Olympics More Than a Sporting Event
By Cara Hergenroether
Last night, the history book closed on the 2016 Olympics in Rio – and what a book it was. The U.S. Olympic team took home 121 medals – 46 of them gold. U.S. women took home 61 of those medals, 27 of those gold.
During the 16 days of Olympics, we’ve swelled with pride as Simone Biles proclaimed herself not the next Michael Phelps, but the “first Simone Biles,” brushed away tears as Simone Manuel made history as the first African-American woman to win an individual gold in swimming, sympathized as Fu Yuanhui of China spoke frankly about having her period during her race, and smiled as Michelle Carter locked down a gold medal in shot put (the first U.S. woman to do so) and then re-applied her lip gloss.
The images of these diverse women are more than just athletes at their peak; they’re also inspiring young women of all races and ethnicities to participate in sports.
Kim Wright is a JLA sustainer and mom to Storm, who is a sophomore at Grady High School, competitive swimmer and a new member of Atlanta Public School’s water polo team. Ashleigh Johnson, the goalie of the U.S. Women’s Water Polo team, who won its second consecutive gold medal at this year’s Games, has been an inspiration to her daughter.
“There are not many who look like [Storm] in the water,” says Wright, pointing out that her daughter is also drawn to Johnson’s devotion to emphasizing the “student” in “student-athlete” as she attends Princeton University.
“Her experience mirrors Ashleigh Johnson’s experience,” Wright added.
We say “aww” when we see a tiny girl pretending to be Gabby Douglas or Simone Biles in her living room, but there’s more happening there than an adorable image for social media. We’re also watching perceptions of women and girls change.
A United Nations study of the impact of sports on the empowerment of girls and women noted that “[w]atching female athletes participate in high-profile sporting events, such as the Olympics, can transform male and female perceptions of the capacities of girls and women.”
Plus the girl who plays sports may have a bright future beyond a trophy or gold medal.
In 2014, Ernst & Young and espnW surveyed women executives on four continents about their participation in sports. Of the 400 respondents, 49% were C-suite executives and 52% of those C-suite women played at university-level or above. 94% of all respondents played at least one sport.
The respondents reported that the top three leadership skills developed by sports were the ability to see projects through completion, motivational skills and team-building. Two of the three respondents stated that a candidate’s background in sports would be a positive influence when hiring.
The U.N. study echoed this survey, finding that “[s]port programs can provide strong female role models, offer an expanded sense of possibility, and enable girls and women to acquire leadership skills and experience as sport team leaders, peer educators, coaches, officials, mentors, supporters, and organizers. “
Girls On The Run, a Junior League of Atlanta community partner, echoes this in its mission to teach Atlanta girls to reach their full potential by building competence, confidence and leadership through running. Girls On The Run works with girls between grades 3 to 8 throughout metro Atlanta. The young runners meet twice a week, training for a 5k race and creating and completing a community service project.
So, as the 2016 Olympics come to a close, let us remember to carry on these female athletes’ examples of gold-winning performances, regardless of the field any of us may play upon.