Female Olympians ride the crest of Title IX’s wave
Monday, February 26, 2018
The Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, put forth another crop of intriguing athletes from the United States, as the Games usually do. Behind the performances by those athletes and their marketable personas are ground-breaking achievements by the nation's female athletes.
More than 45 years after Title IX expanded opportunities for female athletes, U.S. women left a distinct impression in the snow at Pyeongchang. The female members of the U.S. Olympic team claimed 12 medals in the recently concluded Games, including five golds, to mark the third consecutive Winter Games in which they scored double figures in the medal count. If we include the mixed-team medals, women helped account for 14 of the 23 medals won by the U.S.
Led by skiers Mikaela Shiffrin and Lindsey Vonn, snowboarders Jamie Anderson and Chloe Kim, and the gold-medal winning hockey team, the U.S. women have become household names. Elana Meyers Taylor, silver medalist for the U.S. in bobsled with teammate Lauren Gibbs, acknowledged the significance of the women's hockey team's overtime victory over Canada to USA Today.
"To win our medal on the same day as some of these incredible women, it was, yes, girl power, women roar, it was such a magical day," she told the newspaper.
The 15 medals earned in the 2014 Games in Sochi set the high-water mark for U.S. women and was only the second time in Winter Games history that the Americans led the field in total medals won by women, according to statistics compiled by the Los Angeles Times. The other instance occurred in 1932 in Lake Placid, New York, when the U.S. women won two of the six total medals awarded, all in figure skating. In the nine Winter Olympics since 1976, four years after Title IX, the U.S. women averaged slightly more than seven medals.
The results are directly attributable to Title IX, according to Shawn Ladda, a kinesiology professor at Manhattan College in New York.
"All female athletes in the Olympic Games have benefited from Title IX in some aspect," said Ladda, a longtime member of SHAPE America, which promotes healthy lifestyles and physical activity, and related research. "It may be by the addition of a sport, or event in a sport, coaching and training, facilities and funding, to name just a few variables that have improved."
In addition to the U.S. women's increasing success is a consistent rise in Olympic participation by women around the globe, according to the International Olympic Committee. The percentage of women athletes in the Winter Games has climbed from 4.3 percent (11 athletes) in the first Games in 1924 to 40.3 (more than 1,120 athletes) in 2014.
Title IX was enacted in 1972, a statute guaranteeing against gender discrimination in education programs or activities that are federally funded. The law reads: "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 education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance," according to the U.S. Department of Education.
The law brought a surge of athletic opportunities for girls and women as schools sought to balance their program offerings. In the 1971-72 school year, about 310,000 girls and women participated in organized school sports, according to The New York Times. After 45 years under Title IX, that number rose to more than 3.3 million. Still, efforts on behalf of the law continue decades later.
"Continued vigilance needs to occur to protect Title IX and to make sure it is enforced. There is still much more progress that needs to be made," Ladda said. "Oftentimes a law is passed before societal attitudes change. Even though Title IX is 45-plus years young, there are still societal attitudes that value participation more for males in sport than females."
The advantages of participating in sports is wide-ranging and significant. Aside from the health benefits and improved long-term fitness prospects, athletics have provided an avenue to higher education for thousands of female athletes.
Sports participation also leads to more success in school and improved self-esteem, among other attributes, according to the study "Teen Sports in America: Why Participation Matters." That research was undertaken by the Women Sports Foundation and published early in 2018.
Other research shows the benefits of a nation's sexual equality with its Olympic success. Researchers at the University of British Columbia in 2014 showed that countries with more equality had more Olympic success, in men's and women's sports.
This year's Olympic success is tangible proof that for American women, the impact and success of Title IX reach around the globe, all the way to Pyeongchang. Ladda summed up that succinctly: "The most important benefits resulting from Title IX related to sports for girls and women is opportunity!"
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