“We have survived a war. There are still kids who don’t know if their parents are alive, don’t have anything to eat or books to go to school. So the fact of becoming [an] Olympic champion is just huge for all of us.” – Majlinda Kelmendi (judo gold medal winner, Kosovo)
From Chicago to Sydney, in living rooms, bars, community centers, and refugee camps, millions of people watched the world’s best athletes compete in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games this month. This year’s event boasted more female Olympians than ever before, and even though there are fewer medals available for them to win, in 29 countries women took home more total medals than their male counterparts. Between the individual and team sports, women broke an impressive 9 world records.
Here in the US, a 30-year-old from New Jersey named Ibtihaj Muhammad became the first American to compete at the Olympics in a hijab, winning a bronze medal in the team sabre. The most ethnically and racially diverse team in the history of women’s gymnastics finished with a team-record nine medals behind Simone Biles, an African-American gymnast who overcame a difficult past to dominate the sport and change public opinions about black gymnasts.
Many of the most significant historical moments of the games came from women in developing and conflict-affected countries. Judoka Majlinda Kelmendi won Kosovo’s first ever Olympic gold medal, Sakshi Malik from India brought back her country’s first wrestling medal, and Iranian taekwondo athlete Kimia Alizadeh Zenoorin was the first woman from her country to medal at all.
13-year-old Gaurika Singh was the youngest competitor in the 2016 Rio Olympics, and one of five delegates from Nepal. While in Nepal for the National Championships, Singh survived a massive earthquake that killed thousands.
Women also made history on this year’s inaugural team of Refugee Olympic Athletes. Fleeing war-torn countries like South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Syria, the Olympians overcame unbelievable situations to get to Rio. 18-year-old Yusra Mardini and her little sister jumped out of a sinking boat and swam for three hours to pull it to shore in Lesbos, Greece, saving the lives of the 20 passengers.
It was certainly an inspiring couple of weeks, and we are proud of all the women Olympians.