July 16, 2012

Women in Sports: Perspectives on the Olympics

If, like me, you’ve recently watched the United States Olympic trials, you’ve enjoyed seeing the “best of the best” in physicality, strength, and power.  It’s been particularly exciting to see the women (including young women) competitors including Iowa’s hurdler Lolo Jones, and gymnast Gabby Douglas who is following in the shoes of Shawn Johnson.  (For your information, both Lolo Jones and Shawn Johnson have been guest speakers at our year-end Chrysalis After-School celebration – very inspirational!).

For the first time, the 2012 United States Olympic team will have more women than men: there are to be 269 women and 261 men on the team.  And for your information, the oldest American athlete is a woman – equestrian rider Karen O’Connor at 54 – and the youngest is 15-year-old swimmer Katie Ledecky.

As tough as it is to become an Olympian, the financial costs are becoming increasingly prohibitive.  The United States is one of a select few countries that does not provide funding for Olympians, leaving athletes to rely on the US Olympic Committee for support.  The majority of the $170 million in annual funding supports athletes in the “popular” sports, leaving competitors in "lesser-popular" sports without much, if any financial assistance.

In an interview with CNN, Alan Ashley, Head of Sports Performance for the US Olympic Committee, noted that the division of this funding is determined by how many medals a particular sport has won, and whether or not that sport has a good chance this year.  Funding also supports training camps, coaching, and competition entries for prospective Olympians.

According to CNN, only 50% of American track and field athletes ranked in the nation’s top 10 in their event earn more than $15,000 from the sport, and those not highly ranked fare much worse.  Most athletes look to private donors, sponsorship opportunities, and grants to fund their participation, and if they don’t excel quickly, they lose an opportunity to win cash prizes.  In 2012, gold medalists win a $25,000 bonus, silver medalists receive $15,000, and bronze winners are awarded $10,000.

The Women’s Sports Foundation, created in 1974 by tennis icon Billie Jean King, is the only charitable organization providing grants to women athletes.  Figure skaters Michelle Kwan and Kristi Yamaguchi, skier Picabo Street, and gymnast Kerri Strug are among the recipients who received direct financial assistance to support coaching, specialized training, equipment, uniforms, or travel.  The Foundation also moves the women’s sports movement ahead in other ways:

·  working with media to increase positive coverage of women athlete’s and women’s sports
·  helping shape the public’s attitude about women athletes and sports for women
·  advising on women’s sports issues and other concerns
·  advocating for athletes’ commercial rights and purse and salary equity
·  marketing and promoting female athletes to corporate partners and the public
·  operating a Speaker Service to enhance women’s athletics and sports

In the coming year, Chrysalis will incorporate the Foundation’s “GO GIRL GO!” curriculum for school-age girls into the Chrysalis After-School program’s GIRLSTRONG! Program, which includes healthy lifestyle, nutrition, fitness, and wellness education to program participants.  Through community partners and facilitator training, The Chrysalis GIRLSTRONG! curriculum ensures that adolescent girls learn and adopt knowledge and behaviors that will keep them healthy and resilient – prepared to become confident and contributing women.

To hear the reasons why this program is so important:  http://vimeo.com/38229299