Olympics: Participation by women in Games at record high
London • For American women competing at the London Olympics, which begin Friday, one milestone will dovetail with another.
For the first time, the United States sent more female competitors than men to the Summer Games, a statistic that, it has been lost on no one, coincides with the 40th anniversary of Title IX, the landmark legislation providing equal opportunities for women.
And it's not just the U.S.: Female participation in the Olympics is at an all-time high, with nearly every country represented by women. That even includes Saudi Arabia, which sent two female athletes to London.
United States Olympic Committee Chief Executive Scott Blackmun said the Americans have led the way on women in sports.
"We think that Title IX has had a great deal to do with the success of the American team," he said, "because our women got an opportunity, I think, a little bit earlier on than a lot of other nations."
Team USA is made up of 269 women and 261 men, a slim but notable edge.
Both fencer Mariel Zagunis, the American flag bearer at Friday's Opening Ceremony, and five-time Olympic basketball player Teresa Edwards, said the legacy of Title IX allowed them to pursue athletics without the fear of exclusion.
"I didn't really have to struggle to be a great athlete I just had to play," said Edwards, who last played in an Olympics in 2000 and this year was named the American team's chef de mission. "The doors were being loosened and I walked through."
Zagunis, 27, the two-time defending gold medalist in women's sabre, also credited Title IX for the progress of Olympic sports.
"It wasn't, if I will play a sport, it was what sport will I play?" she said. "It isn't, 'Will I go to the Olympics?' It's which Olympics? How many Olympics will I go to?"
Passed by Congress in 1972, Title IX requires gender equity in every educational program that receives federal funding, and has long been considered the key for women in athletics.
"I was born in the right generation to be able to have these opportunities, just be there and be available," Zagunis said. "You have to fight in your training and you have to fight to be the best in your sport, but it wasn't a matter of fighting to have that opportunity in the first place."