While women were banned as both competitors and spectators at the ancient Olympics, the history of women’s athletics is just as old and auspicious. The Heraean Games (named after the godess Hera) were the first recorded and officially sanctioned women’s athletic event. It is thought they were held at the same time of year as the men’s Olympics. Winners were also awarded a crown of olive leaves.
The first modern Olympic Games were held in Athens in 1896.
"The founder, Pierre de Coubertin, was dead against women's participation," says Pirkko Markula, a professor in socio-cultural studies of physical activity at the University of Alberta and author of "Olympic Women and the Media: International Perspectives."
Women did not compete until four years later. At the 1900 Paris Games, women entered yachting, equestrian, croquet, tennis, and golf competitions. By 1912, women were also allowed to compete in swimming, and in 1928 women competed in track in field for the first time.
At the 2012 games in London, women’s boxing will be an Olympic sport for the first time. Adding women’s boxing to the Olympic program means there is no longer any sport that does not include women. Here's our list of the 15 biggest moments for women in Olympic history.
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The US women’s gymnastics team won the gold medal in the Women’s Team Competition for the first time at the 1996 games in Atlanta.
The team was packed with all-stars, and the competition full of dramatic moments. It was an epic win for the United States, considering the former Soviet Union had won the event in every Olympics it had entered since the 1950s. The US beat both the Russians and the Romanians, who were the reigning World Champions that year.
The most memorable moment of the competition, and perhaps the Atlanta Games overall, was when Kerri Strug fell during her first vault attempt and injured her ankle. With a sprained ankle, she vaulted a second time and stuck her landing on one leg. She smiled and then collapsed.
"Kerri Strug is definitely remembered because of the pain and injury and debates of whether such sacrifice was good," says Professor Markula.
The team also included Shannon Miller, who won the gold medal on the balance beam, earning the US only its third-ever individual gold medal in women’s gymnastics.
Team member Dominique Dawes also took home an individual medal, the bronze in floor exercise, making her the first African-American woman to win an individual Olympic medal in gymnastics. With the team win, Dawes became the first black person of any nationality or gender to win an Olympic gold medal in gymnastics.
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