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No matter who takes home the gold in this summer's Olympic Games, women everywhere have already won. London 2012 will mark the first Games to truly embody the competition's ideal of universal participation. Finally, the world's top female athletes will be competing on par with their male counterparts.
For the first time since the modern Olympics began in 1900, all 204 competing nations will send at least one female athlete to represent them at the Games (Brunei, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia sent all-male teams in 2008). Over the next three weeks, women will compete in all 38 disciplines on the Olympic bill, from tennis to bobsleighing. Women's boxing will make its historic debut in London—prior to this year's Games, it had remained the last sport in which only males were allowed to compete.
However, these major breakthroughs are not without unresolved questions, as some barriers to equality still remain. Women lag far behind in administrative and governing positions—earlier this month, the International Olympic Committee reported that its member committees failed to meet a self-imposed goal of filling 20% of these positions with women. And while Sarah Attar and Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani will make history as Saudi Arabia's first female athletes, an ongoing controversy has arisen surrouding whether or not the women will be required to compete with their legs, arms, and heads covered.
Regardless of the final outcome, the fact that female athletes are coming forward remains a victory in itself. The same holds true for Claressa Shields, the middleweight boxing champion who will represent the United States. Trailblazers like Sarah, Woodjan, and Claressa inspire thousands of young women to boldly go where no woman has gone before—giving hope to the girls perched in front of their TVs at home, thinking, “I want to do that.”
—Linda A. Thompson
For more Olympic coverage from WomenWorking.com, check out our interview with U.S. track star Carmelita Jeter. Best of luck to Carmelita and all others competing—you go, girls!