TOKYO —Time and again at the Tokyo Olympic Games, U.S. athletes have climbed onto the medal podium to be rewarded with gold, silver or bronze. In an historic first, nearly 60% of those U.S. medalists have been women.
If U.S. women were their own country, they would be fourth in the Olympic medal count, ahead of Great Britain, Germany, Italy, France and nearly 200 other countries, and behind only the entire U.S. team, China and the Russian Olympic Committee.
Of Team USA’s 98 medals heading into the final weekend of the Games, 58 have been won by women, nearly twice as many as the 35 won by men. (Five of the medals have been won in mixed events featuring male and female athletes.)
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That means 59.2% of all U.S. medals have been won by women. If that number holds through the last events of these Olympics, it will easily surpass the previous best result for American women, which was winning 55.8% of the medals at the 2012 London Olympics.
“What an awesome testament to the hard work of these incredible athletes and to those strong women who paved the way before them,” U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee CEO Sarah Hirshland told USA TODAY Sports Friday. “We are so proud.”
One of those women who paved the way, perhaps the most famous women’s sports pioneer of all, is tennis legend Billie Jean King.
“If you give girls and women the same investment, opportunity and access, their potential, like all people, is unlimited,” King texted.
Not only will this be the fourth consecutive Summer Olympics in which U.S. women win more medals than U.S. men, it is the third consecutive Summer Games in which women outnumber men on the U.S. team.
There is absolutely no secret why this is happening. It’s because of Title IX, the U.S. law signed by President Richard Nixon in June 1972 that mandated equal treatment for girls and women in sports, opening the floodgates for the participation of millions of female athletes over the last half century.
“As Team USA celebrates its Olympic performances, one must acknowledge how almost 50 years ago, in an effort to elevate women in our society, Title IX empowered generations of women to compete, to lead, to win and to inspire,” Olympic gold medalist Donna de Varona, a member of the USOPC board of directors and longtime women’s sports advocate, said in a text message.
“In the sporting arena, we have witnessed how opportunities that are mandated and protected have had a profound impact on our culture. Thank you, Title IX.”
After winning the gold medal in women’s beach volleyball Friday afternoon, American April Ross, said, simply, “Without Title IX, I don’t think that I would be here.
“I firmly believe I wouldn’t be where I am without my experience playing college sports at USC,” she said. “It taught me so much and I am extremely grateful for all the women and men who came before me that fought for my right to compete at college and have my education paid for.”
To that end, it’s possible to chart the increasing importance of Title IX in the changing face of U.S. Olympic teams.
At the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, Team USA was comprised of 375 men and 271 women, with men winning 58.4 percent of the medals to 38.6 percent for the women, with three medals in mixed events.
Ironically, those Games became known as the “Women’s Olympics” due to the introduction of softball and women’s soccer as well as stellar performances by women in gymnastics, swimming and basketball, among other sports.
By 2008 in Beijing, women still were outnumbered by men on the U.S. team, 282 to 306, but that was the first time U.S. women won more medals than U.S. men, 56-55.
Four years later in London, for the first time ever, more women were on the U.S. team than men, 268-262, with women winning 58 medals to 45 for the men.
Five years ago in Rio, there were 291 women to 263 men on Team USA, with women winning 50.4 percent of the medals to 46.3 percent for the men, with four medals in mixed events.
This trend is not expected to end anytime soon. Said Olympic gold medalist and Title IX attorney Nancy Hogshead-Makar, who is fighting for colleges to eliminate persistent inequality in their support of women’s sports:
“These outstanding performances by America’s women’s team in Tokyo are the tip of the iceberg of women’s potential.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: US women are dominating medal count at Tokyo Olympics in ways they’ve never done before