In case you haven't heard yet because you're one of those New York City tunnel dwellers or you're exclusively a Winter Olympics person, the U.S. women's teams at this summer's games have cleaned up, accounting for 56 percent of all Team USA's medals, and 66 percent of its golds. Their success is being touted as a big step towards even greater gender equality in sports, and, what's more, they've succeeded in sports traditionally dominated by men, such as boxing, an event the U.S. men, for the first time ever, failed to medal in.
Athletes and coaches credit the success of the American women to the Title IX, which, since its passage forty years ago, has dramatically expanded the pool of female athletic talent in the States. At the 1972 Munich Olympics, for instance, women accounted for less than 24 percent of of the U.S. team's total medals, but in 1992 at the Barcelona games, that figure had nearly doubled to 41 percent. With more young girls playing sports in high school, then later becoming college athletes, coaches and trainers have a larger group of athletes to work with.
Though women from other countries haven't experienced quite the same success as the U.S. women, the London Olympics have marked the first time ever that every country has sent a female contingent, thanks in part to the IOC putting pressure on holdouts like Qatar, Brunei and Saudi Arabia. China and Russia have also seen their medal counts boosted by the performances of their female athletes, a fact that helps foster more intense competition in women's sports among some of the larger Olympic nations.
Some athletes worry that there's still too much attention paid to how female athletes (especially the beach volleyball players) look, but Women's Sports Foundation CEO Kathryn Olson sees a whole generation of role models in our current litany of female medalists, something she thinks will inspire a whole new generation of budding female Olympians.