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Aug 01, 2017 at 10:47

Being one of the most magnanimous sporting spectacles of the world, Olympics has captured the imagination of the young and old alike. But what makes Olympics more interesting is the platform it gives to not only men, but women from even the most conservative countries to put forth their talents. Our expert Pankaj Agarwal on the marvellous women achievers from Olympic history.

It was July 18, 1976; just a day after summer Olympic of 1976 was inaugurated in Montreal, Canada. 14 year old Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci was all set to perform on uneven bars at the ladies Gymnastic event. Nadia started her performance. It was mesmerising and absolutely impeccable. Everyone present in the stands and the arena was not able to believe the perfect show put by the teenager. By the time Nadia finished, spectators were convinced that they have just witnessed the most outstanding performance ever in a Gymnastic arena. Everybody was staring at the scoreboard with curiosity as to how much Nadia would score on the scale of 0-10. When the score was displayed, it shocked everybody. It was just 1.00 and crowd was stunned. However, followed the announcement that the score actually was a perfect 10 and since, digital display was only meant to display a score up to 9.99, the score of 10 had been displayed as 1.00. It was the first perfect 10 in the history of the sports. Even the organizers at Olympics had never envisaged before the start of the game that someone would score a perfect 10. It was just inconceivable at that point in time.

Nadia went on and scored six more perfect 10s in the 1976 edition of Olympic and won three gold medals. She won another two gold medals in 1980 Moscow Olympics and catapulted herself in the league of the greatest sportswomen of all times.

Olympic is undoubtedly the most prestigious and magnanimous global event, that mankind has created. It is the true epitome of the famous quote “one world, one family”. It is an event where athletes from each nationality and all the races come together at a common platform. It is also a true rendering of gender equality and it is not only Nadia, but there have been numerous female athletes, who have adorned Olympics all these decades. So when Olympic mania is on across the world, let’s recall and revere some of those charismatic women.

Dutch athlete Fanny Blankers Koen was also one such miraculous female Olympian. Olympic of 1948 was hosted by London, the city which was severely damaged in the Second World War and was in the process of rebuilding. It was after 12 years that Olympics was taking place, as in 1940 and 1944 the world witnessed World War II. That was the time when not only London, but the whole world was struggling with the aftermath of huge devastation inflicted during the war.

Fanny Koen, mother of seven year old son and at the age of 30, represented Holland in track & field at London. At a time where a female athlete is usually considered to be well past her best years, Fanny took the whole world by surprise by winning an astonishing four gold medals. She won massive fan following and was given the nickname “The Flying Housewife” by the media, which was in complete awe of her. Many believe that till date it has been one of the most miraculous performances of all times, among all sports. Even after 68 years, Fanny remained the only female athlete who grabbed four gold medals in track & field event in a single Olympic. And just to re-iterate, she was 30 years old, when she achieved all this. Nadia and Fanny left indelible marks of their legacy. Their performances were so impactful that 1976 and 1948 Olympics are broadly recognized by their names, respectively.

Larisa Latynina, a soviet gymnast, ruled the Gymnastic arena in the decade of fifties and sixties. She won nine gold medals and total eighteen medals at the three Olympics, and till date she has been the most successful female Olympian ever (overall second behind US swimmer Michael Phelps). The cold war was at its peak at the time, USSR and USA were competing with each other in every field, from sports to space; and Larisa set the ball rolling for the Soviets in Gymnastics. Soviet gymnasts ruled the roost for many decades at international level and it is Larisa who deserves the credit.

Female swimmers are not far behind female athletes and gymnasts. Australian swimmer, Dawn Frazer achieved something, which took fifty years for any male athlete to achieve.

Frazer won three consecutive gold medals, in the same event at three Olympics in 1956-64. She did this in 100m freestyle event. Half a century later, Michael Phelps became the first man to win three straight gold medals in a single swimming event.

Kristin Otto, of erstwhile East Germany, deserves a special mention as she bagged six gold medals in swimming in a single Olympic at Seoul, 1988. It is something comparable to seven gold medals by Mark Spitz in 1972 and eight gold medals by Michael Phelps in 2008. This discussion won’t be complete without mentioning two outstanding track & field athletes from USA: Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Florence Griffith Joyner (popularly known as Flo-Jo.)

These ladies were related to one another, as Flo-Jo married Jackie’s brother. Both of them are inarguably in the league of greatest ever female athlete. Jackie Joyner participated in astonishing four Olympics during 1984-96 and won at least one medal in each of her four appearances. She participated in heptathlon and long jump. Overall she bagged six medals, including three gold.

Her sister-in-law, Flo-Jo has been the greatest female sprinter of all times, without an iota of scope of any argument. Flo-Jo won three gold medals at Seoul 1988. She was an athlete, at least, 30 years ahead her of times. She set the world records for 100m and 200m way back in 1988, which still stand firm after 28 years. 200m world record was set by her during 1988 Olympic.

Last but not the least, our own superstars K. Malleswari, Saina Nehwal, Mary Kom, Sakshi Malik and the hugely talented PV Sindhu; have all bagged medals at the Olympics. Sindhu’s silver medal at Rio 2016 is arguably India’s greatest ever Olympic movement. I would rate it even a notch above Bindra’s gold at Beijing. Sindhu’s voyage at Rio is a defining moment for Indian sports, which would inspire the entire nation in days to come for certain.

Sakshi Malik on other hand displayed unprecedented resilience in bronze medal wrestling match. She came back from a deficit of 0-5 and outclassed her opponent. In a country which is still mired with gender inequality, these wonderful ladies coming from mediocre and struggling backgrounds, set an example that there can be limitations but no limits if you have a rock solid determination.

Can’t close this without mentioning the name of legendary Indian athlete PT Usha and electrifying Dipa Karmakar. Usha missed an Olympic medal in 1984 Los Angles by 100th part of a second in 400m hurdles, whereas Dipa has just missed a medal at Rio in Gymnastic. At both occasions, whole nation mourned but saluted and bowed down in reverence.

The value of colossal efforts made by them can be judged by the fact that in the history of 120 years of Olympic, India has never won a single medal in Gymnastic and Track & Field. The splendour of show put up by these two extra-ordinary ladies is comparable to what Milkha Singh did in 1960 Rome Olympic, who also missed a coveted medal by a whisker.

So while the fraternity can eulogize male Olympians like Michael Phelps, Carl Lewis or Paavo Nurmi; the glorious and magnificent story of Olympics would remain incomplete without the mention of these extraordinary ladies and you can’t deny the cult of them.