Tokyo Olympics: How sportswomen made the Games one to remember

Simone Biles opened up the discussion around mental health in sport during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games

Two weeks of incredible sporting action has come to an end. In total, 340 gold medals were awarded during the Olympic Games, with many hanging around the necks of remarkable sportswomen.

Tokyo 2020 was not just ground-breaking in terms of the performance of female athletes on the field of play. Sportswomen were pushing the agenda on a range of issues, including mental health, the inclusion of transgender athletes, and motherhood in sport.

The Tokyo 2020 Olympics will go down as one of the most memorable Games in history, and female athletes will play a large part in that.

Discussions around mental health

Female athletes were at the forefront of an unprecedented conversation about mental health during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Japan’s Naomi Osaka – dubbed the “face of the Games” – had already propelled the issue of mental health in sport into the limelight when she withdrew from the French Open in June. The tennis star then spoke candidly about how the pressure of competing at the Olympics was a "bit much" following her third round exit to Markéta Vondroušová of the Czech Republic.

Simone Biles later credited Osaka as her inspiration as she pulled out of five artistic gymnastics events in Tokyo to focus on her mental health. The 24-year-old revealed she was struggling with the "twisties", a mental block sometimes suffered by gymnasts.

Despite this, Biles returned for the balance beam and clinched a bronze medal. Through her actions, the gymnastics legend is sure to have changed the way mental health in sport is talked about.

Simone Biles earned a bronze medal in the balance beam at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games

Inclusion of transgender athletes in sport

Canadian footballer Quinn and New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard made history at Tokyo 2020. Quinn became the first transgender person to earn a gold medal at the Olympics, representing Canada six times on their way to the top of the podium.

Hubbard became the first openly transgender athlete to compete in a different gender category to which they were born at an Olympics. She crashed out of the women’s over-87 kg division after failing to register a lift in the snatch, but had already etched her name into the history books.

Transgender BMX rider Chelsea Wolfe also travelled to the Games as an alternate but did not compete.

With the discussion around transgender athletes in sport often becoming toxic and discriminatory, the participation of Quinn and Hubbard at the Olympic Games showed just how inclusive women’s sport can be.

New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard became one of the first openly transgender athletes to compete at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics

Standing against racism and homophobia

Sportswomen were prominent in statements against racism and homophobia during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. A number of women’s teams across the football and rugby sevens tournaments took the knee before each match, while shot-put silver medallist Raven Saunders raised her arms in the shape of an X when receiving her medal.

The 25-year-old American, who is gay and black, said the X shape represented "the intersection of where all people who are oppressed meet."

Philippine boxer Nesthy Petecio took the time to dedicate her performance to the LGBTQ+ community after finishing with a silver medal in the women’s featherweight division. Indeed, it has been reported "Team LGBTQ" earned 32 Olympic medals at Tokyo 2020, giving such athletes an unprecedented platform to inspire and support others.

Raven Saunders made an X gesture on the podium at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games

Motherhood in sport

The discussion around athlete mothers had already begun before the Olympic Games got underway. US footballer Alex Morgan slammed the International Olympic Committee for their COVID-19 regulations preventing athletes from bringing their family to Tokyo, telling the organisation it was "necessary" for mothers to take young children.

In the end, many athlete mothers overcame innumerable barriers to shine at Tokyo 2020. US sprinter Allyson Felix became the most decorated track and field athlete of all time, Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce finished with silver in the 100m final, and British rower Helen Glover just missed out on a medal in the coxless pair having returned to sport after three children.

The list of mothers who competed at the Olympics goes on and on, and they will surely have inspired many other women around the world. Fraser-Pryce herself said: "I am hoping that wherever people are in the world – mothers, athletes – we understand that there is so much more we can achieve and I am hoping they can draw inspiration from this."

Shelly-Ann Fraser Pryce was a mother athlete at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games

World-class performances

Of course, female athletes also did the talking on the field of play. Numerous world records were broken, particularly in athletics. US star Sydney McLaughlin set a world record of 51.46 seconds in the women’s 400m hurdles, while Yulimar Rojas of Venezuela set a world record distance of 15.67 metres in the triple jump.

The German cycling quartet in the women’s team pursuit were dominant, setting a new world record in every round they competed in on their way to the final. They took the gold medal with a time of 4:04.242.

World records also fell at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre, with Tatjana Schoenmaker of South Africa setting an incredible time of 2:18.95 in the women’s 200m breaststroke.

These world records were just the tip of the iceberg. Tokyo 2020 will be remembered for a whole host of incredible performances from female athletes.

South African swimmer Tatjana Schoenmaker broke a world record at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games News Now - Sport News