By Grace Austin

“Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic movement.”
(Olympic Charter, 2004. Fundamental Principle #5)

Women were first allowed at the 1900 Olympic Games. Women began by playing in five sports: tennis, sailing, croquet, equestrian, and golf. Nearly 40 percent of athletes at the Olympics are now women.

For the first time, women’s boxing will be included in the 2012 program. The 2012 Games are the first to include all sports with both male and female participants, except for female-only synchronized swimming. Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Brunei are the only countries that have yet to include women on their Olympic teams.

Fatuma Roba, Ethiopia – Marathon:
Fatuma Roba, a policewoman from Ethiopia, became the first African woman to win an Olympic marathon. At the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Roba finished the race with a time of two hours, twenty-six minutes and five seconds (2:26:05).

Nawal El Moutawakel, Morocco – Hurdles:
Nawal El Moutawakel was the first woman from Africa to win a gold medal. In the Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Games she stunned the world by winning the 400-meter hurdles. Her talent as a hurdler was recognized by the track coaches of Iowa State University, where she went to study in 1983. She became a national hero in Morocco and since then has been active in support of the development of sport among women in Morocco and around the world. She is the founding member and president of the Moroccan Association of Sport and Development and sits as a member of the National Olympic Committee of Morocco. In 2006 she was one of eight women who carried the Olympic flag during the opening ceremonies of the 2006 Turin Olympic Winter Games.

Deng Yaping, China – Table Tennis:
In China, table tennis is a very popular sport, and Deng Yaping is one of the world’s greatest players. She started when she was five, and by the time she was nine had won her provincial junior championship. At the age of 13, she had won her first national championship. Yaping is short, and was thus rejected as a candidate for the national team. But her talent, confidence and perseverance finally won her a spot on the national team in 1988. She won her first international doubles title in 1989 when she was only 16, and her first singles title two years later. In 1989, she won the Asian Cup and the following year clinched three titles at the 11th Asian Games. Her breakthrough at the highest level came in 1991 when she captured the world singles title in Japan. By the time her career was over in 1997 she had won 4 gold medals and 9 world championships. Twice elected to the Athletes’ Commission of the International Olympic Committee, Deng has gone on to support women’s participation in the sport of table tennis.