Olympic Women with Multiple Firsts

For every sport and every event in the Olympics, there is a First Woman who won a medal in a sport when women were permitted to compete. Their names would fill a ledger book. The women featured here hold more than one first (although not all in the Olympics):

Screen Shot 2016-08-16 at 5.00.37 PM–Aileen Riggin swam in the 1920 and 1924 Olympic games. She won a gold medal at the 1920 Antwerp games, the youngest American to win Olympic gold. She was the first woman to medal in both swimming and diving. She was still swimming at 85 when she competed in the world masters championships—and broke six world records in her age group.

–Martha Norelius was the First Woman to win successive Olympic gold medals, in 1924 and 1928. She beat out Gertrude Ederle, the First Woman to swim the English Channel.

–Connie Carpenter-Phinney was the First Woman to compete in the winter and summer Olympics. She competed in speed skating in 1972 and still holds the record as the youngest competitor in the Winter Olympics. She won a gold medal in the cycling road race in 1984.

Screen Shot 2016-08-16 at 5.06.19 PM–Deborah “Debbie” Meyer was the First Woman to win three individual Olympic gold medals—in the 200-, 400, and 800- meter freestyle swimming races.

–Bonnie Blair was an Olympic speed skater. She won a gold medal in 1988 and two golds in 1992, the First Woman to medal in two consecutive Winter Olympic games.

–Joan Benoit was the First Woman to win a marathon at the Olympics. This did not happen until 1984 because women were not allowed to run a marathon until then. She had previously won the Boston Marathon and set a record that held for 11 years.

Screen Shot 2016-08-16 at 5.03.20 PM–Maria Gorohkovskaya of the Soviet Union was the First Woman to win a gold medal in women’s gymnastics when the sport was added to the Olympics in 1952. It was not until 1984 that an American woman won the gold. Mary Lou Retton went on to have her face featured on a Wheaties box. Wheaties had been putting athletes on its cereal boxes since 1934, but Mary Lou Retton was the First Woman.

First Women in the Olympics: Part One – A Short History

 

If you read the Olympic websites, you would believe that the IOC (International Olympic Committee) is thoroughly committed to the equality of women in sports. However, this commitment is relatively new. It was not until 2012, just four years ago, that every country participating in the Olympics had women athletes. This was the same year that women competed, for the first time, in all sports.

MARGARET ABBOTT        When the Olympics were revived in 1890, women were prohibited from participation. That changed in 1900 when women competed in the Paris games. The First American Woman (and second woman internationally) to win a gold medal was Margaret Abbott, a golfer who was studying art in Paris at the time. Her mother, Mary Perkins Ives Abbott also competed in the event, making this the first—and last—time a mother and daughter competed in the Olympics.

Margaret Abbott and her mother were among the 22 women competing in Paris, out of the full contingent of 997 athletes. Women competed in five sports: croquet, tennis, golf, sailing, and equestrianism. In 1924 women reached 136 in numbers. However, by this time, there were 2,954 men participating, so their percentage increased only marginally. That same year, in the Olympic 100-meter backstroke, Sybil Bauer broke a swimming world record that had been held previously by a man.

BETTY ROBINSON       Four years later Elizabeth “Betty” Robinson Schwartz was awarded the first Olympic gold medal for a woman in track and field. In 1931, she was in a plane crash. Believing she was dead, she was taken to the morgue and found to be in a coma. Her recovery was slow as she struggled to walk normally and finally to run. Although she could not bend over into the starting position for a race, she competed on the American women’s relay team in the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. The Americans beat Hitler’s Germans and won the gold.

It was not until 1981, one hundred and one years after the Olympics were revived, that women served as board members on the IOC. Was it a coincidence that women were allowed to compete in the marathon at the Olympics shortly after, in 1984? Joan Benoit, who had set a Boston Marathon record that lasted for 28 years, won the gold.

Five years later, in 1986, Anita DeFrantz, a former U.S. rowing team captain, became the First African American Woman to serve on the IOC. Was it any coincidence that five years after, in 1991, the IOC decided that any new sport added to the Olympics must include both men’s and women’s events?

SARAH HENDRICKSON        Even this change, however had some limits. Although women could compete in every sport, they could not necessarily compete in every event. As late as 2006 the International Ski Federation petitioned the IOC to allow women to ski jump in the Olympics. It took two more winter Olympics, and eight years, before the IOC agreed. In 2014 Sarah Hendrickson was the First Woman ever to ski jump at the Olympics. In 2016 women will earn 44% of all medals awarded.

More First Women on Jeopardy

Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 4.45.02 PMA couple of weeks ago, Jeopardy included another First Women category in their show. Once again I have taken the names  used in their category and created a quiz.

Match the descriptions below (a through e) with the names (1 to 5). Answers appear at the bottom.

a. First Woman to win an Olympic Marathon (in 1984)

b. First Woman on the FBI’s most-wanted list (1968-1969)

c. First Woman in the United States to serve as a state governor (in 1924)

d. First African-American woman to win an Oscar for Leading Actress (in 2002)

e. First Woman (in fact, first person) to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel (in 1901)

1. Annie Taylor

2. Joan Benoit

3. Halle Berry

4. Ruth Taylor Ross

5. Ruth Eismann-Schier

Answers:

a-2 (she still holds some speed records); b-5 (for kidnapping an heiress); c-4 (in Wyoming); d-3 (for Monster’s Ball); e-1 (she was 43 at the time)