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Tanya in the Barracuda
Photo by Jean Lukanovich

Women Athletes ROCK

August 15, 2008
N. Lukanovich

The Olympics are on, and I'm all a flutter. Every fiber of my shamefully neglected body is vicariously thrilled to pieces, event by event, race by race. Politics are politics, but athletes are something else, and I can't help but be inspired by the determination, dedication and courage it takes to spend a lifetime of training, competing and sacrificing to be as fast or as strong or as skilled as you can be.

For all the talk of steroids and doping, most athletes are motoring on nothing but themselves, most athletes in the games are not in the high profile sports with high financial returns or possibilities of becoming state heroes. Most athletes do it for the love of the sport, for the love of competition, for the indescribably pleasure and pain that comes with pushing yourself as far as your body and mind can be pushed.

Am I biased? Absolutely. I was an athlete myself, and haven't forgotten the heady rush of traveling to an international competition, mingling with people of other nations in the midst of another culture filled with the languages of the world. My sister was a member of two Olympic teams, and my father was an Olympian and two-time Olympic coach, both in the sport of canoe-kayak, at a time when athletes barely got a lick of support, and coaches were unpaid, and for all my father's labors of love in the sport, he was rewarded with the Order of Canada.

I witnessed first hand something called devotion to sport, and I also saw the grief of athletes whose Olympic opportunity was wrenched away by boycotts that achieved nothing politically. A boycott of the China games would not have brought human rights abuses to a halt, a boycott would only have caused devastation to the hopes and dreams of athletes, and built further walls between China and the West.

And besides all that: when else to we get to see women athletes so brilliantly showcased? The Olympics are a blessed relief from watching men's professional team sports. I relish the Olympics because once every four years, we see these women, big or small, strong and fierce, full of beauty and grace, who are proof positive that women are not the delicate, soft, and frail beings that the media would have us believe.

I am, admittedly, a small woman myself, but in my youth I was surrounded by powerful women, women who put to shame the notion that women are weak, women who could beat a man senseless if provoked, women that have guts and muscles and nerves of steel.

Women's participation in the Olympics is a reflection of women's place in society. Over the last century, women were gradually allowed to compete, sport by sport, event by event. We have nearly achieved parity, but not quite yet. Women's ski jumping is still a no go in the winter Olympics, but the ski jumpers aren't taking this without a fight. Canadian and American women's ski jumpers are doing what they can through legal avenues to contest this decision by the IOC.

The International Olympic Committee has a long history of being stodgily and steadfastly run by men. There are two notable quotes from Avery Brundage, President of the IOC from l952 to l972:

"The Olympic Movement is a 20th century religion. Where there is no injustice of caste, of race, of family, of wealth."

"The ancient Greeks kept women athletes out of their games. They wouldn't even let them on the sidelines. I'm not sure but that they were right."

This ease of promoting equality for all, except for women, was, and still is, all too typical amongst those that see the justice of equality but fail to include women as part of the human race.

It was not until 2000 that women's pole vaulting was included in the games. There was a tremendous amount of discouragement for women to pole vault at all, it was said that it would be bad for the uterus, and that women didn't have the mental strength. Thus far, there have been no reports of damage to any reproductive organs, or mental collapse on the field.

In the painting above, you see a pole vaulter soaring over the lines of a power station, a woman flying over the lines of male power, including the IOC. Eventually we will see the women ski jumpers join the men, and watch them fly over the snow in a show of skill and courage.

And women in China? Last week I wrote about China's one child policy and the effect on the survival of female infants, but on the positive side, China, particularly urban China, has come a long long way, all the way from binding women's feet so that they were no longer than 3 inches, to a nation where girls are educated and can enter all professions, and a nation that is proud of its women as they perform as superior athletes on the world stage.

While it's true that these women and girls are part of China's intention to showcase their strength, and those who fail may feel they have wasted their youth in what could be called over intensive training, the opportunities for girls in China are vastly different than what they were in the past.

The world is still replete with nations and cultures that discourage strength in women, and watching the opening ceremonies, it's easy to pick them out. There are six nations that went to Beijing that did not send a single woman, and many that sent only one or two. And they should know, that women athletes rock, and when a nation encourages its women to fulfill their potential, it not only improves its record of equality, but becomes a much stronger nation in every way.

Women athletes are fantastic and amazing, and really, could you find better poster girls for feminism?

BREAKING NEWS: August 16th: Canada's first medal was just won in women's wrestling, Carol Huynh won a gold, and within the hour,Tonya Verbeek won a bronze medal!!! Women athlete's do indeed...ROCK!

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Text and Images: Property of Natasha J. Lukanovich or contributors - Writers and Artists as Named