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Soup of This Day #230: You Don’t Have To Wear Those Wings

August 11, 2012

Charlotte Cooper
Charlotte Reinagle Cooper was the 1st woman to win an individual Olympic event in the modern Games era. The Englishwoman took out the tennis singles competition at the 1900 Paris Games. Apparently in a tie – Photo: Unknown, 1900. Image cropped by Longworth72.

A while back I remarked to my wife that the Pixar films were the greatest kids films ever made. They’re pretty damn perfect I suggested.

My wife sort of agreed but then pointed out that they weren’t big on female role models. To which I grunted in a non-committal way, dismissing that thought as being an exaggeration.

Until I sat down and had a think about it. Toy Story – A brilliant film but no female leads. A Bug’s Life – Male protagonist. Toy Story 2 – 1 female co-lead (sort of) who needs to get rescued by a posse of males. Monsters Inc. – 2 male leads, 1 girl sidekick who is practically a MacGuffin. Finding Nemo – Male leads plus 1 female sidekick for comedic effect. The Incredibles – Finally, 2 strong female characters, albeit not as prominent as the male lead. Cars – Male automotive lead. Ratatouille – Male leads, man and rat. WALL-E – Masculine robot lead. Up – Male leads, young and old, so no age discrimination then. Toy Story 3 – Ensemble cast dominated largely by male leads. Cars 2 – Can’t be bothered watching it. Brave – Mal…

Brave has a female lead. Wow.

And then it struck me – My wife is right. It’s mostly all about us guys.

So is this blog.

Working off my memory, of the 229 previous Soups, I can recall just 4 that have a dominant female character or narrative.

I can blame some of this on the fact that this blog focuses on 3 teams, the Boston Red Sox, the Fremantle Dockers and Liverpool FC. All are male teams playing in male leagues. I can also argue that for those sports men are achieving at a different level than women – It’s just true that men at the elite level hit harder, run faster, and kick the ball further.

But still, 4 posts out of 229? Even more damning is an analysis of the 7 posts I’ve written across the past few weeks that reference the London Olympics and that feature 22 athletes.

Just 2 of those highlighted are women and 1 of them only got a mention after she hit a drunk spectator. The other got a short paragraph.

That’s some bias I’ve got going there.

I’m going to work to fix that. Long-term and this blog is expanding to 4 teams, with the new addition being a women’s team. I haven’t nailed down who that will be yet but stay tuned because I’ve got some ideas.

Largely around the Perth Glory women’s football team. They’re local, female and they lose a fair bit, just like my other 3 teams – That’s some balance right there.

While I mull over that commitment though I thought I’d dedicate this post to some snapshots of female athletes from the 2012 London Olympics who have stood out for me.

Starting with Jessica Ennis.

You can’t miss Jess if you’ve been across these Games. The star of the heptathlon came in to the competition carrying the hopes and dreams of her country. Given all that baggage you could easily have forgiven her if she had stumbled in front of her adoring home fans.

So was she tripped up? Hell no.

In the 1st event of the heptathlon Jess came off the starting blocks for the 100m hurdles like she meant it, winning her heat in the scintillating time of 12.54s. To put that into perspective, if she’d have run that in the final of the individual 100m hurdles she would have finished 4th, 0.06s outside of bronze. It’s no surprise then that her time ranks as a World’s Best for the heptathlon, an event where competitors tend to be decent at everything without threatening the specialists in anything.

So right from the off Ennis rode the wave of adulation like Australia’s own 5-times Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) Women’s World Champion Stephanie Gilmour.

That 100m hurdles time gave Jess a whopping 1195 points and the competition lead to go on with – She did lose 1st place across the next 2 events in the program, finishing 5th in the high jump and then 8th in the shot put to hand over top spot to Lithuania’s Austra Skujyte but a personal best and 2nd in the 200m saw her back in front. From there she was not headed, finishing 2nd in the long jump to extend the margin and although she could only get 10th in the javelin the final event, an 800m run, was effectively a victory lap or 2.

Which she won anyway.

For taking the weight of those expectations and somehow parleying it into a British Record 6955 points and an Olympic gold Jess Ennis gets a salute from Longworth72.

Irish boxer Katie Taylor also won Olympic gold and therefore gets a nod from me too. Having watched some highlights of her fights though it’s fair to say I’m scared of her and she would get my acclaim anyway.

She is unbeaten in 6 years of major competitions and is the reigning Irish, European, World and now Olympic champion in the 60kg lightweight division. It’s worth noting that she has won the past 4 World Championships and also represents her country in football.

Mercy.

For this Olympics Taylor dispatched her quarter-final, semi-final and final opponents by a combined total of 53-32. That is fearsome stuff best summed up by a tweet I saw recently:

@Sportrisq: #KatieTaylor has a grizzly bear carpet in her room… The bear isn’t dead it is just afraid to move.

I’m with the bear. You might be too after you watch this sparring session:

Don’t piss off this women – That’s some serious hand speed there.

Although there is scarier stuff than a frightened bear out there. Saudi athlete Sarah Attar can testify to that. She is a rarity – Saudi Arabia doesn’t normally send female athletes to the games, mostly because they don’t hold no truck with women having any form of equality. That’s pretty sad to be honest but Sarah has managed to somehow to cast back the shadows in such a patently unfair world to lighten the mood a bit.

She had some company. Saudi judoka Wojdan Shaherkani beat Attar to the title of the 1st female Saudi Olympian by just 4 days. Wearing a black skull cap in place of a veil Shaherkani was thrown to the floor and out of the competition after just 82s of her 1st round match. She left the floor though with her head unbowed, having survived intense criticism and some pretty horrendous abuse just for the right to compete.

4 days later and Sarah Attar got her chance to stand tall. She took it, wearing a relatively formless bodysuit, that probably didn’t help in warmish conditions. In spite of that she managed a Saudi Record time of 2.44.95 which, although nearly 44s slower than the fastest of her heat, I think makes her a winner.

The women’s 800m is where we stay for the last of my female champions. Caster Semenya, who like Katie Taylor carried her country’s flag in the Opening Ceremony, is at the opposite end of the performance spectrum from Attar, qualifying fastest for tonight’s final in 1.57.65. Caster though has had to endure similar levels of abuse and a a tough battle just to be able to run.

Mostly because back in 2009 the South African had won the World Champs and then had leaked that the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) was testing her gender.

The IAAF could not have handled the case in a worse way, somehow pandering to innuendo and base cruelty while simultaneously hanging a talented young athlete out to dry. How Semenya managed to handle all of that is a mystery to me – That she handled it with such grace and aplomb warrants some kind of title.

I’m thinking that the contenders for greatest athlete in the world, Usain Bolt and decathlon’s Ashton Eaton have some competition. Neither has faced the obstacles that Semanya has had to overcome.

And thus ends my round-up of female athletes at this Olympics who have stood out for me. There were more – I haven’t mentioned Australian gold medallists Sally Pearson or Anna Meares in this article but I easily could have as both are proven world-beaters. I could also have spared a paragraph for Turkish athlete Merve Aydin. She was injured early in her 800m heat but determinedly carried on, limping round the track to finish well adrift of her fellow competitors. That she did so in tears somehow just makes her efforts all the more gutsy.

I’ll leave this off by mentioning 1 last female athlete. 1 who was responsible for the greatest Olympic moment I’ve witnessed. Cathy Freeman won the 400m in Sydney for the 2000 Olympics. She did so with a dignity and class that means I have never been prouder of a sportsperson from this country.

You go girls.

Epilogue: As I was typing this post up 3 young Australians were competing in the Olympic women’s Elliott 6m gold medal final. Olivia Price (20), Nina Curtis (24) and Lucinda Whitty (22) were twice down in the best of 5 series, 0-1 and 1-2. They levelled with Spain at 2 apiece and in the 5th and deciding race trailed at the 1st mark. They then took the lead but incurred a penalty and Spain regained the lead by the 2nd mark. That was too much of an impost for the Aussie girls to overcome but a very creditable silver for them. Nice work.

You Don’t Have To Wear Those Wings

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