Alison Curtis: Olympic role models give girls everywhere a sporting chance

"Watching all of these female athletes, in so many sports, impressed upon my daughter Joan how amazing it is to be playing a sport or be part of a team."
Alison Curtis: Olympic role models give girls everywhere a sporting chance

Alison Curtis Pic: Marc O'Sullivan

I love the Olympics. I look forward to watching it when it rolls around. I love to cheer on the Irish and Canadian athletes, but also to watch so many different disciplines, many of which I wouldn’t have a clue about, but quickly become fascinated by.

In Tokyo, the Irish athletes are nearly double the number that competed in Rio, so that’s more people to get behind and shout for.

Of course, a lot of the events are in the middle of the night for us, but I jump online to check on the results each morning.

Another wonderful thing about this Olympics is that my daughter, Joan, is that bit older, and at 10, more interested in the different sports. What is also really, really wonderful is that she has a huge pick of female competitors for inspiration.

On the weekend just past, we saw highlights of the Irish women’s hockey team, who defeated South Africa 2-0. Joan had never seen the sport and I think she was rather impressed by the Irish team, as we all were.

Being a water baby herself, Joan was keen to hear about Mona McSharry swimming in the 100m breaststroke final. I took the opportunity to show her interview videos of McSharry talking after her headline swim and the next day, on our own swim, all Joan wanted to practise was the breaststroke.

We also watched the street skateboarders, who won gold and silver, both only aged 13, so not that much older than Joan. I am expecting a request for a skateboard any day now!

Watching all of these female athletes, in so many sports, impressed upon Joan how amazing it is to be playing a sport or be part of a team.

She might not be jumping to pick up a new sport, but she certainly seems more determined to work at the ones she already plays.

I know this because early in the week, she was resisting tennis camp, but after watching some of the Olympics and reading more about the female competitors, she skipped out the door to play.

She was also full of chat each day when I collected her, telling me about her matches, the ones she lost and the ones she won. She also told me about the things she feels she is getting better at and it’s brilliant to hear.

We all know that there is a lot of concern over girls dropping sport once they reach a certain age.

It is a much-examined topic, with lots of suggestions as to how to reverse this trend. Part of the problem, traditionally, is girls not having as many sporting role models, because women’s sport doesn’t get the coverage that men’s does. Having someone they admire and aspire to be like is critical for girls if they are to continue being part of a team or to continue training. This is starting to improve, but we still have a ways to go.

But, again, this is why I love the Olympics: You can watch all competitions and the women’s trials and events are covered just as much as the men’s.

This week alone, Joan has watched a woman win the first gold medal for the Philippines, watched a clip of her first volleyball game, between China and Turkey, as well as endless clips of Simone Biles being the best at her discipline.

So, thank you to the women striving for medals in Tokyo for inspiring a 10-year-old in Dublin to get out there, work hard, and to do her best.

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