This summer’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro could be a watershed moment for women in sports. Some of the most celebrated athletes slated to attend the games are women, many of whom have literally made history just by qualifying.
Below are three stand-out female athletes who are ready to defend their countries and their titles against all comers. Thanks to talent like this, the Rio games are sure to be an event to remember!
Dipa Karmakar made a name for herself right out of the gate in April by becoming the first Indian female gymnast ever to qualify for the Olympic Games.
She also has the amazing distinction of being the first Indian female gymnast to compete for her country at the Olympics in more than half a century — 52 years, to be exact.
At just 22 years of age, Karmakar has already accomplished more than most of us get around to in our lifetimes. She won a bronze medal in 2014 as a competitor in the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland, and has received accolades from India’s sports minister, Sarbananda Sonowal, for taking Indian gymnastics to a “new high.”
The praise is well-earned. Karmakar is among the few female gymnasts who have mastered the Produnova, an intensely difficult and singularly dangerous vault maneuver that few other athletes are comfortable with. Not only can she stick the landing, but she also does it with characteristic grace and poise: She still holds the world’s highest-ever logged score for the Produnova — a remarkable achievement by any measure.
Karmakar is proud to be raising awareness of gymnastics in her home state of Tripura, India, where cricket still holds the distinction of being the most popular organized sport. She’s the first Indian gymnast, female or male, to attend the Olympic Games since 1964, truly making her one to watch in Rio this summer.
There may be no stranger pairing in the world — nor one that’s so severely overdue — than a prodigious, hijab-clad woman breathing new life into the world of competitive fencing.
Ibtihaj Muhammad is a name well worth watching as the Rio Olympics draw closer. She is the first Muslim woman, and the first hijab observer, to qualify for the U.S. fencing team.
She took a roundabout course to arrive where she is today. Even as a child, she handily outperformed her peers by being both stronger and faster. At the same time, she was devoted to her native religion — Islam — and was eager to find a calling that allowed her to express her love of both her faith and competitive sports.
After trying a variety of other sports, Ibtihaj determined that too many of them would require her to compromise on the tenets of her faith, since they all required the use of tight or revealing clothing. Then she found the world of fencing — with its signature full-body garb — and never looked back.
When she arrives in Rio de Janeiro this summer, she will be the first woman to represent her country clad in the traditional hijab — a powerful statement, both of her own fearlessness and her solidarity with the Muslim world.
For these reasons and more, Ibtihaj Muhammad is a name to look out for during this summer’s games.
The city of Flint, Michigan, has made headlines for all the wrong reasons over the last many months. Now Claressa Shields is hoping to shine a positive spotlight on her native Midwestern state, which was home to perhaps the worst homegrown, man-made disaster in recent memory.
In 2012, Shields became the first-ever American woman to win a gold medal in the sport of boxing. This was at the London Olympic Games, and she shows absolutely no sign of slowing down. As the saying goes: She’s here to kick ass and take names. When she arrives in Rio this summer, she’ll be ready to do both.
Over her career, Shields has racked up 69 fights and notched an incredible 68 wins, making her easily one of the finest boxers alive today, and a true trailblazer for women everywhere. She’s been undefeated ever since her gold medal win in London.
Just as impressively, she possesses a heart as big as her talent. After her unprecedented victory in 2012, Shields hoped she’d be able to move her family away from their poverty-stricken home of Flint. Exuding both humility and grace, Shields had this to say about the episode: “I want to take them some place they’ve never been … where money will not be an issue.”
While she’s devoted to her family, Shields’ charitable spirit shows no signs of favoritism. After the Flint story broke, Shields began a campaign of her own to collect bottled water for residents who were left without potable water to drink or bathe in. She is a true citizen of the world, and a worthy athlete to represent the U.S. in Rio.
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