I must admit, I wasn’t particularly excited for the London Olympics. In fact, I spent a long time dreading summer 2012 for that very reason. I’ve never supported a team, or followed a sport, or enjoyed taking part in any activity in which I’d probably have to wear lycra and have good co-ordination. Years of hideous P.E. lessons haunted me.
‘I don’t caaaare about stupid sports I HATE SPORTS I’ve forgotten my kit no I won’t do it in my knickers I’ve broken my ankle it’s fine I’ll just go to First Aid for a plaster I CAN’T RUN I’M TOO SWEATY MAKE IT STOP!!!!’
So, up until July 27th, 2012, I was what you would call an Olympic Grump, grumbling about all this money being spent and three weeks of rubbish telly for something that benefits only a small number of people, really.
Oh, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Because the London Olympics 2012 have the potential to change everything. Especially for us feminists.
I watched the opening ceremony because I was intrigued; I went to the same University as Danny Boyle (many years later, sadly), and we’d shared the same personal tutor. I like to think this gives us a connection; you could, in a way, say that I too am an Oscar winner. (Throw me a bone here.) I wanted to see what my good friend (ahem) Danny had cooked up for us.
The performance was much more than I expected; I was awed by the rich history of our country being showcased with such creativity, compassion, pride, wit, understanding, and honesty. But it was the finer details that really spoke to me: the Suffragettes that boldly marched across the stage carrying the flags Emmeline Pankhurst and co themselves waved. The Queen ‘parachuting’ into the arena with James Bond. The way Mary Poppins triumphed over Lord Voldemort. I don’t know why I was surprised to see these things, but what I did know was that, for the first time, I was a bit excited about the Olympics.
Then I heard that this was the first year that every country had a least one female athlete in their team. And when I saw the first Saudi Arabian women ever to be allowed to compete in the Olympic games, respectfully dressed to accommodate both their religion and their sport, walk into the arena to represent their country, I knew London 2012 wasn’t going to be what I expected at all. Finally, this really is for everyone.
Sarah Attar, 19, first Saudi Arabian woman in Olympic track and field.
I was suddenly hooked, never straying too far from sporting updates, and found myself enthralled by so many of the events. By accident, most of them just so happened to be the women’s events. I sobbed like a baby when Jessica Ennis won her gold medal in the heptathlon. I did the same when Becky Adlington won her bronze medal in the swimming, and Nicola Adams won gold in the boxing. I cheered when Jade Jones won gold for the taekwondo, and Victoria Pendleton won silver in the cycling. Weightlifter Zoe Smith, who had to defend herself on Twitter to people claiming her sport made her ‘masculine’, was another star.
And it’s not just British women that are bringing home the goods; watching Merve Aydin from Turkey limp over the 800m finish line, in tears of agony due to a leg injury, I felt such an overwhelming rush of warmth. She suffered and struggled to complete the race because after a fight that hard to get to the Olympics, she was determined to see it through. It would be unfair to say Aydin was anything less than a credit to herself and her country. The skill displayed from the women’s football team was far more deserving of praise than any of the Premier League football matches I’ve ever been forced to watch. Then there was the phenomenal gymnastics displays from China, Russia, the USA. Maybe I’ve never been interested in sport because I’ve never before seen it performed with such soul.
The London Olympics have been by no means a sexism-free zone (alas, this will never happen). The women taking part in the Games have had their bodies discussed and examined, and the Judo champions have been likened to “two drunken women bashing seven bells out of each other outside of Yates’ Wine Lodge on a Friday night” (I feel a bit sorry for you, Andrew M Brown from the Telegraph. You do know that won’t stop these women from having more strength, talent and charisma than you, don’t you? They will still have their medals, okay? Try to take your mind off it.)
Silver medalist Lizzie Armistead spoke out about the inequality she’s faced in her cycling career, and Lizzie said: “The problem is of being a female athlete is that you don’t want to come across as negative or moaning and it’s very difficult to change things in a positive way.” In no way have the female atheles at these Games come across as negative; quite the opposite. Every woman I have seen at the Olympics has been charming, intelligent, and a huge inspiration to all generations. Although it may be difficult, I do believe this will arouse a positive change.
It emerged on Newsnight last night that some male members of Team GB have been awarded with BMWs, but not the women. This is of course outrageous and grossly unfair, and deserves an explanation. But this will not take away from what the women of Team GB have been awarded with; gold, silver, bronze; respect, admiration, love. By this time next year, it won’t be the car that we all remember. It’ll be the way the Olympics made us feel; that women in sports are valued and important. We are winners. It has brought us gifts that are priceless; female role models that are determined, powerful, successful, confident, polite, humble, dignified.
I have watched the 2012 Olympics as someone who is not just proud to be British, but who is proud to be a woman in the twenty-first century. The real triumph here belongs to gender, not soil. And that, for me, is something much bigger.
Flowers left on Emmeline Pankhurst’s grave after the London 2010 Opening Ceremony.