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How The 1996 Olympics Changed Women’s Sports

The 1996 Olympics brought us some of the greatest moments in sports history. But more importantly, it changed the landscape of women's sports in the U.S.

The 1996 Summer Olympic Games were held in Atlanta, Georgia, and it was one to remember for the host country. Female athletes stole the show, and Americans had a front-row seat to the international stage. 


The games were dubbed the name “The Summer of Women,” and many who participated were part of the generation that benefited from the implementation of Title IX. The 1996 Olympics also increased opportunities to compete for women, as mountain biking, lightweight rowing, beach volleyball, softball, and women’s soccer were added to the games for the first time that year. 

3,512 women participated in the Atlanta Olympics, which was proportionate to one female athlete for every two athletes. Although not equitable, 800 more women participated in the ‘96 Olympics than the previous games. 

The ‘96 Games were particularly special for Team USA athletes and fans, as American female athletes brought home gold medals in swimming, track and field, tennis, double trap shooting, gymnastics, softball, basketball, and soccer. Rebecca Lobo, who won a Gold Medal in women’s basketball for Team USA in 1996, remembers many children wearing the team’s commemorative jerseys, as reported by Santa Maria Times. 

“Those Olympics certainly had an impact on the opportunities that are there for girls to play,” Lobo said. “And in an even bigger way, you have to look at the impact it had on the boys who were wearing those jerseys. Did it have an impact on the way they looked at women and, now that they’re adults, on the way they treat little girls today? I’d like to think so.”

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Attendance grew throughout the games, as America dominated in the women’s basketball, soccer, and softball tournaments. The U.S. women’s basketball team had some of the greatest players to ever step foot on the court like Sheryl Swoops, Dawn Staley, Lisa Leslie, and Rebecca Lobo. Their game against Brazil drew a record crowd of 33,952, which ended up as a 20-point blowout. The team’s popularity and success made way for professional women’s leagues like the WNBA and ABL. 

The U.S. Women’s National soccer team benefited from a home-crowd advantage in their Olympic debut, and drew more than 76,000 fans for the gold medal matchup against China. The attendance was a record for any women’s sporting event until the U.S. played China in the 1999 World Cup final, which drew 90,000 fans, according to ESPN.

The Summer of Women brought nicknames  like USA gymnastics’ Magnificent Seven, and moments like Kerri Strug sticking the landing on her final vault attempt with a broken ankle.

To sum it up in a few short words, the ‘96 Olympics showed the world that women can play, compete, and win. Female athletes are  just as worthy of the glory that the gold brings as men are. These fearless women inspired the next generation of athletes, who will inspire generations to come. 

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