than home in on any single event, its instructive to let the facts speak for themselves: The new face of athletics is female.
Katherine Grainger and Anna Watkins kicked off the British medal avalanche by winning rowings double sculls event on Friday. Saturday morning, Katherine Copeland and Sophie Hosking took the lightweight double sculls.
Later, in swimming, the U.S. medley relay team of Missy Franklin, Rebecca Soni, Dana Vollmer, and Allison Schmitt took to the pool to win gold and set a new world record of 3:52.05.
Whats most exhilarating is not how these teams won, but how they celebrated: with unfettered glee, spontaneous embraces and a palpable sense of unity.
Womens super heavyweight lifter Zhou Lulu of China set a new Olympic record when she clean-and-jerked 187kg (See here for Weight Lifting 101); her gold-medal total weight of 333kg/734lbs set a new world record. Silver medalist Tatiana Kashirina of Russia set a world record of her own with a 151kg snatch.
In swimming, Ranomi Kromowidjojo of the Netherlands broke Olympic records in the womens 50m freestyle and 100m freestyle. On Friday night, American Missy Franklin backstroked in the 200 meters to a world record and another gold medal.
Cyclists added to the pile of British gold medals. Victoria Pendleton, 31, broke her own 2008 Olympic record in the qualifying rounds of the individual sprint — right after her 10.965-second finish in the all-popular keirin, a sprint race in which cyclists build up speed behind a pace vehicle and are then closely timed on a very short course. Earlier this weekend, in track cycling, more world records were set by gold-medal British womens pursuit team Joanna Rowsell, Laura Trott and Dani King.
Is there a more compelling story than that of sprinter Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, who just won her second straight Olympic 100 meters, finishing in 10.75 seconds For Fraser-Pryce, training with her track club was in part an escape from the sexual harassment and even enslavement girls commonly endure in the slums of Kingston, Jamaica, where she grew up. Her gold in the 2008 Olympics helped her continue her education; next year shell become the first in her family to graduate college. Hats off also to runners-up Carmelita Jeter (USA, 10.78), Veronica Campbell-Brown (JAM, 10.81), Tianna Madison (USA, 10.85) and Allyson Felix (USA, 10.89).
Serena Williams romped through each round of the womens singles tennis tournament and made quick work of her final against Maria Sharapova, winning 6-0, 6-1 in 45 minutes. That gives her whats known in tennis is a Golden Slam: wins at all four major tournaments plus an Olympic gold medal. Then on Sunday she and her sister Venus won the womens doubles gold medal. Remember back when the Williams sisters stormed the pro tour in 1999, then started winning majors two years laterAnd again in 2002 Their brown skin in what was at the time a most porcelain sport and their muscled presence on the court made people talk. Today, womens tennis is unimaginable without two of the worlds most successful and celebrated athletes. (Below, Serena and Venus in a practice serve at last year’s Australian Open. photo:Wikimedia Commons)
Englands Pride and Joy
When Jessica Ennis was 12, she had no idea she would still be competing in her 20s. Her priority was to marry and have kids. Now 26, Jennis is not only the new Olympic heptathlon champion, but the pride and joy of England. Having already clinched the gold medal after the hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200 meters, long jump and javelin, Ennis went ahead and won the 800 meter race anyway. In doing so, she showed a nation its future in the form of a biracial, working-class and definitely unstoppable woman.