On the 40th anniversary of Title IX, female U.S. Olympians demonstrated in powerful and unmistakable terms how equal access to resources and equal opportunities to compete can pay off on the podium. For the first time women outnumbered men on the U.S. Olympic team, and their 29 gold medals in London accounted for two thirds of those won by the U.S. Brian Cazeneuve, Sarah Kwak, Grant Wahl, Melissa Segura, Phil Taylor, Chris Mannix, Kelli Anderson and L. Jon Wertheim look at the distinct characteristics the American women showed us—in performances ranging from the uplifting to the downright dominant—over the course of two historic weeks in London.
Gymnastics Team – Fierceness – Oozing flair, grace and poise, the Fierce Five led from the first rotation of the team finals and won the first Olympic team title for U.S. gymnasts since 1996 (by Brian Cazeneuve).
Kim Rhode, shooting – Longevity – Rhode became the first American to win an individual medal in five straight Olympic games with her gold in skeet shooting (by Sarah Kwak).
Claressa Shields, boxing – Focus – After the American men struggled in their London matches, Claressa Shields showed maturity beyond her 17 years, blocking out distractions during the games, winning middleweight gold and staving off the first shutout of U.S. boxing at an Olympics (by Chris Mannix).
Swim Team – Unity – If there was a defining characteristic of the women’s swim team in London, it was a spirit of sororal fun and connection, fostered in part by Teri McKeever, the U.S. women’s first-ever female head coach (by Kelli Anderson).
Serena Williams, tennis – Dominance – On her way to gold in London, Williams swept aside the three players most recently ranked No.1, perhaps the most impressive showing of her career (by L. Jon Wertheim).
Women’s Soccer Team – Resilience – The U.S. team proved its mettle in an epic Olympic semifinal win over Canada, in which Magan Rapinoe keyed the comeback by scoring two goals. (by Grant Wahl).
Brenda Villa, water polo – Persistence – After her three previous trips to the Olympics ended with silver (twice) and bronze, Villa finally stood atop the medal stand in London (by Melissa Segura).
Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings, Beach Volleyball – Wisdom – The dynamic duo knew everything there was to know about becoming an Olympic champion, and there wasn’t a situation on the sand that they hadn’t seen (by Phil Taylor).
Women’s Basketball Team – Consistency – The U.S. women’s hoops team’s winning legacy has been gold or bust for the past 16 years (by Kelli Anderson).
Some athletes wow us with their sheer physical brilliance, others through displays of courage, poise and passion, or by their willingness to push limits, break barriers and hoist fans’ hopes on their shoulders. This week’s Sports Illustrated celebrates those special stars—the inspiring performers who made 2012 a sports year to remember.
For their refusal to be silent victims of sexual abuse, two of those performers, New York Mets knuckleballer and 2012 National League Cy Young award winner R.A. Dickey and 2012 Olympic judo gold medalist Kayla Harrison are featured on the cover of this week’s Sports Illustrated. In a year when the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State rocked the sports world, award-winning SI senior writer Gary Smith asks us to reimagine, a century from now, looking back on the plague of sexual abuse and celebrating the courage of Dickey and Harrison, who shined a light on a dark history.
Both were abused as children—Dickey by a babysitter and a stranger, Harrison by her judo coach—and the pain of abuse became part of who they were. Smith describes the torture Dickey and Harrison had to endure en route to breaking their silence, and how they support victims who now have the courage to tell their own stories.
“My heart broke for those boys in the Penn State scandal because I knew what they would be up against,” Dickey would say. “And then … I felt for Jerry Sandusky because of what happened to him in his life. The toxicity of it all is so frightening. It energized me, made me see that there’s a real need for activism. The taboo’s been breached. Finally the elephant in the room is out—it’s raising its trunk and bellowing” (page 66).
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