Majority rule: Women lead the way for Team USA
RIO DE JANEIRO - Serena. Simone. Solo.
It shouldn't come as a surprise that some of the best-recognized names on the U.S. Olympic team belong to women. The Americans brought 292 women to Rio de Janeiro, an Olympic record for a single country. Their first gold medal of the games - won Saturday by a woman, of course: Ginny Thrasher in shooting. Reporters from The Associated Press predicted the United States would capture 128 medals - 69 by women and 59 by men.
Among those winners could be:
-Serena Williams, who already has four gold medals and could win two more - one in singles and another in doubles, along with her sister, Venus.
-Simone Biles, who has a legitimate chance to pull in a record five gold medals from gymnastics.
-Hope Solo, the goalkeeper for the soccer team, which is trying for its fourth straight Olympic gold medal.
-Katie Ledecky, a medal contender in five swimming events.
This is the second straight Summer Games in which women have outnumbered men on Team USA. But when the number reached 292 for this Olympics, the Americans had a record. It was three more than China entered into the Beijing Games eight years ago.
It's a surge that has peaked this decade, now 44 years since the passage of Title IX, the law that opened doors for women in college sports around the country. Many competing in the Olympics are either in, or about to become part of, the third generation of women to compete at the college level since the law was passed.
"We got a great head start in the U.S. because of the support they had in their schools and their colleges growing up," said Scott Blackmun, CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee. "You look at 10, 15 years after the passage of Title IX, how great an impact that started having. You combine it with the collegiate structure we have and that helps define the success."
No women's sport has become more high profile than basketball since Title IX. The U.S. has won six of seven gold medals since 1984 - about the time the true impact of the law started being felt. Another win this year would strike a poignant note in the wake of the recent passing of Pat Summitt, the longtime Tennessee coach who pioneered the surge in women's hoops over decades.
"I look at the younger generation of women's basketball players and there is such a tremendous boat load of talent from, say, 10 years ago," said Geno Auriemma of UConn, who is coaching the U.S. team.
He said Title IX led to the full funding of college sports across the board, which has led to the U.S. catching up in a few sports, like volleyball, and dominating in others.
"We've talked about water polo, and how much we've had players before us pioneer our sport," said Maggie Steffens of the defending-champion U.S. team. "Women's water polo wasn't even in the Olympics until 2000. And we had women who, in '76 and the '80s and '90s, dreamed of being in the Olympics and never got that opportunity, but made sure it happened for us. We want to make sure we do the best we can to represent those women."
Women's soccer has enjoyed far more success than the men's game in the United States. The men didn't qualify for the Olympics. The women are favored to win gold for the fifth time since they were brought onto the Olympic program in 1996. On Saturday, Solo became the first goalkeeper to appear in 200 games in international play.
Medal-contending women fill the U.S. roster - young and old and in sports ranging from archery to weightlifting.
At 16, hurdler Sydney McLaughlin will be the youngest to compete for the U.S. Olympic track team since 1972.
At 30, Natasha Hastings is making her second Olympic appearance and could factor into the 400-meter mix, as well as the relay team. Though plenty of amazing women have run for the U.S. over the years, when Hastings looks for inspiration, she has plenty of choices. Hers happens to be a tennis player.
"Serena Williams is my sports female hero," Hastings said. "I've watched her and her sister play tennis since they were 12 or 13 and just change the game. What they've done for women's sports, to me, is just amazing."