While the first (modern day) Olympics for men started in 1896, women weren't allowed to compete until much, much later. In fact, in some events (like pole vault) men had been competing for a full 100 years before women got their chance to take the Olympic stage.
The Olympic history of women's athletic events has been full of highs and lows. At their highs, women have shown dominant athletic performances—breaking records and showing the world what women are truly capable of. At their lows, there have been scandals and lies—with the Olympic committee knowingly spreading false information about what the female body can handle.
Read on to learn about the hurdles female athletes have overcome to compete in the Olympics, and how their performances have improved over the past 90+ years.
- 1110 VOTES
1928 - Elizabeth (Betty) Robinson (USA) - 12.20 (WR)
2020 - Elaine Thompson-Herah (Jamaica) - 10:61 (OR)
Betty Robinson was a typical 16-year-old student, when one day, her teacher noticed how fast she was able to run to catch the train. After testing her, she was immediately put on the men's track team (since there was no women's).
Fast forward just a handful of months to the 1928 Games in Amsterdam, the first Olympics with women's track events. In her fourth track meet ever, Robinson won the gold and set a world record.
A favorite to win gold again in the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles, Robinson's dreams were dashed when she was in a horrific plane crash. Robinson was actually taken to the morgue because they thought she was dead at the scene. However, after a seven-week coma and two years of rehabilitation, she could walk—and run—again. However, she didn't regain the ability to fully bend her leg, so she was unable to crouch to start a race.
But Robinson found a way to succeed. She joined the 1936 4x100m relay team, and won a second gold.
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1948 - Olga Gyarmati (Hungary) - 5.695m
2020 - Malaika Mihambo (Germany) - 7.00m
The rise in athleticism is very apparent when we compare the jump length of women from 1948 to that of 2020. Advances in equipment, nutrition, and technique have led to dramatic improvements in the distances achieved by women over the years. Malaika Mihambo, the 2020 gold medalist, jumped over four feet farther than Olga Gyarmati, the first gold medal winner in women's long jump in 1948.
- 353 VOTES
1948 - Micheline Ostermeyer (France) - 13.75m
2020 - Gong Lijiao (China) - 20.58
Micheline Ostermeyer, the first gold medal winner of the women's shot put, was not your ordinary shot putter. In fact, just three months before competing in the 1948 Olympics, she graduated with honors from the Paris Conservatory of Music. In addition to her athletic training, she practiced piano for five hours a day.
At the 1948 Games, Ostermeyer also won a gold in the discuss throw and a bronze in the high jump.
- 425 VOTES
1964 - Betty Cuthbert (Australia) - 52.0
2020 - Shaunae Miller-Uibo (Bahamas) - 48.36
Betty Cuthbert was already known as "Golden Girl" after winning gold medals in the 100m and 200m at the 1956 Games.
The 400m individual event was not introduced for women until the 1964 Games in Tokyo. Cuthbert once again proved victorious—becoming the only Olympic sprinter in history (man or woman) to win gold in the 100m, 200m, and 400m.
- 544 VOTES
1928 - Halina Konopacka (Poland) - 39.62m
2020 - Valarie Allman (USA) - 68.98m
Halina Konopacka broke the world record for women's discus throw just a few months after throwing her first disc. At the 1928 Games, she broke her own world record, clinching the gold medal. She was instantly recognizable as she always competed in her signature red beret.
In 1931, she retired from competitive sports but went on to lead an adrenaline-filled life. After the outbreak of World War II, Konopacka helped her husband evacuate the Polish National Bank gold out of the country—taking it to France to finance the Polish Government in exile.
2020 Champ Valarie Allman's bid for Olympic gold got off to the perfect start when her maiden attempt was enough to secure gold for the former dancer.
- 637 VOTES
1932 - Babe Didrikson (USA) - 11.7 (80m)
2020 - Jasmine Camacho-Quinn (Puerto Rico) - 12.37 (100m)
Babe Didrikson was one of the stand-out stars of the 1932 Olympics. Didrikson won gold in the hurdles, the javelin throw, and took home the silver in the high jump. In 1932, women were restricted to only competing in three events. Had she been able to compete in more events, she likely would have also medaled in the long jump, discus throw, and the relay.
After making a name for herself as a track star, Didrikson turned her attention to golf. She went on to become one of the best female golfers of all time, winning 31 tournaments in a four-year span.