Connie Carpenter Phinney won the first Gold Medal in cycling at the 1984 Summer Olympics held in Los Angeles. She raced for the USA.
Last week in Los Angeles, Pat McQuaid, the President of the International Cycling Union (UCI), made a speech at the 5th World Conference on Women and Sport. I included some excerpts from his speech below that discuss the positive influence sports have on women and the history of cycling as a sport in the Oympics.
“Women are challenged by many barriers based on prejudice – not only within a political, economic and social framework but equally within the local, national and international sports environment. This is particularly true for endurance sports which have at times in history, including in modern history, been considered too difficult or even harmful for women. The heritage of these stereotypes has been damaging to the advancement of women and it has deeply affected decades of coverage by sport media, decisions of sport organizations, access to education and the participation of girls and women in recreational and competitive sport.
The benefits of sport for women, as a physical activity, as a source of empowerment and integration, are undeniable. Sport provides access to leadership roles, to employment, to social networks and it encourages tolerance.
In short sport stands for our core values and is closely tied to democratic and human rights.”
“Women’s cycling was introduced into the Olympic program in Road Cycling at the Los Angeles Olympic Games in 1984. This is 94 years after Road Cycling for Men – which were part of the very first modern Olympic Games in 1896 in Athens.
Since 1984 women’s cycling has taken off significantly and clearly the introduction to the Games marked a turning point. It gave women exposure on an international scale and conveyed a clear signal to the wider cycling community. Road racing was followed by the introduction of Track Cycling for women in the 1988 Olympics, Mountain Bike for men and women in 1996, BMX for men and women in 2008 and in 2009 UCI took a decision to have gender equity throughout our Olympic programme so this means that in 2012 at last there will be an equal number of medals in cycling for men and for women.”
“Sport is an essential part of our social fabric – of course as important to men as to women. This is not an altruistic consideration. Women make almost 80% of consumer purchases and represent a resounding economic force, women are more than half the population of the world and in cycling women are pioneers of change.
We have therefore an important task ahead of us. I am pleased to see so many men and women here today because the issues we are discussing today concern us all. I would venture to say that the men in this room have a huge challenge.
Many of our sports institutions are male dominated and the involvement of men in defying unequal power relations is absolutely essential. What we decide and do today will affect young people’s lives and aspirations for decades to come. Sport is about bringing value and improving the lives of everyday people all over the world and if that means making some changes, I would like to think we will meet the moment.
To quote a thinker who has had no small affect on changing the world: Albert Einstein who put it quite simply when he said, “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.”
Ladies and Gentlemen, even if riding a bicycle is somewhat easier than moving forward with change, let us keep up the momentum so that we get our balance right.”
You can download Pat McQuaid’s entire speech at the International Cycling Union (UCI) website and this Wikipedia entry has a list of all the female cylists that have won medals in the Olympics since they began competing.
I think we can all say it is pretty shocking it took 94 years for women to participate in a sport that was introduced to the Olympics in 1896. Annie Londonderry was traveling around the world on a bicycle that year and I think she would pretty ashamed of the International Olympic Committee dragging their heels . She would be proud an American won the first Olympic Gold Metal I will dare say.