Success of Britain's wonder women have made London 2012 the girlie Games
22:18 GMT, 5 August 2012
At the Olympic Games in Atlanta in 1996, Denise Lewis’s heptathlon bronze was the sole medal won by a British woman.
Just 16 years later, the time it took Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen to go from cradle to double Olympic champion, Britain’s sportswomen reached the halfway stage of London 2012 with 12 medals between them. Six of them are gold. This is fast turning into the girlie Games.
Jessica Ennis crossing the line to become the greatest all-round athlete in the world will surely become the enduring image of this Olympics. Victoria Pendleton’s stunning gold in the women’s keirin puts her among an elite group of females who have tasted Olympic success once and come back for more — but Pendleton is the only one to have done it on her own.
Medals of honour: In 1996, Denise Lewis was Britain's only female medal winner, but 16 years later the girls – like Lizzie Armitstead, Victoria Pendleton and Jess Ennis – are enjoying a golden Games
You wait 36 years for Britain’s first female gold medallists in rowing and then three boats come along at once. We go 12 years without seeing a medal in judo and then Gemma Gibbons and Karina Bryant furnish us with silver and bronze inside 24 hours.
Rebecca Adlington has never finished outside the medals in her four Olympic finals. Lizzie Armitstead saw the men miss out on road cycling glory but came within inches of gold. And we will claim Britain’s equestrian silver because four of the five team members were female.
These are extraordinary, unprecedented times for British sportswomen. You can’t begin to understand how much pleasure it gives me to write that; to know that young girls watching at home will feel it’s OK to run, jump, swim, cycle, row or throw someone to the ground in the pursuit of excellence.
That female athleticism is being celebrated and encouraged, not feared, mocked or indulged as a pastime that allows the woman in your life to eat an extra slice of pizza and still fit into her skinny jeans. Female athletes are not the sideshow but have equal billing; they matter just as much as the men.
Remember the debate last December, when no woman made it on to the 10-man shortlist for BBC Sports Personality of the Year Those days seem long gone.
Better than ever: British women have made history on the water at Eton Dorney
It seems trivial to even discuss that award when British Olympic gold medals are raining down on London, but it reared its head again this week.
Lewis, of all people, argued there should be two trophies for the male and female sports personalities of the year. I nearly fell off the sofa.
THEY SAID WHAT
It is nigh-on impossible to be an
expert in all 26 Olympic disciplines, but some journalists' questions
have brought a smile this week.
'How do you know who's won bronze in
the tennis' was my favourite, closely followed by 'Which pieces of
apparatus do gymnasts compete in during the all-round event'
'Er… all of them,' came the reply.
Her line of thinking went something like
this: one of our brilliant British sportswomen might miss out because
the awe-inspiring first British winner of the Tour de France and
four-time Olympic gold medallist Bradley Wiggins happens to be male.
So we will just create another award for the girls. That’ll sort it. What a lot of patronising twaddle.
Britain’s sportswomen do not deserve to be demeaned by an award that might as well be called: ‘BBC female sports personality of the year (because you weren’t good enough to win the other one).’ Their achievements merit equal billing, particularly in Olympic year when the sports at which Britain’s women excel are given equivalent coverage.
It’s a public popularity contest and both Wiggins and Ennis would be worthy winners, regardless of their gender. Things have moved on since 1996 — and that is something that should be celebrated, not dressed up as a pretty sideshow.
… And this is what I've been doing this week
Gripped as Britain’s gymnasts won their first bronze for 100 years in the team event on Monday, then interviewing Louis Smith in a sound booth as he charged his phone and tried to make sense of it all. ‘Olympic fever baby, it’s gets you,’ he said. He’s right…
He's got the fever: Louis Smith may have been disappointed by his bronze, but he's loved the Olympics
Feeling disappointed as Britain’s first female Olympic football team’s campaign ended in the quarter-finals. They provided magical moments and merited the support and coverage, but I can’t help thinking real success, a medal, was needed to send the sport into orbit…
Considering a career as a counsellor. The four-year Olympic cycle makes winning and losing so much more emotional; not only for the athletes, but for their families, too. There have been many hugs and tears of joy and frustration over the past seven days.
Performance of the week
There have been so many. Gemma Gibbons’s surprise silver in the women’s judo -78kg category – with a broken thumb – was a highlight, but it’s got to be Jessica Ennis’s blistering 100m hurdles in her bid for heptathlon gold. Pressure What pressure