Motto Of Olympics Adopted By IOC In 1920
In the first part of our series we looked at some of the sporting events in women's athletic and their strange attire, by our "modern" standards. In this article we will look at other events; the greatest female athlete of the first half of the 20th Century, Babe Didrikson; and the impact of Title IX on the growth of female participation in sports.
The first Olympic Games to include women's events, tennis and golf, was in 1900. Until the 1976 Olympics, male competitors outnumbered the females by as much as 10 to 1. As late as in the 1960s, the longest women's event was 800 meters, so not to injure the frail creatures. The individual events in women's gymnastic didn't arrive until the 1952 Olympics; previously only the team event was held.
The lawn tennis championships for women were first held in 1887. From personal memories of my college days in the late '60s and early '70s, the only participants in female athletics were the gymnasts, swimmers, and cheerleader (although the cheerleaders were not as athletic as today).
The greatest all-around athlete of the first half of the century was Mildred "Babe" Didrikson Zaharias. Born in 1912 in Texas, she got her nickname, "Babe," not because of her stature or age, but because she could out hit all the boys in her hometown. Her will to win became apparent during high school when her basketball team never lost a game. When asked if there was any sport she didn't play, she said, "Yeah, dolls."
She excelled in baseball, basketball, diving, track and field, even pool and bowling. In the '30s she turned her attention and competed in the 1932 AAU qualifier for the Olympics. She turned in what is arguably the greatest single day in track and field-she won 6 Gold medals, broke 4 World Records, and her team, consisting of only herself, won the team championship with 30 points, while the second place team of 20+ members had 22. She qualified for 5 events in the Olympics but the rules would only let her compete in 3.
In the 1932 Olympics, she won gold medals in javelin and 80m hurdles, and would have won the high jump but the judges objected to her going headfirst over the bar. She played on the AAU women's basketball team that lost in the final a year before she arrived but won the National Championships 1930-31-32.
She came to golf in her 20s and proceeded in 1947 to win 17 straight amateur events, a record still unequaled (not even Tiger). Byron Nelson said of her that only 8 men could out drive her in golf. Babe commented, "It is not enough to swing at the ball. You've got to loose your girdle and really let the ball have it."
She turned Pro in 1948 (after winning the British Women's Championship-the first American), and won over 33 titles and 10 majors including 3 US Opens. She was 6 times Female Athlete of the Year (1 in track and field, 5 in golf). Grantland Rice said of her, "She is beyond all belief until you see her perform. Then you finally understand that you are looking at the most flawless section of muscle harmony, of complete mental and physical coordination, the world of sport has ever seen."
She was not without her detractors in that era of Women's Athletics. Joe Williams of the NY World-Telegram wrote, "It would be better if she and her ilk stayed at home, got themselves prettied up and waited for the phone to ring."
Babe found out she had cancer in 1953, had surgery and came back to win her 3rd US Open and 5 other titles, securing her 6th AP Female Athlete of the Year. She died in 1956 of cancer.[2,3,4] She epitomized the All Around Athlete, male or female, and contributes to the concept of all-around sports development instead of early specialization.
Click HERE To Find Out More About Babe Didrikson!
1972 was a watershed year for women's athletics. Title IX was passed which states, "No person in the US shall on the basis of sex be excluded from participation in, or denied the benefits of, or be subjugated to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving federal aid."
What this lawyerspeak says is that men and women are equal when it come to funding and fielding of athletic teams. A search on the Internet found 8,510 matches for Title IX and Women's Athletics. Thirty years after its enactment, it is still being debated as to pros and cons for both men's and women's athletics.
The important fact is that today's generation of women in sports are children of Title IX. Before 1972, 1 out of 27 females participated in sports, 2002 1 out of 2.5; before 290,000 now 2.9 million; and NCAA figures 148,803 female athletes in 1998-99, up from 80,040 16 years before.
Next we will examine the factors that affect women's knee injuries and anatomy of the knee. In future articles, we will outline the Save Our Athlete's Knee Seminar and the steps that can be undertaken to help in prevention of knee injuries.
- The History of the Olympics, Nigel Blundell & Duncan Mackay, PRC Publishing, 1999, selected references p. 8-490.