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November 26, 2021
| Womens Advocacy

Founder's Weekly 30th July 2021, Olympic Special: The female powerhouses dominating Tokyo 2020

From the gymnast who unapologetically put her mental health first to the legends who’ve triumphed in the water and on the skate ramps.

Fellow remarkable women,

It’s been the most incredible week for our team as we’ve cheered for our Olympic athletes. 

Tokyo 2020...1 couldn’t have come at a better time for those of us battling COVID-19 restrictions and lockdowns. We've been blown away by how now more than ever, we’re seeing athletes change the game from championing mental health to burning sexist rulebooks and paving the way for equality for women in sports.

The German gymnastics team may not have qualified for the finals, but they sent a powerful message by choosing to wear unitards while competing rather than revealing leotards.

We applaud US gymnast Simone Biles who was another inspirational example - her decision to put her mental health first and withdraw from the competition has us cheering. We hope her efforts to improve conditions for US women in sport aren’t lost on Swimming Australia as it battles its own allegations of abuse.  

And lastly, we congratulate the female athletes who’ve competed so far at the Tokyo Olympics. Your dedication, achievements and pursuit for victory inspires us all.

Gymnast Simone Biles unapologetically shows world what real strength looks like

We commend the incredible strength shown by US gymnast Simone Biles this week in deciding to pull out of the women’s team gymnastics final as she battles with her mental health.

The 24-year-old explained that while she was in good shape physically, she had been “fighting all those demons” inside her head.

Simone is the last self-identified Team USA survivor of sexual abuse by USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nasser, who mind you, is still competing at the Olympics. Our brains hurt thinking about how and why Nasser is even allowed to compete.

She told USA Today earlier this year that one of the major reasons she went to the Olympics was to ensure the sexual abuse scandal wasn’t brushed aside.

“I just feel like after everything that happened, I had to come back to the sport to be a voice, to have change happen,” Simone said. “Because I feel like if there weren’t a remaining survivor in the sport, they would’ve just brushed it to the side.”

Her decision to pull out of her event at the last minute led to some appalling criticism. Right-wing commentator Charlie Kirk appallingly called her a “selfish sociopath” and a “shame to this country”.

“We are raising a generation of weak people like Simone Biles,” Kirk said. “Simone Biles just showed the rest of the nation that when things get tough, you shatter into a million pieces.”

Controversial commentator Piers Morgan also slammed her decision. He tweeted: “Are ‘mental health issues’ now the go-to excuse for any poor performance in elite sport? What a joke. Just admit you did badly, made mistakes, and will strive to do better next time. Kids need strong role models, not this nonsense.”

Despite the many outlandish and ill-informed comments such as these, that had our blood boiling, Simone has seen an incredible amount of support from her fellow athletes, gymnastics community and the world at large.

Television host, author, and motivational speaker Melanie Robbins put it well when she said that every person who has criticised Simone has “no idea what true strength, courage and discipline actually looks like”.

“The ‘pressure’ of competing in a sport you’ve dominated for years is nothing compared to the ‘pressure’ of having online trolls, media commentators, and strangers sounding off about your decision to put your health first,” she said.

“Or the pressure of being a survivor of sexual abuse from your trainer and finding yourself at the Olympics where there is another member of team USA who has been accused by 6 women fencers, including 2 Olympic fencers, of sexual assault. He is ‘being kept apart from the team’ and requires a ‘safety plan’ to protect other members of the team but somehow he’s still allowed to compete?”

We couldn’t agree more with Robbins – Simone’s decision to withdraw is a sign of remarkable strength and self-awareness, not weakness

Biles has since revealed that she felt disoriented when she was midair during her vault routine. If she had landed wrong or head first, she could have been paralysed.

“Recognising that you’re not in the state to compete and withdrawing so that your ego and pride don’t take your teammates or yourself down, is one of the greatest acts of mental toughness and leadership that one could display,” Robbins said.  

Simone has taught the world a valuable lesson about how important it is to put yourself and your mental health first. She has ignored the naysayers and trolls and instead, chosen to listen to her millions of supporters.

She thanked those supporters on Instagram, saying: “The outpouring love and support I’ve received has made me realise I’m more than my accomplishments and gymnastics, which I never truly believed before.”

Biles shows us that knowing yourself is the greatest form of self-leadership, a self-love and respect that we can all learn from and that only those who practice or aspire to do so will understand. 

Swimming Australia battles abuse claims

The issues faced by Simone Biles are a stark reminder that Australia has its own sporting demons to exorcise.

One of our star swimmers, Maddie Groves, made shocking allegations of abuse and pulled out of the Olympic trials earlier this year.

The two-time silver medal-winning Olympian tweeted: “Let this be a lesson to all misogynistic perverts in sport and their boot lickers - You can no longer exploit young women and girls, body shame or medically gaslight them and then expect them to represent you so you can earn your annual bonus. Time’s UP.”

Last month, The Australian revealed that despite four complaints being made about an Olympic coach to Swimming Australia, he has not been disciplined or suspended for the alleged behaviour, which included calling a young swimmer a “f*king idiot” and a “loser”, and constantly bullying swimmers over their weight.

Former Swimming Australia CEO Leigh Russell tweeted that: “Those in charge of sport (men) have long focused on fixing women to fit. It is indeed a broken boys club and there will be no genuine cultural integrity in sport until the system is fixed, not women.”

We won’t even begin on the term “fixing women”, but it’s somewhat promising to see that Swimming Australia and the Australian Sports Commission are currently overseeing an investigation into the sport. 

Protecting our current and future athletes means that we need serious and intentional action. We’re hoping that this will be the case. 

It’s time to end sexualisation in sports uniforms

In a follow up from last week's wrap, it’s been empowering to see women’s sporting teams fighting to change outdated and quite frankly, sexualised attitudes to their uniforms in recent weeks.

The German gymnastics team pushed back by choosing to compete at the Olympics this week in unitards rather than the usual bikini-cut leotards that cut off from the hips. 

"We girls had a big influence on this," German gymnast Sarah Voss told CNN. "The coaches were also very much into it. They said they want us to feel the most confident and comfortable in any case. It just makes you feel better and more comfortable."

Fortunately, their outfits complied with the wardrobe rules of the International Gymnastics Federation. Sadly, that wasn’t the case for the Norwegian women's beach handball team, who refused to play in bikini bottoms during the recent European tournament and wore bike shorts instead. As we reported last week, they were hit with a fine from the European Handball Federation for wearing “improper clothing”.  

Offers to pay the fines flooded in from around the world. Singer Pink tweeted: “I’m VERY proud of the Norwegian female beach handball team FOR PROTESTING THE VERY SEXIST RULES ABOUT THEIR “uniform”. The European handball federation SHOULD BE FINED FOR SEXISM. Good on ya, ladies. I’ll be happy to pay your fines for you. Keep it up.”

Player Tonje Lerstad told the BBC the whole team was "star-struck" by Pink’s offer.

"It's really crazy. We were shocked but it's such an important message and we appreciate it," she said.

We have to pose the question, if male athletes wanted to cover up more, would they too be fined?

Teen medallists inspire a new generation of female skaters

We are awed by the three teenage girls who took out gold, silver and bronze in the debut women’s street skateboarding event at the Tokyo Olympics this week.

Japan’s Momiji Nishiya, was just 13 years and 330 days old when she stepped onto the podium, making her Japan’s youngest ever gold medalist and one of the youngest in Olympics history.

That record goes to American diver Marjorie Gestring, who took the gold medal at the 1936 Berlin Games at the age of 13 years and 267 days.

The silver medal in the skateboarding event went to Brazil’s Rayssa Leal, aged 13 years and 203 days. She is Brazil’s youngest ever medallist.

"It's not right to think, well you have to study, you can't go skating because skating is for boys," Leal told Reuters. "I think skateboarding is for everyone."

The bronze medal went to Japan’s Funa Nakayama, 16.

 How incredible are they?! These powerhouses prove to us that youth is definitely not wasted on the young.

“I think for so long the industry has really ignored females and given us no spotlight,” US competitor Alexis Sablone, 34, who finished fourth, told Sports Illustrated. “You don’t see women on the covers of magazines, and sponsors aren’t paying women. So I think this has given the females in skateboarding a platform that can’t really be ignored. There’s a podium. Suddenly the industry will start paying attention. … I wish it hadn’t taken this to legitimize us, but it’s a step in that direction.”

Congratulations to all our Australian female medallists

It’s been so incredibly inspiring to watch Australian sportswomen triumph at the Tokyo Olympics, and it’s brought much needed joy for those of us isolating at home during lockdown as we scream, cheer and awe at our tv screens. We are so proud of each and every athlete!

Congratulations to all the participants and medal winners so far, we can’t wait to see what else our irrepressible athletes achieve in the week ahead.  

Here’s the rundown of medallists at the time of publication and a bit of light reading on their profiles for your weekend. 

Enjoy!

GOLD

Women's 4 x 100m freestyle relay: Meg Harris, Bronte Campbell, Emma McKeon, Cate Campbell (Mollie O'Callaghan, Madison Wilson swam in the heat)

Megan Harris, 19, is competing at her first Olympics. She was selected to represent Australia at the 2017 Youth Commonwealth Games where she won gold in the 50m freestyle. She went on to compete at the 2019 Junior World Championships, winning double bronze in the 50m freestyle and 100m freestyle, and silver in the 4x100m freestyle relay.

Bronte Campbell, 27 broke two games records at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games and subsequently secured two gold medals – individually in the Women’s 100m Freestyle, as well as part of the Women’s 4x100m Freestyle Relay team. The dual Olympian made history alongside sister Cate in 2012, becoming the first Australian sisters to compete in the same swimming event at the Olympic Games; the Women’s 50m Freestyle in London. At the 2015 World Championships, Campbell became the third female in history to win both the 50m and 100m freestyle world titles.

Cate Campbell, 29, made her Olympic debut at age 16 at the 2008 Beijing Games and claimed two bronze medals. Since then, Campbell has represented Australia at four Olympics, two Commonwealth Games, four World Championships and three Pan Pacific Championships. At the 2018 Pan Pacs in Tokyo, the Malawi-born freestyler took home a whopping five gold medals and in the following year at the World Championships, she claimed two gold, two silver and an individual bronze.

Emma McKeon, 27, has won more than 40 medals and set numerous World and Commonwealth Games Records since she began competing for Australia. Hailing from a swimming family, her brother David and father Ron are both Olympians, while her mother and uncle competed at the 1982 Commonwealth Games. At the World Championships in 2019, McKeon was part of Women’s 4x200m Freestyle Relay who won gold and set a new World Record.

Women's 400m freestyle & women's 200m freestyle: Ariarne Titmus

Ariarne Titmus, 20, claimed a bronze medal in the Women’s 4x200m Freestyle Relay and placed fourth in the Women’s 400m Freestyle at the 2017 World Championships. The following year in 2018 – and at just 18 years of age – she smashed her 400m freestyle PB and in the process, broke the world record at the World Short Course Championships. In the same year she also claimed three gold medals at the Commonwealth Games. The 400m Freestyle World Champion, Titmus has three Commonwealth Records and a World Record to her name, earning her the nickname, ‘The Terminator’.

Women's 100m backstroke: Kaylee McKeown

Kaylee McKeown, 20, won her first major international medal at the 2019 World Championships claiming silver in the 200m backstroke. In 2021, Kaylee has been smashing records, setting three national records in the span of one weekend, in the 200m, 100m and 50m backstroke at the Sydney Open. She then went on to break the world record in the Women's 100m Backstroke at the Australian Swimming Trials with a time of 57.45, securing a ticket to her first Olympic Games.

Women's four rowing: Lucy Stephan, Rosemary Popa, Jessica Morrison, Annabelle McIntyre

Lucy Stephan, 29, made her Olympic debut racing in the Women's Eight at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. In 2017, she was named in the Women's Four, with the crew winning World Rowing Cups 2 and 3 and the World Rowing Championships, while also being named the 2017 Australian Female Crew of the Year at the 2017 Hancock Prospecting Rower of the Year Awards

Rosemary Popa, 29, has a strong rowing pedigree with both her parents having represented Australia at Olympic Games in rowing and won Olympic medals. She has represented both the US and Australia in her rowing career, by virtue of having dual citizenship.

Jessica Morrison, 29, represented Australia at the 2016 Olympic Games in the Women's Eight. The Victorian athlete took some time away from the sport post-Rio, and returned to elite rowing when she joined the Hancock Prospecting Women's National Training Centre at the end of 2018. She was selected in the women's sweep squad for the 2019 World Rowing Cups and went on to win medals in both the Women's Pair and Women's at the World Rowing Cups.

Annabelle McIntyre, 24 won her first silver medal at the 2017 World Rowing U23 Championships. She was selected to be part of Australia's Women's Eight for the World Rowing Cups in 2018. She went on to win a bronze medal at the World Rowing Championships in the Women's Eight in 2018. In 2019, McIntyre doubled up with Jessica Morrison to race in the Women's Pair and Women's Eight at the World Rowing Cups and World Rowing Championships, winning medals at all events.

Women's C1 canoe slalom: Jess Fox

Jess Fox, 27, was born to Olympian and multiple world champion paddle parents and was just 16 when she took out the C1 and K1 Junior World Championships in 2010 and K1 gold at the Singapore 2010 Summer Youth Olympics, just one year after she made her senior international debut. She made her Olympic debut at London 2012, winning silver as the youngest woman in canoe slalom to ever medal at an Olympics.

Women's 100m freestyle: Emma McKeon

BRONZE

Women's 100m butterfly: Emma McKeon

Canoe-kayak slalom: Jess Fox

Women's quadruple sculls: Ria Thompson, Rowena Meredith, Harriet Hudson, Caitlin Cronin

Ria Thompson, 23, first entered international competition in 2018 when she was named to the U23 Women's Double Scull for the Junior World Championship, finishing fifth in the medal race. The following year, Thompson was the 2019 World Rowing U23 Champion in the Women's Single Scull.

Rowena Meredith, 26, first competed internationally at the 2015 U23 World Championships, where the crew earned silver in the regatta. She also scored a second place finish in the 2017 World Cup Rowing 2. Rowena won another silver medal at the 2017 U23 World Championships followed by appearances - and podium finishes - at the World Rowing Cups 2 and 3.

Harriet Hudson, 23 earned silver at the U23 World Championships in the 2017 and 2019 regattas.

Caitlin Cronin, 26, began her professional rowing career by representing Australia at multiple World Rowing Cups and an U23 World Champions in 2017, where she finished on the podium in each competition.

Women's 4x200m freestyle: Ariarne Titmus, Emma McKeon, Madison Wilson, Leah Neale (Mollie O'Callaghan, Meg Harris, Brianna Throssell, Tamsin Cook swam in the heat)

Madison Wilson, 27, broke onto the scene in 2012 making the team for the Junior Pan Pacific Championships and in the following year, she competed at the World University Games where she claimed gold in the 200m backstroke. In 2014 at the Commonwealth Games she claimed a silver in the 50m backstroke. At the 2015 World Championships she touched behind teammate Emily Seebohm in the 100m backstroke to claim silver. She went on to qualify for her first Olympic team in 2016 where she placed 8th in the 100m backstroke and was a heat swimmer in the 4x100m freestyle and the 4x100m medley relays that went on to win gold and silver respectively. 

Leah Neale, 25, won a silver medal at the Rio Olympics as a member of the 4x200m freestyle relay team.

Women's 100m freestyle: Cate Campbell

Until next week, stay safe and keep on,

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