The first Olympic Games was in the summer of 1896 in Athens, Greece with a total of 241 athletes across 14 nations. It marked the start of a marvelous event that would reoccur over the next century, with the goal of using sports to promote a peaceful world. It sounds like the perfect beginning- other than the fact that it did not include women. Women were not welcome in the Olympic Games until 1900, and even then, women only accounted for 2% of competitors. Thanks to the women’s movement and the advancement of women’s rights, by the Beijing 2022 Olympics, nearly 45% of the athletes are women. From the beginning of their involvement in 1900 to present day, women have continued to break new records and inspire generations of girls to come. Listed below are 5 present day female athletes who shatter the glass ceiling through their determination and skill.
1. Erin Jackson, the first black woman to win a winter Olympic gold in speed skating: At only 29 years old, Jackson took home the 2022 Olympic gold medal in the 500m speed skating competition. Although it was her first gold, Jackson has been competing in and winning competitions since she was a child. Jackson pursued incline speed skating starting in 2002, roller derby in 2012, and long track speedskating in 2017. She is currently a member of Team USA for all three sports. Past her immaculate skills in three different sports, Jackson graduated cum laude from the University of Florida Honors program with a degree in Materials Science and Engineering.
Jackson proves to the world not only that women belong in competitive sports, but that women of color are a force to be reckoned with. Along with this, Jackson’s academic record further strengthens the idea that women can succeed in any goal as long as they are determined.
2. Alysa Liu, the first woman to land a quadruple lutz and triple axel in the same program: While Liu was the first woman to do the two tricks together, she also was the first American woman to land the quadruple lutz. Liu had managed to break these two records at the young age of only 14, after winning her first title at age 13. Presently, Liu is 16 and just competed in her first Olympics in Beijing, where she placed 7th and 8th in her programs. Although Liu has been in the spotlight for a while, adjusting to the life of an Olympic athlete was difficult and involved her becoming homeschooled and turning off social media tools to protect herself from the harmful comments.
Liu’s success at such a young age demonstrates her impressive resilience and work ethic. Liu sends the message to young girls everywhere that dreams can be achieved at any age and to never give up despite setbacks.
3. Ireen Wüst, the first Olympian to win five gold medals from five different Olympic games: Wüst is the most decorated speed skater in the entire history of the games with 11 total medals. Along with this, she has continuously beat Olympic records. In the recent 2022 Olympics, Wüst completed the 1,500 meter race in 1 minute and 53.28 seconds, creating a new Olympic record. After various successful milestones, Wüst has decided to retire at the age of 35, with the goal of marrying her girlfriend and starting a family.
Wüst’s continuous record-breaking proves to the world that there truly is no limit to athletic achievement for women. Every time Wüst skates, she is bridging the gap that divides male and female athletes. Wüst’s top score for the 1,500 meter race is only 10 seconds slower than the gold medalist in the men’s category.
4. Claudia Pechstein, the oldest woman to compete in the Olympics: Pechstein has proven that age is only a number by competing in the 2022 Olympic Games at the age of 49 years. Along with this, she is the first woman to participate in eight winter Olympics, winning a total of 5 gold medals beginning in 1992. In her home country of Germany, she is a sergeant in the German Federal Police and is coaching her 10 year old niece in long track skating.
Pechstein transcends gendered barriers- from fighting age discrimination by competing at 49, to her role as a sergeant in the male dominated police field.
5. Natalie Geisenberger, the first 3-time champion of the women’s singles luge: At 34 years old, Geisenberger is currently the most decorated female athlete in her sport, with a total of seven medals across four Olympic games, including her gold medal from the 2022 Olympics. She is a 9-time world champion and 6-time Olympic champion, beginning her career at age 10 in her hometown of Miesbach, Germany. She is currently not only an athlete, but also a police officer.
Similar to Pechstein, Geisenberger breaks gender norms on multiple levels by being a highly decorated athlete as well as a police officer. Pechstein proves that success in any field is not dependent on gender, but determination and will power.
All 5 of these athletes teach us that women are strong, powerful, and deserving of recognition within their respective sports. As female athletes begin to break down the boundaries society has placed on us, women all around the world are making equivalent contributions in their own fields. Determined women working together to transcend gender norms is an incredibly valuable part in the fight to reach equality.