LONDON — Something remarkable is going on at this Olympics: Adult human males are now waiting in line for tickets to things they used to make fun of. Female athletes such as boxer Claressa Shields and soccer striker Abby Wambach, women with biceps bigger than your brother’s, are being treated as creatures of worth and even beauty. Apparently, strong is the new pretty.
Before you say it doesn’t matter who or what is pretty, stop. In fact, it matters hugely, and it especially matters to sponsors. Guys are unembarrassable about this. The female athletes in the London Games don’t need the approval of men, but they most certainly need their money.
The Washington Post’s Steven Goff writes about D.C. United and Major League Soccer and has covered seven men’s and women’s World Cups. Here he previews the gold medal game against Japan, an almost identical team to the one the U.S. lost to in the 2011 Women’s World Cup final. Find out the strengths and weaknesses of the U.S. women’s team as they seek redmption against a disciplined and talented Japan.
If the trend continues, American women will win twice as many medals as men in London. When you think about their performances here, they are conspicuous not just for how many podiums they are taking, but for how viscerally, hugely, physically powerfully they are doing so before roaring audiences. The London Games are clearly a point of departure: This is the last time anyone will ever — hopefully ever — tell a young girl, “That’s not for you. Find something else to do.”
You’d like to say we passed that juncture a long time ago, but actually we didn’t. Not until just now.
On Thursday night, a sold-out crowd of 80,000 will fill Wembley Stadium for the gold medal soccer match between the United States and Japan, the biggest audience ever to watch a women’s match in a country that regularly slurs and ignores the she-version of the sport. One of the most popular and awe-inspiring boxers here is Irishwoman Katie Taylor, the four-time lightweight world champion who was the flag bearer for her country. The only way to stop Taylor, according to one of her defeated opponents, Britishwoman Natasha Jones, is to “maybe drive a bus into her.”
Britain’s much-awaited first gold medal came not from a man but from a pair of rope-armed female rowers, Helen Glover and Heather Stanning, the latter a captain in the Royal Artillery. All of Australia celebrated when Sally Pearson “rescued” them from their worst Olympics in decades by winning gold in the 100-meter hurdles.
Those magnificent three-time gold medalist beach volleyballers Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings should also get medals for fortitude and sufferance of fools all these years. All the chatter about what they wear became just that: irrelevant chatter in the face of their accomplishment. So what if the audience came to see their splendid physiques? We won’t debate again whether their pursuit was Olympic-worthy. Ever run in the sand? Try doing it at a full sprint and then hitting your knees, skidding just under the net to retrieve a ball and then finding the coordination to gently touch it back over into open court for a winner.
“Sometimes it’s just the beer and the bikinis that get people to come and watch, but it’s the competition that’s keeping them there,” Walsh Jennings said prior to the Opening Ceremonies.
The public fixation on bikinis, which so dominated the sport from Atlanta to Athens to Beijing, finally ebbed in favor of admiration.