The London Olympics were historic for American women before they even started: For the first time, women outnumbered men on the Team USA roster.
Now the ladies can boast that they outperformed the guys, too.
Of America’s world-leading haul of 102 medals as of Saturday night, 58 were won by its women, including 29 of Team USA's 41 golds.
Most of the American women say their success has a lot to do with the fact that they grew up during a time when there were many more women athletes to emulate, thanks to Title IX, the 1972 federal law that expanded educational and athletic opportunities for women and girls.
“The exposure for women in sports has never been greater,” U.S. track coach Amy Deem told the Associated Press.
But it’s not only an American development. The 2012 games are the first in which all participating countries sent at least one woman competitor. And with the addition of women’s boxing, females for the first time competed in all the sports that men did.
Many of the greatest triumphs of this year’s competition starred women: Jessica Ennis in the heptathlon, Gabby Douglas in gymnastics, swimmer Missy Franklin, 17-year-old boxer Claressa Shields, the American relay team beating a 27-year-old record in the 4x100m, judoka Kyla Harrison winning gold.
The literal and symbolic culmination of women’s impact on the London games may have been Thursday’s gold medal match in women’s soccer, when a record 80,000 people showed up at London’s Wembley stadium to watch the Americans beat Japan.
Even so, many members of that U.S. squad pointed out afterward that there is still a long way to go. The Women’s Professional Soccer league folded this year, and plans to create a new league are in doubt. That means the Olympic champions will return home without much idea of where they will continue their careers.
“If I sit and think about it, there’s a little bitterness. More than a little bitterness,” American goalkeeper Hope Solo told the AP. “It’s the times we live in, there should be opportunities for women.”
In other words, the women still expect better. And they know they deserve it.