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Elite cyclist Kathryn Bertine is writing about her quest to qualify for the 2012 London Games. In Part 19 of her series, Bertine, who has had a lot of time for reflection during recent long training rides, discusses why this is a wonderful time for female athletes.
This week, I've had a series of long, 3-to-4-hour solo training rides at an endurance pace. Which means I've spent a lot of time thinking (while simultaneously looking out for squirrels and bad drivers). One of the thoughts that zinged through my pea brain was quite simple. I was riding over a quiet road in upstate New York on a terrific summer day and thought, "This is a good time to be a female athlete." I then thought about peanut butter, and then about an upcoming tree branch. But my mind eventually circled back to the female athlete idea. Which is fortunate, as peanut butter usually occupies the majority of my thoughts toward the end of a workout. Anyway, here's why I think it's great to be a female athlete in this day and age.
1. We don't do lockouts
The majority of professional female athletes have salaries with five digits. In some sports, four digits. Lockouts in men's sports makes us giggle. And cry. This is how a salary negotiation would go in any professional women's sports league:
Female athlete: I would like a raise, please. Commissioner of any given women's sports league: OK, how about we increase your salary by -- Female athlete: Deal. Gotta get back to practice.
And women are said to be the more melodramatic sex? Please. The only time you'll hear "female athlete" in the same sentence as "lockout" is if she's left her keys someplace.
2. We improve with age
Dara Torres got back into the pool at 41 to capture three silver medals in Beijing. Jeannie Longo of France won her national cycling championship this year -- at the age of 52. More and more female athletes, such as Olympic time trial gold medalist Kristin Armstrong, are retiring, having a baby, then un-retiring. When it comes to calling it quits in sports, today's female athletes just don't have to. There's even speculation that the 2012 Chinese gymnastic team might be older than 11. Here's to progress, as age is now considered a benefit in the majority of competitive sports.
3. Low ROE (Rate of Embarrassment)
How often do you hear of a female athlete bringing a gun into a nightclub and/or shooting herself in the leg? Going bankrupt after earning $30 million? Entering Fido in a dog fight? Claiming her failed drug test was from tainted beef? Pretty rarely. When it comes to female athletes as role models, it's hard to argue there's a downside. Now and then there's a liar, cheater or ill-mannered woman of sports who makes headlines, but on the whole, our love of sport is what drives us to be better (and less embarrassing) people.
4. You gonna finish that?
Ever see an elite female athlete eat? My god, it's beautiful. Sure, there are still sad cases of eating disorders out there among the playing fields, but I'm talking about the healthy women of sport. The ones who say, "More, please" instead of "No, thanks." The ones who say, "Hey, you gonna finish that?" then eat it off a teammate's plate. The ones who equate calories with energy and energy with excellence, and polish off 1,500 units of excellence three times a day and then drop-kick their opponents shortly after digestion. These female athletes should be celebrated and sculpted into marble statues. Long live carbohydrates, and the warriors who consume them.
5. The Christina-Taylor Green Era
The most horrible thing that could ever happen to a young female athlete happened on Jan 8, 2011. Christina-Taylor Green was killed in the senseless Tucson shootings. Green was a Little League player -- a girl who played with the boys, who loved her baseball team and found happiness in sports. Her tragic death brought her into the public eye, and despite the sadness of the circumstances, she revealed a beautiful fact about American girls in sport: We've made huge strides. When little girls are seen as equals on the playing fields, we know the future is brighter for female athletes than it was even just a decade ago. We're getting somewhere. Green proved that. And we're proud to be part of the movement of women's sports, and to keep carrying it forward.