London • They have come here from more than 200 countries speaking dozens of languages to put on the world’s grandest sporting event, but this time it doubles as a revolution. Some of the best athletes on planet Earth are all over this great city, and they’ve already made history.
Historical precedent is being set with thighs like oak trunks, arms like lightning, abs like washboards and calves like jet fuel. Skin color as different as the Swedes and Kenyans. Specialties as different as trampoline and boxing. Hometowns as different as Tokyo and Leavenworth, Kan.
The revolution is powerful and diverse — and it is led by athletes named Jessica and Gabby and Hope.
For the next two weeks, these will be the Olympics of Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt and Team USA men’s basketball. But when history remembers these games, it will be about the women. Lots and lots of women. The Title IX Olympics.
"The development of women in sports is huge," says Mariel Zagunis, a two-time gold-medal fencer who carried the flag for Team USA during the Opening Ceremony. "I am where I am today because of the women who paved the way. They were the ones who fought for our rights."
We’ve never seen this many women pushing athletic limits at the Olympics — an important symbol at the world’s most high-profile sporting event.
The United States is represented by more women than men for the first time ever. Russia also has more women competing. One hundred and twelve years after women were first allowed to compete, and 108 years after they were first awarded medals, more women will compete in these games than ever before, whether you count by percentage (45 percent) or total (4,860).
For the first time, every participating country has a woman athlete competing.
Oppressive cultures in Saudi Arabia and Qatar are represented by women for the first time. Women’s boxing is new, so that women now compete in every Olympic sport. The host country’s poster athlete is a woman — heptathlete Jessica Ennis’ face is everywhere here.
Seoul had Ben Johnson’s steroids bust in 1988, Barcelona had the Dream Team in 1992, and Beijing opened the world to much of China in 2008. These games in London just may be remembered as a critical brick in building an overdue sports stage for our world’s women.
And for that, we can thank a woman known as Bunny.
Born in New York City, Bernice "Bunny" Sandler, who is 83 years old, has been dubbed "the Godmother of Title IX" by the New York Times. She’s a senior scholar at the Women’s Research and Education Institute in Washington, D.C., an adjunct associate professor at Drexel University College of Medicine and the author of numerous articles on gender equity. She’s a living pioneer, the driving force behind the development and passage of legislation that four decades ago opened doors for today’s female Olympians.
Sandler never imagined she’d have this kind of reach in 1972, when she and others drafted and championed 37 words of legislation that would change the world:
No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.
"I specifically remember this," Sandler says today. "I remember saying to someone, ‘Isn’t this great? On field day [at schools], there’s going to be more activities for girls.’ "
Back then, sports were a man’s domain. Some worried about women competing too hard — "that their uteruses would fall out or something," Sandler says.
When Title IX took effect 40 years ago, signed into law by President Richard Nixon, sexism and sexual harassment were foreign terms. It wasn’t that women weren’t victims of discrimination; it’s just that we didn’t have a good name for it yet.
Passage of the bill into law eventually even shook our country’s sports landscape, and residual progress in social interactions and the business world followed. Twelve bills have been introduced to weaken Title IX’s oversight of sports since its implementation. Five made it to a vote, but none has passed.
In the next two weeks, more women will compete in London than had been in every Olympics combined before Title IX’s passage. That’s not a coincidence. Polls show that 80 percent of Americans support Title IX, and it’s easy to see why.
"It’s all about timing, for me to grow up and have so many opportunities," says Zagunis, the fencer. "And to have it be no question. It wasn’t, ‘If I will play,’ it’s, ‘What sport will I play?’ "Next Page >
Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.