Celebrating the Sporting Success of Women
This year Australia’s female athletes in Rio have provided many outstanding moments to celebrate.
With the Australian sports media normally awash with men playing Football or Cricket, I always enjoy celebrating the achievements of women in sport every four years during the Olympics. This year Australia’s female athletes in Rio have provided many outstanding moments to celebrate.
Over the past two weeks, St Catherine’s girls have been inspired by Australia’s women’s 4 x100m winning Freestyle Relay Team and the show of strength of the women’s Rugby sevens Team. St Catherine’s Diving Coach, Annabelle Smith, provided much to celebrate with a Bronze medal in the 3m synchronised diving, with partner Maddison Keeney. We have also been inspired by the efforts of Sarah Banting, a St Catherine’s Rowing Coach, who has competed in the women’s VIIIs in Rio as well. The Olympics has also highlighted lesser known sports to the world, none more so than the success of Australia’s Catherine Skinner, who won Gold in the women’s Trap Shooting.
Joining together as a nation to support, celebrate and commiserate with, and for, our athletes provides us with a wonderful sense of belonging and pride. I have enjoyed many conversations this week with St Catherine’s rowers about the brilliance of Kim Brennan, once a track athlete at Ruyton, winning Gold in the women’s single scull. Kim’s reflections, broadcast around the world on The Huffington Post, also provided an amazingly frank perspective on life as a professional sportsperson, “It’s a bit ironic that sportspeople are held up as heroes. In reality we’re the lucky ones, we’re living our dream, we’re travelling to amazing places doing what we love.” The full interview with Kim Brennan is well worth reading.
The grace and poise of the Australian women in defeat has also provided some worthy life lessons. Swimming sisters, Cate and Bronte Campbell’s eloquent interviews immediately following personal disappointment remind us all about the importance of participation and personal bests, the girls commenting that “It’s not about winning at the Olympic Games, it’s about trying to win,” and “The motto’s ‘faster, higher, stronger’, not ‘fastest, highest, strongest’. Sometimes it’s trying that matters.”
However, the celebration of women’s achievements in the Olympics has not always been the case. Jules Boykoff, author of Power Games: A Political History of the Olympics (Verso, 2016) highlights that the Olympics has long echoed the gender structures of society, dating back to the early 1900s, when International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Pierre Fredy Baron de Coubertin was implacable, angling for the continued marginalisation of women’s sports. After the 1912 Stockholm Games, he and many of his IOC colleagues believed “an Olympiad with females would be impractical, uninteresting, unaesthetic and improper.”
To challenge IOC sexism, women and their allies organised alternative games in the 1920s, a vital yet largely forgotten act of political dissent, with the event drawing considerable public interest, with more than 15,000 spectators was deemed largely a success. Everywhere women looked, the Olympic cards were stacked against them. The IOC, as led by Coubertin, opposed women’s full participation, as the minutes of the 1914 IOC general session made clear: “No women to participate in track and field, but as before—allowed to participate in fencing and swimming.”
Newspapers of the day reported favourably, if somewhat backhandedly, on the strides women were making in sports. According to the New York Times in 1922 “was notable for the development of women athletes in all branches of competitions fitting to their sex. Remarkable progress was made by them, and almost overnight, they assumed a place of great prominence in the world of athletics.” No longer were “girl athletes … a decided novelty,” but “capable of impressive performances.”
Over the course of the past two weeks, St Catherine’s social media stream has highlighted our School’s very own Olympians including 1956 School Captain, Margaret McLean (Woodlock ’56) who represented Australia in Shot Put at the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games, Anna Segal (’04) Australia’s sole female representative in Ski Slopestyle at the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014, one of Australia’s most recognisable female sprinters Triple Olympian and dual Commonwealth Games gold medallist Lauren Hewitt (‘96), Olivia Sayers (’04) who after overcoming her fear of water went on to win Gold at the Special Olympics, Olivia Skellern (Bunn ‘96) who represented Australia in Equestrian at the Athens Olympic Games and Sydney Olympics in 2000 and Kristy Oatley (‘96) who is making her fourth Olympic Games appearance in Rio, having represented Australia at the London 2012, Beijing 2008 and Sydney 2000 Games in Equestrian – Dressage.
And of course the reflections of staff members Mrs Gina Peele, representing Australia in Rowing in 1996 and 2000, Mrs Susan Hobson Running in 1988 and 1992 and Mrs Jeanette Gunn, Manager of Womens’ Water Polo in 2000 and 2004 provide amazing stories and examples of commitment for our students.
We are so proud to have remarkable women such as these associated with our School. We hope their stories have inspired many of our current students to follow their dreams and work hard for what they believe in.