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September 26, 2000
Sydney is the Games of the DamesPaul Majendie
From bikini-clad beach volleyball players to an Iranian pistol shooter wrapped in traditional garb, women are celebrating a sporting milestone in style.
Aboriginal star Cathy Freeman burns up the track, American Marion Jones sprints to victory -- these are indelible images from the first Olympics of the 21st century.
"Games of the Dames," proclaimed the Sydney Morning Herald as women are marking 100 years of competition in the modern Olympics.
Olympic chief Juan Antonio Samaranch is fiercely proud that women are competing in 44 per cent of all Olympic sports. Of 11,084 athletes in Sydney, 38.3 per cent are women. That is the highest figure ever.
From women weightlifters to water polo players, they offer superb spectator sport. It is all a far cry from the genteel days of the 1900 Olympics when two French ladies participated in the sport of croquet.
Whatever would the founding father of the modern Olympics have thought? For Baron Pierre de Coubertin once said: "It is indecent that the spectators should be exposed to the risk of seeing the body of a woman being smashed before their very eyes."
The International Olympic Committee now wants to bring female participation at the Olympics up to 50 per cent at the Athens Games in 2004.
"We have come a long way in four years and in the last 10 years and the most important thing we did was enlarge the programme because that gives women an opportunity," said Katia Mascagni, head of the IOC's Women in Sport programme.
But there is still a long way to go. Millions of women around the globe are still effectively banned from the greatest sporting show on earth.
Algeria's Hassiba Boulmerka, spat upon and reviled on return home after her 1,500 metres win in Barcelona in 1992, crusades for the freedom of women to compete. She names Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Gulf states as the worst offenders.
But the IOC's Mascagni says progress is being made.
"If you speak to women from these nations, they will tell you that it is difficult to get competition because many women are reluctant to compete in shorts and shirts," she told the Sydney Morning Herald.
"I have been in Iran and I have seen a women's sports programme developing there but religion and culture don't move overnight. We are pleased with the gains we have made."
Australian women athletes have been a huge success in Sydney. And their Olympic Committee's Amy Denmeade knows why: "It's because chicks rock."
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