Woman power at London Games (Olympic diary)

August 7th, 2012 - 2:26 pm ICT by IANS  

London, August 7 (IANS) From being non-existent at the first modern Olympics to being nearly half of the total competitors in current edition, women athletes have come a long way and the London Games are surely abuzz with women power.

From the inclusion of women’s boxing and allowing women to be represented in every Olympic sport, to 16-year-old Chinese swimming sensation Ye Shiwen smashing the world record for both women and men, this edition of the greatest sporting extravaganza has the women in their element.

With nearly 45 percent female athletes, for the first time in the Olympics’ 116-year history, every competing nation has at least one woman athlete. Thirty-four nations, including the USA, sent teams with more female athletes than male.

International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge received a loud ovation at the Opening Ceremony when he noted the rising status of women in the Olympic movement, calling the 2012 Games “a major boost for gender equality.”

The confluence of positive events for women included the historic decisions of Saudi Arabia, Brunei and Qatar — the final three male-only holdouts in the Olympic world — to bring in at least one female athlete to the Games.

Amidst all the frenzy, Saudi Arabian female judoka, Wojdan Ali Shaherkani, hogged the limelight the most, even though she competed for just 82 seconds before being eliminated by her Puerto Rican opponent.

“Hopefully this will be the start of bigger participation for other sports also. Hopefully this is the beginning of a new era,” Shaherkani said after her historic bout.

The first Olympic events for women were held at the Paris Games of 1900. Of the 997 athletes, 22 were female, and they participated in tennis, golf, croquet, sailing and equestrian.


Most African countries not in medal race

More than half of sub-Saharan African countries have never won gold, and many have never won a single Olympic medal. In the current edition of the Games South Africa with a total of four medals including three gold, is in an elite, and lonely group in its own continent.

A total of 39 African nations including Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Namibia, have never won a gold at the Games. Of those, 28 countries including Rwanda, Angola, Botswana and Chad have never won any medal.

In the current edition of the Games only South Africa, Ethiopia, Kenya and Egypt from the continent are on the medals tally.

Ghana, which was formed from the British colony known as the Gold Coast, has never brought home an Olympic gold.

“It’s been a long while since we last won a medal at the Olympic Games. In our history at the Olympic Games since 1952, we won four medals, three in boxing and one in the Olympic football event, way back in 1952,” Ghana team spokesman Erasmus Kwaw said.

For tiny Botswana, which has just two million people, the road to gold has also been elusive.

Among the European countries that are yet to get on the podium at the Summer Games include Andorra, Cyprus, Malta, Monaco and Montenegro.


Physical disability could not rob them a podium finish

Although South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius was eliminated from the 400m, finishing last in his semi-final, nonetheless he created history by becoming the first double amputee to compete at the Games.

However, there have been physically challenged athletes before him who participated in the Games and even stood proudly at the medals podium.

American gymnast George Eyser won three gold medals for the vault, parallel bars and rope climbing at the 1904 Summer Olympics hosted in St. Louis, Missouri, United States.

Eyser lost a leg when he was a kid in a train accident, and competed wearing a wooden leg.

Hungarian water polo player Oliver Halassy won two golds and one silver in water polo competing at the Games from 1928 to 1936. He achieved this despite missing his left leg that had been amputated below the knee following a car accident in his childhood.

Other physically challenged players to compete in the Olympics include New Zealand archer Neroli Fairhall who was the first paraplegic competitor in the Olympic Games, American legally blind track and field athlete Marla Runyan, and South African amputee swimmer Natalie du Toit.

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