It's been more than a century since women first competed in the 1900 Paris Olympic Games, where participation was limited to 19 women in two sports. The 2012 Games marked the first time women outnumbered men on Team USA. And the number of Olympic women who are moms has risen as well. Here's a look back at the fearless females who have gotten us to where we are today.
Olympic Games: 1900, Paris
Not only was 1900 the first Olympic Games to include women, but it was also the first and only time a mother and daughter have competed in the same sport. While golfer Margaret Abbott was the first female American to take home a gold medal, her mother, mother of three Mary Perkins Ives Abbott (who came in seventh place in the same event), could be considered to be the first American Olympic mom.
Olympic Games: 1936, Berlin; 1948, London
In 1936, Fanny Blankers-Koen—at the time, dubbed "The Flying Housewife"—finished sixth in the high jump at 18. Unfortunately, WWII sidelined her promising Olympic career for 12 years. When the Games returned in 1948, everyone underestimated the 30-year-old mother, but she earned three individual gold medals on the track and anchored the Dutch 4x100 relay, winning gold. No other female track-and-field competitor since has earned four gold medals in a single Olympics.
Olympic Games: 1952, Helsinki; 1956, Melbourne
While most pregnant women would be kicking up their feet at three-and-a-half months, Juno Irwin (pictured, second from left) was diving headfirst into the pool, taking home bronze in 10-meter platform diving while pregnant with a second child. Four years later, she was back at it again, nabbing a silver medal in the same event at the 1956 Melbourne Games. Juno retired in 1960, mom of five with plenty to celebrate.
Olympic Games: 1956, Melbourne; 1960, Rome
In the 1956 Olympics, American track-and-field competitor Wilma Rudolph took home the bronze with her team in the 4x100 relay. And while pre-motherhood served her just fine, it would seem becoming a mom only helped her running career. She had a daughter in 1958 and proceeded to take home three gold medals in the 1960 Rome Games, becoming the only American woman to accomplish that feat at the time.
Olympic Games: 1964, Tokyo; 1968, Mexico City; 1972, Munich; 1976, Montreal
Irena was a Polish superstar sprinter before she became a mom, grabbing gold, silver and bronze medals at the '64 Tokyo and '68 Mexico City Games. Her first son, Andrew, was born in 1970, but motherhood didn't slow her down a bit. She went on to score a bronze medal in the '72 Olympics and gold in the 400-meter in '76.
Photo courtesy of Sporting-Heroes.net
Olympic Games: 1984, Los Angeles; 1988, Seoul; 1992, Barcelona
American track-and-field star Evelyn Ashford followed up her double gold-medal-winning performance in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics with a terrific encore: a daughter born the following year. By the '88 Seoul Games, she was ready, earning gold and silver, finishing her Olympic career with one more gold in Barcelona. To put the icing on the cake, Evelyn was inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame.
Olympic Games: 1992, Barcelona; 1996, Atlanta; 2000, Sydney; 2008, Beijing
As long as Khatuna Lorig has been an Olympian, she has been a mom; she was carrying her son during the Barcelona Games in 1992, where she took home bronze. In 2008, Lorig even carried the U.S. flag during the Beijing Opening Ceremonies. Still, she told the Huffington Post that becoming a mom to son Levon, now 19, was the bigger honor.
Olympic Games: 1996, Atlanta; 2000, Sydney; 2004, Athens
Sheryl Swoopes had just earned a gold in the '96 Atlanta Games when she discovered she was pregnant with her first child (Jordan, now 15). Missing most of the inaugural WNBA season, that didn't keep her from a long and vibrant career. Swoopes earned two more Olympic gold medals in Sydney and Athens before ending her Olympic career.
Photo courtesy of WomenTalkSports.com
Olympic Games: 1996, Atlanta; 2000, Sydney, 2004, Athens
This mom's soccer career was downright incredible. Between Olympics and World Cups, Joy Fawcett managed to have three daughters (the first in 1994). She played every minute of every game in three World Cups and two Olympics, and has earned two gold and three silver medals over the course of her career. The defender retired in 2004, finally getting some well-deserved mom time.
Olympic Games: 1984, Los Angeles; 1988, Seoul; 1992, Barcelona; 2000, Sydney; 2008, Beijing
Dara Torres made headlines when she aimed for the swimming podium in the 2008 Olympics, simply because she was 41 with a 2-year-old at home. The underestimated mom ended up winning three silver medals, giving her 12 Olympic medals (four of them gold) for her career. Dara also became the poster girl for what a woman can do, no matter her age or life stage.
Olympic Games: 2012, London
Can you imagine competing in an Olympics, about to burst, eight months pregnant? Most women can hardly imagine getting off the sofa! Shooter Nur Suryani Mohamed Taibi was the talk of London when she arrived at the Games a month before her due date. Her strategy for handling everything? Simple, according to NBC: "I will breathe in and breathe out and try to calm myself down." Sounds like she's ready for motherhood to us.
Olympic Games: 2000, Sydney; 2004, Athens; 2008, Beijing; 2012, London; 2016, Rio de Janeiro
The Olympic stage is a familiar one for this beach volleyball mom of three, with Rio de Janeiro marking her fifth appearance and quest for her fourth gold medal. But her third gold medal that was won in London is potentially the most impressive. Despite flaunting a six-pack, Jennings was actually five weeks pregnant at the time.
Olympic Games: 2008, Beijing; 2012, London
Gold medal cyclist Kristin Armstrong decided to retire after winning gold in Beijing, assuming that remaining an Olympic athlete while becoming a mom wouldn't be feasible. But after her son Lucas was born in 2010, the itch to compete at the London games resurfaced, though it wasn't easy to get over her "mom guilt" of being away from her child. "The decision to start training again wasn't easy. "I struggled with that a lot," she told Today after winning gold at the London Olympics. "At the beginning I felt selfish, I felt like, 'Well, I'm not supposed to be thinking of myself anymore, it's all supposed to be for my kid." But she found her stride, reserving her training for the mornings and blocking off playtime in the afternoons.
Olympics: 1992, Barcelona; 2000, Sydney; 2004, Athens
Not only did long-distance runner Derartu Tulu win an Olympic gold medal for the 10,000-meter run after the birth of her daughter in 1998, her time was faster by almost a minute, too. And then, despite having a C-section with the birth of her second daughter, the Olympic mama went on to run and win the New York City Marathon in 2 hours, 28 minutes.
Olympics: 1996, Atlanta; 2000, Sydney; 2004, Athens; 2008, Beijing
This Olympic basketball mom of two has a gold medal for every appearance she's made in the Olympic games (four), making her the second female basketball player to ever earn that many medals. Equally impressive is the fact that she competed in the Beijing Olympics (and won another gold medal) after giving birth the previous summer.
Olympics: 2012, London
In 2012, hurdler Lashinda Demus won the silver medal despite struggling with a hamstring tear and two tears in her knee. Her perseverance may have something to do with her biggest cheerleaders: Her twin boys who could be heard on NBC at the 2012 Olympics in London yelling, "Go, Mommy, go!" Though she recently announced she's not competing at the 2016 Olympics in Rio to give herself more time to recover from injuries, she's planning to compete at next year's world championships with no intention of retiring anytime soon.
Olympics: 2008, Beijing
Strong doesn't even begin to cut it with this Olympic mama. A gymnast turned weightlifter, Melanie Roach is also a mom to five children, one of whom is autistic. Despite suffering a debilitating back injury just before the 2000 Olympics, Roach rehabilitated and made her Olympic debut in2008 (when she had three kids at the time) and placed sixth—an American record.
Olympics: 1998, Nagano; 2002, Salt Lake City; 2006, Torino; 2010, Vancouver
A 4-time Olympian, Jenny Potter also plays "hockey mom" to a daughter and son. When competing at the Olympics, her kids typically weren't too far behind. And if Mom hadn't scored a goal, her son was especially quick to ask her why, reports the New York Times. Though Potter took some time off from hockey to be a mom, she would skate up until 9 months pregnant and get back onto the ice as soon as six weeks post-delivery.
Olympics: 1996, Atlanta; 2004, Athens; 2008, Beijing; 2012,London
Four-time Olympic discus thrower Aretha Thurmond vowed that becoming a mom wouldn't slow down her athletic career and she proved herself right. After having her son in June 2007, she was competing in Beijing one year later and then again in 2012 with her 5-year-old in tow. "Before, what cut a lot of women's careers short was the belief that once they started a family, that was it," Thurmond told NBC. "But we're showing people that you can have kids and go back to work, to athletic training. You come back stronger from the experience, not weaker."
Olympics: 1996, Atlanta; 2000, Sydney; 2004, Athens; 2008, Beijing; 2012, London
High jumper Amy Acuff is aiming to achieve an unprecedented accomplishment this year—competing in Rio de Janiero at the age of 41, which will be her sixth Olympics. In addition to her role as an Olympic athlete and mom of two, Acuff is also a licensed acupuncturist and loves to code. And she credits motherhood as the reason why she's able to juggle so much. "Having kids gives laser focus [to] your time management skills," she says on her website.
Olympics: 2008, Beijing; 2012, London
Finding time to train for a marathon is tough. Finding time to train when you have a newborn? Next to impossible. Yet Kara Goucher did just that, and she discovered that pregnancy had been great training in itself. "I ran throughout my pregnancy, but I was surprised how strong my legs were after having my son," Goucher said to ESPN. "I was surprised at how a 20-mile run wasn't that bad. The speed took a while to come back, but my legs actually felt stronger after I gave birth than they ever had previously in my career. I felt like they could handle more pounding and mileage and they didn't get tired as quickly."
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