The moment we've all been waiting for has FINALLY arrived. The 2021 Olympics are here, and we're absolutely here for it. But before we get into this year's Olympics, let's take a moment to look back on past games to talk about some of the incredible female athletes who paved the way for the future of women's sports: the women of the 1996 Olympics.
The women of the ‘96 games were of the first generation of female athletes to fully benefit from and become world-class athletes following the passage of Title IX in 1972. During the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, the US Women stole the show and dominated the competition, with US Women’s Basketball, Soccer, Gymnastics, and Softball teams taking gold along with many other female athletes medaling in individual Olympic events. Following the Games, female athletes were featured in TV specials, brand deals, and advertisements like never before, marking the arrival of women in professional sports. While the passage of Title IX opened the door for young female athletes, the women of the ‘96 Atlanta Olympics raised the stature of and respect for women in sports, paving the way for generations to come.
The 1996 US Women’s Basketball team won gold in ‘96, laying the groundwork for the US team to win all six consecutive Olympic golds and completely dominate the women’s basketball space ever since. The ‘96 team accomplished their feat through creating significant changes to the women’s national program, the biggest change being that the women’s team prepared and trained together over an extended period which had never been done before in the states. The ‘96 team launched stars including Sheryl Swoopes, Lisa Leslie, Jennifer Azzi, Katrina McClain Johnson went 60-0 (won 52-0 in pre-Olympic competition and 8-0 during the Games), raising the bar for the level of play in women’s basketball. Their overwhelming success led to the establishment of two professional leagues including the WNBA, firmly cementing their legacy and a place for women’s teams in professional sports.
The 1996 USWNT blazed the trail of US Women’s Soccer greatness by taking gold in the first ever Women’s Olympic Soccer tournament at the ‘96 Atlanta Games. At the time, their historic gold-winning final game was not fully aired on television as women's sports were generally overlooked and networks many thought few would watch women’s soccer. However, support grew during each of their Olympic matches and 76,481 supporters gathered in the stands to witness their final game against China, which at the time set the record for the most spectators at any female sporting event anywhere in the world. This team was made up of legends: Brandi Chastain, Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Kristine Lilly, and Shannon MacMillan, Tiffeny Millbrett and so many others who helped change the perception of female athletes and inspired the world to provide greater coverage of women’s sporting events.
The 1996 US Women’s National Gymnastics Team, dubbed “The Magnificent Seven”, won the country’s very first Olympic Gymnastics team gold medal. In order to clinch this win, the US had to beat tough contenders and multi-time world champions Russia and Romania. The team was made up of Amanda Borden, Amy Chow, Dominique Dawes, Shannon Miller, Dominique Moceanu, Jaycie Phelps and Kerri Strug and soared to popularity with their history making gold.
The US National Women’s Softball team won the first Olympic gold medal in softball in 1996, the first year softball debuted in the Olympic Games. In 2021, after a 12 year hiatus, the sport returns to the Olympic stage where a new generation of softball athletes, inspired by those who won that first 1996 gold medal, will fight to win their own gold this year.
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