Women have come a long way since the first Olympic Winter Games in 1924 where just 4 per cent of the participants were female. For the Games in Salt Lake City in 2002 this percentage was up to about 37 per cent and it is expected to be over 38 per cent for the Games in Turin. Women were also in the spotlight at the Opening Ceremony of the Games in Turin on 10 February.
Waving the Flag
A total of 37 of the 80 nations participating in the Games chose a woman to act as flag bearer during the athletes’ parade of the Ceremony. Isabel Clark Ribeiro, the first South American to qualify for the Olympic Winter Games in snowboard, carried the flag for Brazil, whilst fellow snowboarder Paulina Ligocka from Poland led her delegation around the Olympic stadium. Speed skater Chris Witty carried the flag for the United States delegation: “I can not imagine a bigger honour,” she said. The flag of the host nation, Italy, was carried into the stadium, accompanied by the loudest cheer of the night, by figure skater Carolina Kostner.
Eight for the Olympic Flag
The spot light on women continued as the Olympic flag was brought into the arena by an all-female contingent; Actress Sophia Loren; writer and journalist Isabel Allende; Olympic gold medalist Nawal el Moutawakel; Unicef Goodwill Ambassador and actress Susan Sarandon; 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai; seven-time Olympic gold medallist Manuela Di Centa; Olympic gold medallist Maria Mutola; and human rights activist Somaly Mam.
The honour of lighting the Olympic cauldron also went to a woman at the Turin Games Opening Ceremony. Stefania Belmondo, a five-time Olympian who has ten Olympic medals to her name and is a local heroine, was the star of the show as she lit the flame of the firework display that led to the cauldron.
Women’s participation since 1924
Women have taken part in the all the Olympic Winter Games since the first celebration in 1924. All seven sports on the winter programme have been open to women since the 1998 Games in Nagano which saw the first female ice hockey and curling competitions. Women do not participate in ski jumping, one of the disciplines within the sport of skiing.
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