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Performance by U.S. women at London Olympics offers reason to marvel

by Christopher DempseyThe Denver Post

Posted Aug 13, 2012

The transformative nature of these, now ended, Olympic Games started the moment the United States marched 269 female athletes into Wembley Stadium, to 261 males — the first time in history women outnumbered men on the U.S. Olympic Team.

The last musical notes of the closing ceremony were played Sunday night, but it was the U.S. women that rocked most in a two-week, jaw-dropping display of excellence, cool under pressure, and grace. It was the greatest women's Olympics that this country has ever seen, and in a year that has already celebrated the 40th anniversary of Title IX, couldn't have come at a more opportune — or important — time.

American women won 29 gold medals. Only two other countries matched these ladies in golds. China had 38 golds and Great Britain had 29; that's as a country, men and women combined. U.S. women heard "The Star Spangled Banner" 29 times, to 17 for U.S. men. They hauled in 58 medals in all, to 45 for U.S. men.

And the 58 medals won by U.S. women? More than every country in the Olympics, sans three: China, Russia, Great Britain.

If ever there was a time for a "You Go Girl!" this is it.

In Colorado we celebrated the bubbly Missy Franklin, who was as lethal to competitors in the pool as she was sweet out of it. She laughed and smiled her way to five medals in all, four gold, and two world records. And at the young age of 17, she looked every bit the part of a young woman that in four years will officially move from up-and-comer to headline status for the Rio de Janeiro Games. Franklin was one of a number of female faces, new and familiar, to dominate in the pool (Allison Schmitt, Rebecca Soni, Dana Vollmer), the only place outside of basketball where the men generally stood toe-to-toe with them.

Gabrielle Douglas and the Fab Five handled the brightest gymnastics lights with verve. Gabby won the individual all-around title and, as a unit, they all took home the team title. Aly Raisman capped it off with a gold in the floor exercise.

The smiles of Alyson Felix (gold, 200m) and Sanya Richards-Ross (gold, 400m) beamed through television screens, but neither could smile as fast as they ran circles around the competition on the track. Misty May-Treanor and Kerry Walsh Jennings solidified themselves as legends in beach volleyball, a tribute to focus, hard work, and, yes, a lot of talent that has now seen them through three Olympic Games.

And then they rode off into the sunset, expected to never pair up competitively ever again, exiting at the top of the sport and at the top of their game. Fitting.

Just as fitting as the U.S. women's soccer team breezing through the field on its way to a gold medal. Only the U.S. women's basketball team was more dominant, from start to finish, in any women's team sport. For each squad, the best in the world at their respective sport, it seemed a golden outcome was never in any doubt.

U.S. pride in what every athlete was able to accomplish is London knows no bounds. Michael Phelps' feats have many calling him the greatest Olympian ever.

But these Games? These moments? The most enduring images? They belong to a group of supremely talented, driven and dialed-in women. Yes, in athletics, this is the Year of the Woman. And I can think of no better way for it to be remembered.

Christopher Dempsey: 303-954-1279, cdempsey@denverpost.com or twitter.com/dempseypost

Visit denverpost.com each weekday near noontime for a serving of dish concerning Colorado's sporting landscape from a Denver Post sports writer. Care for another helping? Visit the Lunch Special archive.

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