"If you like it then you shoulda put a ring on it,"Beyonce preaches in her song, "Single Ladies," but the ladies of the London 2012 Olympics were looking for more than a small ring of gold. It's the gold medal that matters. For the first time in history, more female athletes from the United States competed at this year's Games, but does sheer quantity really matter on the world's largest athletic stage?
For the most part, women representing Arab countries, where gender roles continue to play a dominant part in their culture, is a small but steady nod to the rise of girl power throughout the world. While women marked victories in once male-dominated sports, the major focus for this year's Olympics remains predominantly on men.
But ever so slowly, that picture is changing. Kim Rhode won America's first gold medal of the London Games with a rifle in her hand, while Kayla Harrison in loose blue pants and a kimono wrestled Great Britain’s Gemma Gibbons to the ground, bringing home America's first-ever judo title. Claressa Shields, a teenage boxer from Michigan, punched her way to a gold medal in a sport that made its Olympic debut, and Ariel Hsing won over billionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffett with her table tennis performances. Malaysia’s Nur Suryani Mohamed Taibi competed in the 10m women’s air rifle despite being eight months pregnant.
At this year's Games, women were in the same gender-based roles as before. Female faces still dominate gymnastics –– a sport heavily focused on effeminate qualities like silence, grace and composure –– while the thought of women wearing long-sleeved shirts and not tight bikinis for beach volleyball received more media attention than necessary. Overall, the image of the female Olympian remains one of a slender lady in tight clothing on a track, in water, or at a gym.
The London Games sets a standard of inclusiveness that can only be expanded in the future. In July, Dara Torres, a five-time Olympian, fell to competitors almost half her age in a race that came down to a few seconds. "I know it sounds silly; it's just one race,” she said after a preliminary race at the 2012 Olympic Trials. "But, as you guys who are older know, you just don't recover as quick. So, it's hard."
Men, though, very still very much dominant the Games. With 22 medals, Michael Phelps goes down in history as the "greatest Olympian ever." Meanwhile, Usain Bolt set new world records in track, cementing his label as the fastest man in the world. And on the final day of the Games, all eyes were on NBA stars Lebron James and Kobe Bryant to see if they could pull a gold medal repeat in basketball.
As seen in London, competitors are indeed younger, faster, stronger, and are no longer limited to looking like Hercules-built men or skinny girls in leotards. The 2012 Olympics not only shows the growing dominance of female athletes; it leaves the expectations that in the 2016 Rio Games, ladies will shine with more power than ever before.