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updated: 8/10/2012 7:21 PM

Quite an Olympics for American women

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  • United States' center Sylvia Fowles, left, goes for a basket during a women's quarterfinal basketball match against Canada at the 2012 Summer Olympics on Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Mark Ralston, Pool)

      United States' center Sylvia Fowles, left, goes for a basket during a women's quarterfinal basketball match against Canada at the 2012 Summer Olympics on Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Mark Ralston, Pool)

  • USA's Swin Cash, center, is surrounded by China defenders, Ma Zengyu (11), Wei Wei, center back, and Chen Nan (15) during a preliminary women's basketball game at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Sunday, Aug. 5, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

      USA's Swin Cash, center, is surrounded by China defenders, Ma Zengyu (11), Wei Wei, center back, and Chen Nan (15) during a preliminary women's basketball game at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Sunday, Aug. 5, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

  • In this Saturday, Aug. 4, 2012 photo, United States' Serena Williams celebrates after defeating Maria Sharapova of Russia to win the women's singles gold medal match at the All England Lawn Tennis Club at Wimbledon, in London, at the 2012 Summer Olympics. (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)

      In this Saturday, Aug. 4, 2012 photo, United States' Serena Williams celebrates after defeating Maria Sharapova of Russia to win the women's singles gold medal match at the All England Lawn Tennis Club at Wimbledon, in London, at the 2012 Summer Olympics. (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)

 
 

It's the 40th anniversary of Title IX here in the United States this year and the Olympics is serving as the perfect tribute.

Quite simply, the U.S. women, all of whom have grown up in an age when ample athletic opportunities for girls are the norm, are kicking butt.

Team USA is in firm command of first place in the overall medal count, leading China 94-81. Of those 94 medals, 53 -- or more than half -- were won by women. And of the 41 gold medals won by the U.S., 27 were won by women.

Today is another big medal day for the women in track and field. Plus, the U.S. women's basketball team and the indoor volleyball team will be playing in the gold medal games.

The volleyball team, looking for its first-ever gold medal, will play Brazil in a rematch of last year's gold medal game. Meanwhile, the basketball team, an overwhelming favorite, takes on France at 3 p.m.

Chicago Sky stars Sylvia Fowles and Swin Cash, as well as Chicago natives Candace Parker and Tamika Catchings are trying to help the basketball team win its fifth straight gold. That, and an elusive win in volleyball, would be just a couple of the many cool stories involving the U.S. women.

How about judo gold medalist Kayla Harrison, a native of Middletown, Ohio?

Not only did Harrison become the first American to win a gold medal in judo, she overcame tremendous odds on a personal level to become an Olympian in the first place.

She was a victim of sexual abuse for three years, starting at age 13. The perpetrator was none other than her judo coach.

The abuse stopped when Harrison's mother found out, alerted the police and then moved the family to Boston. It was not only a protective move, but a strategic one. Boston is home to Jimmy Pedro, a two-time Olympic bronze medalist in judo.

Pedro became Harrison's coach. In 2010, he helped her become the first American woman to win a world championship in 26 years.

Now, they're both a part of that elusive gold medal in judo for the United States.

"Things have happened, and now my life is a dream," Harrison said. "I'm living my dream right now. I hope that America loves me and loves my story.

"I want kids to overcome being victims. I want to help kids realize their Olympic dreams. I want to change the sport and change people's lives."

More moments:

Of course, there have been other great stories involving the American women.

The soccer team won gold by defeating Japan in an emotional redemption match. It was essentially the same Japan team that handed the U.S. a loss on penalty kicks in the World Cup final about a year ago.

Meanwhile, the water polo team defeated Spain in the gold medal game to end 12 years of frustration. Women's water polo has been around for four Olympics now and the Americans had won 2 silvers and a bronze in the previous three.

In boxing, 17-year-old Claressa Shields became the youngest Olympic boxing champion since 1924, and in shooting, Kim Rhode became the first American to win an individual medal in five straight Olympics. She won gold.

Even more moments:

I loved seeing the giddy and joyful look on the face of American Serena Williams when she won the gold medal in singles tennis. For a pro that has won every major title imaginable, not to mention millions of dollars, it was cool to see how much a tournament with no prize money meant to her.

Williams also won the gold in doubles with her sister Venus.

As usual, the American women were dominant in swimming and gymnastics as well.

With 5 medals each, Missy Franklin and Allison Schmitt are tied with fellow swimmer Alicia Coutts of Australia for most individual medals by a woman. Franklin set two world records, in the 4x100 meter medley relay and the 200-meter backstroke.

Meanwhile, 15-year-old swimmer Katie Ledecky, the youngest athlete in the U.S. delegation, won Olympic gold in the 800 meters, the longest women's event. She was ahead of the world record pace for 750 meters and slowed just a bit at the end to settle for the American record, previously held by Olympic great Janet Evans.

Of course, gymnast Gabby Douglas has become a household name by winning the all-around title. She also became the first black gymnast to earn that distinction. Teammate Aly Raisman won 3 medals, the most by any American gymnast.

Finally, beach volleyball superstars Kerri Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor won their third straight gold medal in an emotional journey. This is their last hurrah as May-Treanor has decided to end her career so that she can start a family. She is married to Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Matt Treanor.

Beyond the U.S.:

The spirit of Title IX seems to have reached even beyond the United States in these Olympics.

How cool is it that every single country competing in London had at least one woman in its delegation? That's a first in Olympic history.

For the first time ever, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Brunei broke with tradition of fielding male-only teams.

Those countries hadn't always been alone in their exclusion of women, though. It's hard to believe, but at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, 26 national teams had no women participating.

pbabcock@dailyherald.com

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