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American women rule the London Olympics - now what?

Women Faces of the Olympics

By Christine Brennan, USA TODAY

LONDON – The 2012 Olympic Games are over, and while nations will debate and discuss their performances in the weeks and months to come, there can be no doubt about one overriding topic:

There were more female athletes at the Games than at any other in history: nearly 5,000 from more than 200 nations, 44.4% of the overall total. They participated on every national team, even that of exceedingly reluctant Saudi Arabia.

They dominated the in every way:  More women than men made the American team, and they won far more gold medals than the American men. The USA won 46 gold medals in the Games, more than any other nation. Women won 29 of them. Were U.S. women their own nation, they would have finished ahead of every other country's total gold medal count except China and tied Great Britain.

It turns out the U.S. squad's early nickname — "Team Title IX" — couldn't have been more appropriate. In the summer of the 40th anniversary of the law that opened America's playing fields to women and girls, women were the dominant athletes on the U.S. team.

So now what?

The knee-jerk reaction in the male-dominated mainstream sports media is to talk about the future — or lack thereof — of professional sports leagues for women, as if that's the only way to gauge the lasting success of women at the London Games.

If that's the measure, then coming out of these Olympics, nothing will change.

We're nuts about Abby Wambach when she's wearing the uniform of the USA. When she's in a Washington Freedom jersey, not so much. For the masses, it's all about nationalism.

So let's dispense with a measurement that is insufficient for this kind of conversation and move on to one that is more fitting of these Olympics, where women have received more worldwide attention for playing sports than they ever have.

In a world in which many nations still don't believe girls and women should play sports seriously, if at all, gymnast Gabby Douglas, heptathlete Jessica Ennis, swimmer Missy Franklin and scores of other female medalists become powerful symbols for what is possible for girls and women through sports.

"I think there are young girls who are watching us now," two-time U.S. basketball gold medalist Candace Parker said, "and a girl who watched Gabrielle Douglas is going to go out and flip on the balance beam tomorrow. And hopefully another girl will pick up a basketball because she saw us on TV. And it will happen in other sports, too. I think this is a launching pad."

Perhaps the "Women's Olympics" will become the "Role Model Olympics" over time. One way that can happen, and should, is within the International Olympic Committee. Of its 109 members, 22 are women. In 2012, that's an embarrassment. As women were winning all of those medals, male IOC members were almost always handing them out. That has to change.

It's a tremendously powerful message female athletes have sent to the IOC and to nations that still have a stubborn male chauvinistic athletic streak. With childhood obesity rates rising, if the leaders of individual nations haven't received a few hints for how to get girls moving, they haven't been watching what's happened here in London.

In the USA, because of Title IX, participation rates for girls in sports are the greatest on earth, but logic tells us they only will get better over the next four years after this stunningly successful American Olympic fortnight.

The last grouchy anti-Title IX holdouts must have succumbed by now. Either that or they are hiding in their closets. Americans love to win more than anything else, and the nation's greatest winners are now women.

"This has been a celebration of women," three-time U.S. Olympic basketball gold medalist Tamika Catchings said. "I picture girls watching and saying, 'You know what, I want to be that, I want to be Gabrielle, I want to be on the soccer team.' They get to see this great coverage of women playing sports."

Isn't that enough, at least for now?


This story originated from USA TODAY

Bernell Hooker

Bernell Hooker is the Founder and CEO of Images of Us (IOU) Sports; a non-profit organization that empowers girls and women through education and sports. "Think of yourself as an athlete. I guarantee you it will change the way you walk, the way you work, and the decisions you make about leadership, teamwork, and success." - Mariah Burton Nelson