U.S. female participation in the Olympics and Paralympics


Overall female participation reached a record-high 45 percent of all Olympians at Rio 2016

  • No women participated in the first modern Olympics at Athens 1896. The founder of the Games, Pierre de Coubertin, believed it would be harmful to women’s health to participate.
  • At Paris 1900, women were permitted to participate in five sports deemed socially acceptable: croquet, equestrian, golf, sailing and tennis. Of the 997 Olympians, only 22 were female.
    • Tennis players Marion and Georgina Jones became the first American women to participate in the Olympic Games at Paris 1900. Marion won the bronze medal in women’s singles and teamed with Laurence Doherty of Great Britain to win bronze in mixed doubles.
    • The first American woman to win Olympic gold was golfer Margaret Abbott at Paris 1900, but she apparently never had any knowledge that she was even competing in an Olympic event, as the tournament was held in conjunction with the Paris Exposition.
  • It was not until the Amsterdam 1928 Olympic Games that women participated in gymnastics or track and field, finally boosting female participation to 10 percent of Olympic events.
    • At the Amsterdam Games, several female competitors struggled to finish the 800-meter run, prompting Olympic officials to discontinue the women’s 800 until 1960.
  • At the Squaw Valley 1960 Olympic Winter Games, female representation reached 20 percent of Olympians for the first time ever in a Summer Games or Winter Games.
  • The initial Paralympic Games at Rome 1960 included 45 women, though none were American.
  • Beginning with Tokyo 1964, American women have participated in each Paralympics since, starting with Rosalie Hixson winning eight medals (six gold) in swimming and track and field at Tokyo 1964.
  • The International Olympic Committee had its first female members in 1981 and 10 years later stipulated that any new sport added to Olympic competition needed to have men’s and women’s events.
  • At the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games, a record 45 percent of the competitors were women, according to the IOC.
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