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10 female athletes who shaped Olympic history

From the gymnasts Simone Biles and Nadia Comaneci to Federica Pellegrini

10 female athletes who shaped Olympic history From the gymnasts Simone Biles and Nadia Comaneci to Federica Pellegrini
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They are determined and talented. They face rigorous training, sacrifices, in a race against opponents, but, above all, against themselves. They challenge themselves to become better, pursuing the goal of a medal in the most prestigious competition ever: the Olympics. They come from different worlds and eras, each with their own background, dreams, strengths and weaknesses, but for a special moment they stand out from the crowd, revolutionizing sport with small or large gestures. Their names are Nadia, Federica, Simone, Alice, Charlotte, Ondina, Flo-Jo, Nikki, Abbey, Momiji and they are some of the women who have made the history of the Olympics.

 

Charlotte Cooper -1900 Summer Olympics in Paris

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The first official modern Olympic Games date back to 1870, but they were considered by Coubertin a sort of celebration of virility and therefore were reserved for male athletes. Thirty years had to pass before women were admitted. Out of a total of 997 athletes, 22 women competed in five sports: tennis, sailing, croquet, horseback riding and golf. Among them, it was the English tennis player Charlotte Cooper, beating in the final the American Marion Jones (6-1, 6-4) to enter history as the first woman to win a gold medal.

 

Ondina Valla - 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin

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Trebisonda "Ondina" Valla was a champion of the obstacle course, so much so that in 1932 she was invited to compete in the Los Angeles Games, but she did not go because of opposition from the Church, which considered sport unsuitable for women, and from the fascist regime, which was linked to the image of the woman-mother relegated to the home. Interviewed years later, she would remember: "I should have participated in the previous Olympics, the 1932 one in Los Angeles. But I would have been the only woman on the track team and so they told me that I would have created problems on a ship full of men. The reality was that the Vatican was decidedly against women's sports." Her chance came with the 1936 Berlin Olympics where Ondina won first place and the world record in the 80-meter hurdles race. Valla was the first Italian woman to win a gold medal in the history of the Olympics.

 

Alice Coachman - 1946 Summer Olympics in London

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Alice Coachman was the first African-American woman to win the gold medal. On a rainy London afternoon, in front of 83,000 people, the athlete made a perfect leap and jumped over the 1.68 m bar, setting the Olympic record in the high jump (unbeaten for 8 years). Once back in Georgia, she was celebrated by a long procession from Atlanta to Albany, her hometown. But those were the years of racial segregation, and soon the enthusiasm was replaced by the blindest and conservative America. During the celebration of her Olympic success, the mayor refused to shake her hand or let her speak, and Alice was even forced out a side door at the end of the ceremony in her honor. In 1952 Coachman, who has since left sports for teaching, had a little personal revenge and was hired as a brand ambassador by Coca-Cola, becoming the first Afro-American to obtain an advertising contract.

 

Nadia Comaneci - 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal

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Before Nadia Comaneci, perfection at the Olympics did not exist. The parallel bars performance of the young Romanian gymnast was so flawless and amazing that for the first time in history the judges awarded a 10 to an athlete. This was so unexpected and unprecedented that the scoreboard, which was not calibrated for numbers higher than "9.99", scored "1.00". At the end of the Montreal Olympics, Nadia, who was only 14 years old at the time, brought home five medals: three golds, a silver and a bronze.

 

Florence Griffith Joyner - 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul

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It was July 16, 1988, when in Indianapolis, during the Trials for the Seoul Olympics, Florence Griffith Joyner ran the 100 meters in 10'49″ sweeping away the previous world record of Evelyn Ashford (10'76"). At the actual Olympics the athlete competed in four disciplines and won a medal in each of them: gold in the 100, 200, 4×100 relay and silver in the 4×400. Her results were so impressive that many insinuated she was using doping substances. Suspicions were raised when she decided to retire from the sport, right after that fantastic 1988, the year in which she became for everyone not only "the fastest woman in the world", but also the most stylish athlete ever. Her outfits are legendary and have inspired both Beyoncé and Serena Williams: tight, colorful and asymmetrical jumpsuits, which leave one leg uncovered, and, above all, very long lacquered and artfully decorated nails.

 

Federica Pellegrini - 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing

Federica Pellegrini is among the best and longest-lived swimmers in the world. In 2008, at her second participation in the Olympics, she won the 200-meter freestyle with a time of 1'55"45, setting a new world record and giving Italy its first Olympic women's swimming gold medal. More than ten years later, in Tokyo 2020, she qualified for the final of her category, achieving another historic record never reached by any female swimmer: the fifth Olympic final in the same event.

 

Nikki Hamblin & Abbey D'Agostino - 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro

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During one of the 5000-meter races, the group of runners braked abruptly and New Zealander Nikki Hamblin ended up on the ground in pain, unintentionally pushed by American Abbey D'Agostino who, heedless of the bad twist to her right knee suffered in turn, stopped and helped her colleague to get up. They resume the race together, limping and supporting each other. Before that moment they didn't even know each other, but by the end, they crossed the finish line together and closed the race with a long hug. That 2016 image became a symbol of sisterhood and fair play.

 

Fu Yuanhui- 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro

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During the Rio Olympics, Fu Yuanhui won over the public twice. The first was when she showed in a viral interview her surprised reaction to winning the bronze medal in the 100-meter backstroke, gaining the designation of "most adorable athlete of the Rio Olympics." The second was after her bad performance in the 4×100 mixed relay final. Interviewed post-race, the Chinese swimmer said she was not in good shape and couldn't get a good result partly because of her period. A simple and direct answer that sounded revolutionary because in China the menstrual cycle is still a big taboo.

 

Simone Biles - 2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo

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Simone Biles has made history as the most decorated gymnast ever. After winning the gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 in the "all around" competition (that is, on all four specialties: beam, parallel bars, vault and floor), everyone expected new medals to come from Tokyo 2020. So it was not. The athlete decided to withdraw from the competition not because of a physical injury, but psychological problems. Biles said, "We also have to focus on ourselves, because at the end of the day, we're human, too. We have to protect our mind and our body, rather than just go out there and do what the world wants us to do". Few words that revive the debate about mental health in sports.

 

Momiji Nishiya - 2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo

Momiji Nishiya won the first gold in street skateboarding in Olympic history. At just 13 years old, with a score of 15.26 in the trick section, Nishiya made history.