For first time, women from every nation ready to rock Olympics

For the first time ever, all 205 countries competing in the Olympic games are sending female athletes. NBC's Meredith Vieira reports and speaks with sprinter Tahmina Kohistani, the sole woman on Afghanistan's Olympic team.

When Frenchman Baron Pierre de Coubertin spearheaded the first modern Olympics in 1896, he excluded female competitors, saying it would be “impractical, uninteresting, unaesthetic, and incorrect.’’

It may have taken 116 years, but every nation participating in this year’s Olympics has offered a direct rebuttal to that antiquated opinion. “The Year of the Women’’ may be upon us in London.

For the first time in Olympic history, all 205 countries participating will send at least one female competitor. Brunei, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are sending women for the first time, while the United States will have more women (269) than men (261) for the first time in history. That’s a far cry from 1900, when women first competed in the Olympics in Paris and comprised all of 22 athletes out of the 997 overall competitors.

The reigning all-around champion in women's Olympic gymnastics chats with TODAY's Matt Lauer how it felt to not make this year's Olympic team and whether she plans to make a comeback at the next Olympics. She also makes predictions about this year's women's gymnastics competition.

While sprinter Allyson Felix, swimmer Missy “The Missile” Franklin and a star-studded U.S. gymnastics team may grab the spotlight in London, Afghan sprinter Tahmina Kohistani is one of the athletes most emblematic of the strides made by female Olympians. The 22-year-old is only the third woman in the history of her war-torn nation to compete in the Olympics, and the only female on its team this year.

“Sometimes I think it is a dream, but I am here,’’ Kohistani told Meredith Vieira in an interview that aired on TODAY Tuesday. “It was very hard and very difficult for me. A lot of people are supporting me, but a lot of people don’t, and they don’t like me. They just hate me.’’

Several Middle Eastern nations came under international pressure to include women this year, resulting in the historic amount of female participation from across the world. Kohistani admitted to being torn between honoring her Muslim faith and achieving her dream of reaching the Olympics. She will run wearing a traditional head scarf and Islamic uniform.

“Some time they were saying that I’m not a good girl because I’m doing sport,’’ she told Vieira. “They were saying that I’m not a good Muslim. There are a lot of Afghan woman who (do) not accept me in my rules, in my way. They think I am wrong, but I am not wrong.’’

Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images

Amy Le Peilbet of the U.S. women's Olympic soccer team in action during a July 19 training session in Glasgow, Scotland. Soccer is just one of the many sports that has drawn female Olympians from all 205 participating nations.

The support of her family has helped Kohistani persevere in the face of criticism. She is a long shot to get a medal in the 100-meter dash, but just her presence may have an impact on future Afghan women.

“If I got a medal, I think I will start a new way for the girls (and) women of Afghanistan,’’ she said. “They will believe themselves that they can do everything they want.’’  

Increased opportunities to participate and more Olympic role models for young girls have helped drive women to the forefront in the Olympics, particularly in the United States. The introduction of the landmark Title IX legislation in 1972 that provided for equal opportunities for women in intercollegiate athletics spawned a generation of Olympic stars.

AP Photo/Boys & Girls Clubs of America/Gregory Smith

Former Olympian Dominique Dawes is deeply involved in athletic opportunities for girls and women today.

Three-time Olympian Dominique Dawes, who was part of the gold medal-winning gymnastics team at the 1996 Games, is living proof of the impact of Title IX. She continues to push athletic opportunities and fitness for women as part of Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!’’ campaign to combat child obesity and as a co-chair of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition.

Slideshow: Speeding through life: Olympians then and now

“Title IX has played a huge role,’’ Dawes told TODAY.com on a conference call. “This is the 40th anniversary of Title IX, which was responsible for opening up a number of opportunities for females in sports. I give applause to all of those pioneers that have really pushed for Title IX to give women equal opportunity.”

The increased opportunities for women in the Olympics also have been reflected in the addition of several sports in the past decade. In 2000, tae kwon do, weight lifting and triathlon were added, and women’s boxing will make its debut in London.

That’s a far cry from the 1900 Olympics, when women only participated in yachting, equestrian, croquet, tennis and golf. Margaret Abbott made history when she became the first American woman to finish first in an event, winning the nine-hole golf tournament.

Even women playing non-mainstream sports like beach volleyball are now household names, as Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh are known internationally after winning gold medals in 2004 and 2008.

“I’m very excited to hear that us women are taking advantage of opportunities,’’ Dawes said. “It’s not about having more people (in the Olympics); it’s about us reaching our full potential and taking advantage of opportunities to the best of our abilities.’’

Related:
Missy Franklin on Olympic pressures, winning for Colorado
Jordan Wieber talks Bieber, cereal box stardom
Hope Solo admits to being 'drunk' on TODAY after Beijing win

People.com
,5

Discuss this post

Progress... baby steps perhaps but still progress.

  • 5 votes
Reply#1 - Tue Jul 24, 2012 12:22 PM EDT

I cannot accept this dribble of females into the Olympics.

Nor can i accept the cheering for such little progress.

We as a human race continue to show our ignorance to the acceptance of all that populate this planet.

This is another example of a DEPLORABLE dominance of one person(s) over another person.

How dare we eek out our small chirps of acceptance and adoration.

We should be outraged.

TO ME THIS IS ABSOLUTELY UNACCEPTABLE.

  • 2 votes
#1.1 - Tue Jul 24, 2012 1:58 PM EDT

Agreed, They should all compete together. After we are looking for the fastest strongest, etc.

No mention of if you have an appendage between you legs or not

JUST THE BEST........................

  • 1 vote
#1.2 - Tue Jul 24, 2012 2:23 PM EDT

Yawn.... Please tell me they aren't going to have women's basketball in the Olympics this year. The softball is bad enough.

  • 2 votes
#1.3 - Tue Jul 24, 2012 2:46 PM EDT
Reply

For first time, women from every nation ready to rock Olympics

with 150,000 free condoms, this should come as no surprise.

  • 2 votes
Reply#2 - Tue Jul 24, 2012 12:53 PM EDT

Way to go ....I'm sure that is not a sport they will have to much time for ....Lets hope not.

  • 1 vote
#2.1 - Tue Jul 24, 2012 1:01 PM EDT

I'm sure that is not a sport they will have to much time for

So, they were distributed for what, party balloons?

  • 1 vote
#2.2 - Fri Jul 27, 2012 2:50 PM EDT
Reply

Good luck to all the female athletes out there ! I'm sure you will represent your nation well. Cheers....

  • 3 votes
Reply#3 - Tue Jul 24, 2012 1:00 PM EDT

and as always, casts the notion penis BAD, Vagoo, Good.

bad penis. No news for penises.

it's all about vaginas now.

  • 3 votes
Reply#4 - Tue Jul 24, 2012 1:14 PM EDT

Yes this must be hard for you having to read a single article about female athletes. Why don't you head on over to nbcsports.msnbc.com and tell me how many of those articles are about men and how many are about women.

  • 5 votes
#4.1 - Tue Jul 24, 2012 1:42 PM EDT

Bad penis! BAD PENIS!

    #4.2 - Tue Jul 24, 2012 2:30 PM EDT
    Reply

    This is fabulous news. Another diversion to keep people from doing something productive. They spend most of their time practicing, rather than working. They simply become the drones of society who are supported by corporate sponsors and government subsidies. Truly another sign of a nation in decline.

    • 1 vote
    Reply#5 - Tue Jul 24, 2012 1:19 PM EDT

    Each country should send their very best athletes to compete...period.

    I they are men - fine. If they are women - fine. I believe that making a big deal out of this is counter-productive to creating equality.

    Perhaps if I lived in a third world or Arab country I would feel differently.

    • 3 votes
    Reply#6 - Tue Jul 24, 2012 1:59 PM EDT

    Just to note - not all of these countries are actually "sending" women. In many cases, Olympic athletes don't live in the country they are competing for (they are allowed to do this if they have dual citizenship, usually inherited)... for example... the first female Saudi athlete... is actually travelling there from SAN DIEGO

    • 2 votes
    Reply#7 - Tue Jul 24, 2012 2:57 PM EDT

    Geez Whitestar whats your point. Do you also complain about US mens hockey or baseball. Do you complain about the figure skaters etc etc etc. This world is big and all countries do what you are talking about. Surprise

    • 1 vote
    #7.1 - Tue Jul 24, 2012 3:39 PM EDT
    Reply

    THis will be the least watched Olympics in history, like Women's golf, if NBC over telecasts all of the women stuff, people will tune out! women are no better , and in many cases slower than HIschool boys!!!!! we watch to see power, speed, and stamina. Yes women have stamina, but not speed, power and strength. Over do it, and tune out!!

    Girls track has killed HS boys track and college regarding watching it on TV, it takes twice as long, and is half as interesting. It will kill socker, too. Basketball is on the bubble. Only because they do not require women basketball to be shown and played at the same time as the mens game!

    • 1 vote
    Reply#8 - Tue Jul 24, 2012 4:00 PM EDT

    Big deal, if want True equality, there would be NO separation of the genders in sporting events. Of course, women do not want this, because in the vast majority of the sports with a few notable exceptions, men would dominate the medal count. So go ahead, let us all be "equal" which would mean virtually no medals for the women.

    • 1 vote
    Reply#9 - Tue Jul 24, 2012 4:57 PM EDT

    RE: Tahmina Kohistani -I have a new hero. To insist on being an athlete in a culture that is trying to stop it-trying to put women farther and farther behind-to put them in the dark ages. These are the stories from the Olympics that I love. Her country should be so proud. As far as I am concerned she is already adorned with a medal in her heart-she has true Soul and is a true Winner! God bless her-I wish her the absolute best!!

      Reply#10 - Wed Jul 25, 2012 1:48 AM EDT

      Wow, amazing the venom spewed in this thread! Such anger! To the point of disregarding spell check. Is it so difficult to simply send good wishes another fellow earth inhabitant? The trolls hiding behind their computers, typing such nonsense, would never, ever have the "balls" to state their twisted opinions to anyone's face.

        Reply#11 - Fri Jul 27, 2012 11:04 AM EDT
        You're in Easy Mode. If you prefer, you can use XHTML Mode instead.
        As a new user, you may notice a few temporary content restrictions. Click here for more info.