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Second Opinion

Downtown Victoria, a decade ago. A shop assistant looks to fend off a frustrated female customer.


Her irritation rises. She wants answers. Namely as to why the store, shelves jammed to the ceiling with all manner of brightly coloured footwear, has only three types of running shoe designed specifically for women.


“It is to do with numbers,” the clerk claims haughtily. “You must understand that men have been running since the time of the ancient Greeks. But women only started in the 1970s.”


His comments smack of arrogance and ignorance. Are laughable if not so sad and pathetic. Still, the comments sting a bit, as I recall the hypocrisy of my own formative years. Of hours spent on an elementary school field or outdoor court, playing with the boys. In my blinkered world, girls are not truly athletes, do not play real sport. Reduced instead to spectating on the sidelines, oohing and aahing at the action in front of them.


Fortunately, I get an immediate dose of reality a few years later, upon graduating from high school and entering college.


The facts are irrefutable. Not to mention humbling. I may be a member of the men’s basketball team, on its way to becoming one of the absolute best in Canada, but several players in the women’s squad are flat out better than me. More skilled, as smart, or smarter. As fit, or fitter, and ultra-competitive.


I take notice and so begin to follow women’s athletics much more closely.


Leap forward to the spring of 2023. March Madness, the month long, single elimination USA university basketball tournaments, gets underway. Inevitably, the men’s event captures the imagination thanks to a string of upsets and exciting games. Still, it is the women’s competition which generates considerable interest and gains even greater momentum.


The excitement is palpable, the athleticism and level of play sensational.



One participant in particular absolutely excels. Quickly becoming one of the most electrifying, accomplished, and recognized athletes in all of sport, Caitlin Clark wills her Iowa team to the tournament final on the back of multiple, do-it-all, record setting performances.


40-point games, triple doubles, slick passing, slashes to the hoop, outlandishly deep three-point range. Key rebounds and steals. Court vision, tenacity, innate feel for tempo. Coming up big, time after time after time, in the clutch.


Nothing seems to phase her. Nothing seems beyond her. A friend of mine labels her the Larry Bird of the women’s game. High praise indeed.


Alas, for Clark and her teammates, there is to be no fairy tale ending. The Hawkeyes fall to an inspired and talented LSU squad in the championship game. Nonetheless, the buildup to the encounter, the crush for tickets, the record TV viewing, the sheer drama, the quality of play on offer, is an unforgettable ride. It leaves an indelible mark.


Of course, by this time, I am hardly surprised. Indeed, in a quiet moment I contemplate the rapid development and success of multiple other women’s sports. All choc a bloc with superb athletes, far too many to mention individually, and powerhouse teams.


Take Rugby as an example. The 2022 World Cup, with a tournament final touted the most significant ever. It exceeds even that lofty billing. The thrilling and riveting contest, a clash of styles between host New Zealand and England, features pace, power, ambition, and breathtaking skill. Add a grandstand finish to boot, as the Kiwis squeeze home 34-31. Glorious entertainment for the 43,000 in attendance and a rapt, global television audience. The tournament a coming of age for women’s sport in so many respects.


Add Cricket to the list. The Australians develop into arguably the most dominant international team ever. Always evolving, a sporting tour de force. Six victories in the last seven T20 World Cups, alongside three of the past five in the 50 over format, accurately reflect the team’s sustained excellence. Hardened by a domestic pathway that continually puts players in high pressure situations, the side is fueled by utterly fearless “generational talents.”


If few other teams can match this ruthless streak, do not forget USA Soccer, and a national team looking to complete a World Cup threepeat of its own in 2023. And, if America may too rarely be seriously challenged in international basketball competitions, and Canada her only true ice hockey rival, this takes nothing away from the superbly talented and dedicated athletes, coaches and support personnel involved.


Finally, in terms of pure performance, remember equally Cuba’s eight consecutive Olympic and World Cup volleyball triumphs from 1991 to 2000. Likewise, the golden era of Dutch field hockey, a fifteen-year window showcasing three of the last four Olympic gold medals and four of five world championship titles. Not to mention the skiers, rowers, swimmers, tennis players, gymnasts, cyclists, track and field athletes, et al, who represent their respective sports so magnificently.


As with Clark, the vast majority are inspirational. Taking advantage of every well-earned and deserved spot in the limelight. Getting people everywhere involved in, talking about, loving, and supporting women’s sport.


Of course, a certain minority will always quibble. The shop assistant and his ilk. They will find fault. Point out certain differences, gaps and anomalies that may and do still remain when comparing women to the men. In terms of depth of competition, opportunity, pay, investment, infrastructure and the like.


Ignore their narrow viewpoints. Politely suggest the naysayers urgently seek a second opinion. Because the amazing, undeniable and ongoing growth taking place will only continue. Applaud world class female athletes not only living their dreams but, by extension, planting them also. Young girls, tomorrow’s Caitlin Clarks, now with plenty of legitimate role models and heroes to emulate.


All things considered the progress is more than impressive. Women’s sport, up and running, steadily gaining speed, even if apparently only in operation “since the 1970s”.




1 comentário


barry.anders
03 de abr. de 2023

Nice piece Ian. To put a wrapper on it, try to find women-specific soccer boots. The retailers are an ice age behind what is happening.


Barry

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