Paris 2024 Olympics: A Full-Circle Moment for Women Olympians
  • For the last century, women athletes have resisted out-date rules enforced by male-dominated Olympic committees.
  • Today, there are more female athletes and events for women at the Olympics (152) than ever.
  • Women from more countries are participating, and there is better representation on Olympic Committees.

In a historic achievement, women will make up 50% of 10,500 participating athletes at the 2024 Paris Olympics. This milestone moment comes full circle from the 1900 Paris Games, where women comprised just 2.2% of participants and were limited to “suitable” sports like golf and tennis.

Our timeline below tracks more Olympic Games-changing milestones for women:

Women's Olympic Timeline

Summer 1896, Athens:

Modern Olympics Debut

Setting the stage for the long battle for women’s equality in sports, the 1896 Olympic Games in Athens only allowed men to participate. The founder of the modern Olympics, Pierre de Coubertin, championed “sports for all” yet opposed women’s inclusion.

Baron Pierre de Coubertin

Summer 1900, Paris:

Women Athletes Compete for the First Time

For the first time, women participated in the Olympic Games and comprised 22 of 997 participating athletes. These trailblazing women participated in five sports: tennis, sailing, croquet, equestrian, and golf —though only golf and tennis had women-only events.

Women's Olympic Golf 1900

Summer 1900, Paris:

USA’s First Olympic Champion Goes Unrecognized

Margaret Abbott became Team USA’s first female Olympic champion, but she wasn’t recognized as such. It wasn’t until after her death in 1955 that a historian uncovered the achievement.

Maragat Abbott playing golf at the Summer 1900 Paris Olympics.

Summer 1928, Amsterdam:

Women’s Track Events Debut…and are Banned

The 1928 Amsterdam Olympics marked the debut of women in track and field, with Lina Radke winning gold in the 800m race. The understandable exhaustion among runners was used as an excuse to argue that distance running was too challenging for women. This resulted in women’s long-distance events being banned for 32 years.

Hitomi Kinue

Summer 1936, Berlin:

Women’s Track and Field Triumphs

More women than ever participated at the 1936 Games, with 333 athletes present. Women also competed in more events, though these were limited when compared to men’s events. American Helen Stephens won two gold medals in track and field, including the individual 100m and the 4×100m relay. Ibolya Csák of Hungary became the first woman to clear 1.6m in the Olympic high jump.

Women's 4x100 meters relay medal ceremony at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

Summer 1948, London:

“Flying Housewife’s” Olympic Triumph Shatters Gender Norms

Dutch track athlete and mother-of-two Fanny Blankers-Koen made history in 1948, winning four gold medals. Her outstanding performance challenged gender stereotypes, despite heavy social pressure on women to prioritize motherhood and homemaking over personal achievements.

Fanny Blankers-Koen at the 1948 London Olympics.

Summer 1952, Helsinki:

Pioneers Of Indian Olympic Sports

Sprinters Nilima Ghose and Mary D’Souza broke barriers as the first women to represent India at the Olympics. This was despite restrictive norms and limited access to sports facilities for women in India.

Nilima Ghose

Summer 1964, Tokyo / Summer 1968, Mexico City:

Wyomia Tyus’s Sprinting Triumph

American sprinter Wyomia Tyus was the first person to win consecutive Olympic gold medals in the 100m track event. This record remained unbroken for two decades.

Wyomia Tyus

Summer 1976, Montreal: Nadia Comăneci’s Perfect 10

Fourteen-year-old Romanian gymnast Nadia Comăneci captivated the world by receiving the first perfect 10 in Olympic gymnastics history. She went on to win three gold medals at the Games, becoming a global icon for excellence in gymnastics.

Nadia Comăneci

Summer 1981, Germany:

Women Join the International Olympic Committee

During its session in Baden-Baden, Germany, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) appointed its first female members. Pirjo Häggman of Finland and Flor Isava Fonseca of Venezuela joined the IOC, marking a significant step towards gender diversity in Olympic leadership and paving the way for more inclusive representation in global sports governance.

Summer 1984, Los Angeles:

First Women’s Olympic Marathon

The LA Games added the women’s marathon, with American runner Joan Benoit winning the inaugural gold. After the 1928 ban on women’s long-distance running events, this marked a dramatic and emotional breakthrough for women in Olympic sports.

Joan Benoit

1991: New Olympic Events Must Include Men and Women

In 1991, the IOC introduced criteria requiring that all new sports events added to the official Olympic program must be open to both men and women, but that rule didn’t apply to sports that already existed. The first new event introduced within this gender equality requirement was men’s and women’s Beach Volleyball at the 1996 Olympics.

Women's beach volleyball at the 1996 Olympics.

Summer 1996, Atlanta:

Team USA’s Women Reign Supreme

The 1996 Olympics marked a transformative moment in women’s sports, especially Team USA. American women achieved a “triple crown” in team sports — gold in softball, soccer, and basketball — and secured their first team gold in gymnastics as well with the “Magnificent Seven.” Swimmer Amy Van Dyken became the first American woman to win four gold medals in a single Olympics.


These result of women’s dominance at the Games generated excitement that led to unprecedented sponsorship deals, and new women’s sports magazines were launched. Four Women’s professional sports leagues were created in the aftermath, including the WNBA.

1996: The IOC Entrenches Gender Equality

The IOC took a significant step toward gender equality in sports by amending the Olympic Charter to include a commitment to gender equality as an Olympic Principal, both on and off the field of play.

Winter 1998, Nagano:

Women’s Hockey Debuts

The sport made its debut at the 1998 Nagano Games after a 1992 IOC vote to introduce it and encourage greater participation of women in the Olympics. Team USA won the first gold medal game against Team Canada.

US women's hockey team at the 1998 Winter Olympics.

Summer 2004, Athens:

Afghan Woman’s Defiance on the Track

Judo athlete Friba Razayee became the first woman to compete for Afghanistan in the Olympics. Her participation challenges global perceptions of women in the Middle East, and sheds a light on Afghan women’s ongoing resistance to oppressive Taliban policies.

Friba Razayee

January 2010: Women’s Leadership at the IOC

Nawal El Moutawakel of Morocco became the first woman to chair an IOC coordination commission for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. This appointment represented a milestone in women’s leadership within the IOC. El Moutawakel previously made history in 1984 as the first woman from a Muslim-majority country to win an Olympic medal.

Nawal El Moutawakel and the IOC

Summer 2012, London:

Major Moments for Equal Representation

For the first time, every participating nation was represented by a female athlete. Sarah Attar and Wojdan Shaherkani made history as the first women to compete for Saudi Arabia.

Sarah Attar

Women also made up more than 40% of the athletes at the games. Team USA, women out numbered men. With the addition of women’s boxing to the program, these Games were also the first in which women competed in all the included sports events.

2013: More Women on IOC Commissions

The IOC set a goal to enhance gender diversity within its decision-making bodies by 2017. The goals were for women to fill at least 20% of positions on the executive board, and at least 10% of positions on its various commissions.

Winter 2014, Sochi:

Women’s Ski Jumping (Finally.)

After 90 years of exclusion, women’s ski jumping is added to the Games. Ski jumping had been a men’s event since 1924, and female ski jumpers had been campaigning for decades for a women’s event. This even included legal challenges.

Skispringen Hinzenbach

Summer 2016, Rio de Janeiro:

Record Female Participation and Record Viewership

The 2016 Rio Olympics were a milestone for women in sports, with the highest percentage of female athletes to date, making up 45% of the 11,000 participants. Half the world watched as American women created history with 291 female athletes winning a total of 65 medals. Katie Ledecky and Simone Biles each won 5 medals, demonstrating female athletic excellence for the world to enjoy.

Simone Biles with a gold medal at the 2016 Brazil Olympics.

2018: The IOC’s Gender Equality Review Project

The IOC launched the Gender Equality Review Project to advance gender equality across the entire Olympic movement. It entrenched goals to increase Olympic gender equality related to five major themes: sport, portrayal, funding, governance, and human resources.

Summer 2020, Tokyo: Flag Bearers Symbolize Progress

A rule change allowing for two flag bearers (one woman, one man) during the opening ceremony was implemented as a symbol of progress and visibility. Despite falling slightly short of the IOC’s 50/50 goal, an impressive 47.8% of participating athletes were women.

US Olympic flag bearers at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.

2021: Global Empowerment for Women in Sports

The Olympic Agenda 2020+5 established gender equality as a core principle for the Olympic movement. The IOC also set specific Gender Equality and Inclusion objectives for 2023–24 to track progress and ensure accountability.

Summer 2024, Paris:

Celebrating Full Gender Parity

The IOC has announced that 5,250 female and 5,250 male athletes are expected to participate in Paris this summer. It will mark the first there is truly equal representation among the athletes. The schedule of events will also be gender-balanced, allowing fair media coverage. The women’s marathon will conclude the athletics program during the closing ceremony, a prestige spot historically reserved for the men’s marathon.

Paris Olympics 2024 logo

The journey towards gender equality at the Olympics, from Paris 1900 to Paris 2024, has been extraordinary. We have arrived from an era when women’s long-distance running events could be banned, to one where the women’s marathon generates enough excitement to take center stage at the closing ceremonies.

Challenges do persist — women are underrepresented on many countries’ teams and women only held 13% of coaching positions at the 2020 Tokyo Games. There are also still more events for men to participate in overall. However, the IOC’s commitment to equal opportunities for women to compete, lead, and shape sports is promising. The future can only be brighter.


  1. “Athens 1896 Olympic Games,”

  2. “Not a Very Edifying Spectacle: The Controversial Women’s 800-Meter Race in the 1928 Olympics,”/ US Sports History, Controversial Race.

  3. “History and Origin of the Games,”

  4. “Pierre de Coubertin,”

  5. “Margaret Ives Abbott,”

  6. “Biography: Margaret Ives Abbott,”

  7. “Women In The Olympic Movement,”

  8. “The Fight to Include Women’s Ski Jumping in the Olympics,”

  9. “Female Ski Jumpers Lose Olympic Battle,”

  10. “Ibolya Csak Biography,”

  11. “American Athlete Helen Stephens,”

  12. “Nilima Ghose: The teenager who helped Indian women get off the blocks in the Olympics,”

  13. “The Incredible Dominance of Fanny Blankers-Koen”

About the Author
Jen Geoghegan profile picture
Jen Geoghegan
Blog and News
Jen Geoghegan is a contributor at The Sports Geek with a focus on entertainment, politics, and news. She joined the team in February 2024. Holding a BA in English from the University of Guelph, Jen combines her writing prowess with her ever-expanding knowledge of the industry. Outside work, she enjoys outdoor activities like camping and skiing with her family.

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