Shrinking and Pinking: The XX(X) Olympiad Edition

It's finally here! This week the Summer Games begin.  I-- and my DVR-- are ready. While some are calling them the Title IX Olympics, I prefer  the XX(X) Olympics.  Sure it's the first time that women (269) outnumber men (261) on the US team (hence the "Title IX" moniker [and it helps that this is the 40th anniversary of the passage of Title IX]), but that just addresses the US. A lot has been happening internationally as well.

After some back-and-forth it's the first time that every Olympic nation will be represented by a woman at the Games (though I'd be remiss not to mention that one of the Saudi Arabian women grew up in the US and likely wouldn't have had the same opportunities to develop in sport if she had grown up in Saudi Arabia; though Khadija Mohammed, a 17-year-old from the UAE, did grow up in the Persian Gulf and will be the first female to represent her country in the Olympics and the first Persian Gulf woman to lift at the Olympics).

Since the 1908 London Games women's participation has risen from 1.8% to 9.5% in London 1948 to over 40% at this London Games.  It's also the first time that women will compete in every sport (thanks to the inclusion of female boxing).

Not only are there more female athletes but women are making strides in other aspects of the Games.  This year for the first time ever Russia will have a female flag-bearer in this Friday's Opening Ceremonies (tennis superstar Maria Sharapova). Female coaches are also making strides.  I find it somewhat odd that the USA women's swim team has a female head coach for the first time, but it's true.

Is there more work to be done when it comes to athletic equality between men and women? Of course. Case in point? Last week there was outrage after the Japanese women's soccer team (who is better than the men's team) was flown to the Games in economy while the men enjoyed business class. Same thing for the Australian basketball teams (imagine how hard that would be with long legs!).

Still, I plan to spend the XX(X) Games celebrating amazing strength and stories of triumph.  As a woman who was recently pregnant I'm in awe of Nur Suryani Mohd Taibi, a Malaysian rifle shooter who is competing while seven months pregnant.  As a new mom I'm so impressed by high jumper Amy Acuff.  Not only is this her fifth Olympics, but she has a young daughter and she coaches herself. Not everyone can win the Gold, or even a medal, but they can inspire and impress people around the world just by competing.

Later this week I plan to write about my favorite summer Olympics sport: gymnastics. Stay tuned and get your TV set for some inspirational performances starting this weekend!

Shrinking and Pinking: Any Age, Any Size, Any Sport

So much is happening in the world of sports with the lead-up to the Summer Olympics-- and female athletes have been stealing the spotlight, especially in track (so much has been written on the 100m controversy, but I have to endorse this Sports Illustrated article by Tim Layden as the absolute best I have read on the topic). It's only right that women sports stars are getting so much attention as we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the passage of Title IX.  And it's not just that they generate their own headlines in the sports pages these days that matters.  What's most important is that thanks to Title IX women achieve more in the classroom and in the boardroom (I've written about Betsey Stevenson's study before here, which includes a link to her interesting paper).

These three athletes who have recently created headlines are a reminder that today women of any age and size can achieve in any sport.

1) Swimming legend Janet Evans is 40 and a mom of two. She also just competed in the Olympic Trials in distance swimming. I know she may not feel like it all the time, but it seems like she has it all.

2) Holley Mangold (in her second appearance in the Shrinking and Pinking series) was just profiled in The New York Times Magazine. Yes, she's 350 pounds. Yes, she wears make-up. Yes, she's NFL star Nick's sister. No, she doesn't want to be skinny. No, she doesn't make a lot of money. No, she probably won't medal in London (US weightlifting is described as the equivalent of the US' Jamaican bobsled team). I'll still be rooting for her and hoping she rocks some hair bows and nail polish, flaunting her awesome skill and femininity.

3) Nineteen-year-old Maggie Parker participates in a sport that isn't even in the Olympics. She's a bull rider. And earlier this month she became the first woman to ever win prize money on the professional bull-riding circuit.  It was only $460 but you have to start somewhere.

I doubt Parker'll be doing this when she's 40, like Evans, and she's surely about a third the size of Mangold, but all three women prove that in a post-Title IX world female athletes come in variety of wonderful packages.

Bad*ss (Women) Athletes

After getting some feedback on my blog post on the Iowa State Wrestling Championships, I expanded it into a more complete discussion on Title IX, including a bit on boys playing on girls' field hockey teams. Check it out on The Huffington Post. Please leave comments and share by clicking through!

In related news, I am just so impressed by two female athletes getting a lot of press this week.

1) Justine Siegal- She became the first female to ever pitch batting practice in MLB this week (both for the Indians and also for the A's). Siegal has also coached all-men's baseball teams and played on them. Not only that, she chose to wear a patch to honor Christina Taylor Green, the wonderful child gunned down so horrifically in the Arizona shootings last month. And, on top of all this, Justine's daughter was there to watch her mom pitch in spring training. Like I said, bad*ss.

2) Ida Keeling- She is 95 and runs 60 meters in 29.86 seconds. I can't do that now. Like I said, bad*ss.

Do you know of any other bad*ss and stellar female athletes doing exceptional things?

Females Down for the Count

How much is a victory worth if you didn't win?

On Thursday Cassy Herkelman had to confront this question as she became the first female to "win" a match in Iowa's state wrestling tournament for high school students.  Her opponent, Joel Northtrup, a favorite in the 112-pound weight class, defaulted rather than face a girl on the mat.  Northtrup cited his religious convictions (he is a student homeschooled by his evangelical minister family, but he wrestles on his local public school's team [the legal fight that allowed homeschooled students to participate on sports teams is interesting, if you are ever interested]).

None of Herkelman's other opponents refused to face her and she was eliminated after losing two matches. The other female competitor, Megan Black, also lost all of her matches, with no opponents declining to face her.  So it's possible Northtrup was afraid to lose to a girl and his religious beliefs were a convenient excuse (I am in no position at all to judge the strength of his convictions, I'm merely suggesting an alternative hypothesis in the tradition of Larry Summers).

Is this Title IX run a muck? Should males and females be segregated even if there isn't a separate but equal system in place?

Based on my research on gender, sports, and injuries, I believe that boys and girls should have separate competitive outlets when it comes to physical sporting activities.  This is especially true after puberty when male and female bodies start to drastically differ in their amounts of body fat and muscle (at younger ages I have actually observed, and some research has shown, a bigger advantage for girls because they tend to have more mental acuity to pick up rules of the game and teamwork than their male peers).  Sure in wrestling there are weight categories, so it is a fairer fight.  But a 112 lb. female body and a 112 lb. male body at age 15 usually look quite different.

However, I certainly do not believe that wrestling should be off-limits to females because it is a "violent, combat" sport-- as described by Joel Northtrup. On the contrary, I believe girls capable of impressive performances in any sport, developing physical strength and character skills that will help them compete with men in other arenas later in life.  When competitive outlets don't exist for females though, they need to face males to develop their skills so they aren't shout out completely, either in the present or in the future.

But as more and more girls hit the wrestling mats, female wrestling tournaments will develop.  Even before this Iowa wrestling story broke, this week the Daily News in Brooklyn ran a story on Wingate High School, which has eight female wrestlers. Their coach recruits females, touting the numerous benefits women get by participating in wrestling in high school.  Two of these young women won conference titles, beating out male competitors, and they will soon be able to compete against many other female wrestlers at the City's first all-female tournament.

By the way, no word if Black and Herkelman ever faced off in Iowa. Given that they were the only two females to qualify,  perhaps they could have wrestled for the female state wrestling title after their elimination.  That would have been a victory earned.