Some early history about women
and the Olympics
Kallipateria was the first female Olympic boxing coach in
- Married women were barred from the Ancient Olympic Games,
but prostitutes or virgins were allowed to spectate.
- The first female Olympic champion was a Spartan princess
called Kynisca, in 392 BC. She was also the first woman to become a champion horse trainer
when her horses and chariot competed and won in the Ancient Olympic Games.
- Women had their own athletic games of Hera from about 1000
- Pomegranites, symbols of fertiltiy, were prizes at the
womens games, along with olive wreaths and a slice of a sacrificial cow.
- Women were originally the prizes in mens Ancient
Olympic chariot races.
- In the first modern Olympics of 1896, women were not allowed
to compete, but there was an unofficial competitor in the marathon, a poor Greek woman who
became known as 'Melpomene'. Melpomenes real name was Stamati Revithi. She was not
allowed to compete in the mens race, but ran by herself the next day. The final lap was
completed outside the stadium as she was refused entry to the stadium. After her marathon
run, athletics officials couldnt remember her name so they labelled her 'Melpomene',
who is the Greek muse of Tragedy. Looking at Stamata Revithi, they could see only tragedy,
not her extraordinary feat.
- Ballooning, croquet and golf (1900) were once Olympic events
in which women competed. Please see Statistics for more
- 1900 was the year the World Exhibition was scheduled to take
place in Paris, with celebrations and events akin to our own Millennium celebrations. The
Olympic Games were taking place at the same time, from 14th May to 28th October and were
considered by many to be part of the World Exhibition. Some of the competitors did not
know if they were in the Olympic Games or the World Fair. Happily for the women athletes
of the time, the all male International Olympic Committee, who were very against women
taking parts in sports, had little influence in Paris.
The organisers of the World Exhibition seemed unconcerned
about the rights and wrongs of women competing, so their presence was not an issue. To
this day there is still confusion as to which events were Olympic and which were World
Fair events. So, who were the first female Olympic competitors and champion? For a sport
to be Olympic in 1900 it had to be an open sport, amateur and international, not
handicapped and not motorised. The long-held view was that women took part in just two
Olympic sports in 1900 - tennis and golf. Sports historians now accept that women were
involved in the yachting. Old programmes of the Paris Exposition show that women also
participated in ballooning, croquet, equestrianism, golf, tennis and yachting. Bearing
this in mind, we take the view that all women who took part in these sports were
- Our view is that the first women competitors in the Modern
Olympic Games of 1900 in chronological order were: Helen de Pourtales, Switzerland
(Yachting), Elvira Guerra, France (Equestrianism), Mme Ohnier and Madame Depres, France
(Croquet), Charlotte Cooper, Great Britain (Tennis), Margaret Abbott, USA (Golf), Madame
Maison, France (Ballooning).
- The first gold medalists were: Helen de Pourtales (mixed
event) and Charlotte Cooper (individual womens event). The first team medal was won
by Great Britain in 1912, in the 4 x 100 metres freestyle relay.
- Womens boxing was included in the 1904 Olympic Games
in St. Louis, USA, as a demonstration or exhibition sport. Archery also made its first
appearance as an Olympic sport for women.
- In 1906, in the interim Games in Greece, Danish women took
part in a gymnastics demonstration but women had to wait until 1928 before gymnastics
became an official Olympic event. The team gymnastic event continued until 1952 when an
individual womens gymnastics event was introduced. In the 1952 and 1956 Olympic
Games there was also a womens team portable apparatus event which was then
- Tennis was the only sport in the interim Games for women but
only Greek and French women took part.
- In 1912 a fifteen year old British schoolgirl entered the
modern pentathlon event in the Stockholm Olympic Games, but her entry was rejected. The
modern pentathlon for women is to be contested for the first time in the Olympic Games in
- Two swimming events and highboard diving for women were
included in the Olympic Games of 1912.
- Fencing for women arrived in 1924. There was one event, the
- Athletics provided the biggest hurdle of all for women to be
accepted into Olympic competition. Women even set up their own Olympic Games during the
early 1920s because they were so frustrated at the lack of acceptance. Eventually in 1928
in Amsterdam, the first women competed in 5 athletic events. The successful womens
athletic team from Great Britain chose to boycott the Olympics because they believed women
should have been allowed to compete in more events.
- The first track and field gold medalist was sixteen year old
Betty Robinson (USA) who won the 100 metres. Sadly, Betty died in May 1999.
- There were no women members of the International Olympic
Committee from 1896 until 1981!