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How Female Olympians Overcame Death Threats, Floor-Length Tennis Skirts, And More

Activists want the Olympics to ban Saudi Arabia from participating until the country allows women to compete. Here's a look back at the long history of women fighting for equality as Olympic athletes.

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1896: The first Modern Olympics in Athens take place with no lady competitors.

Women did not compete because of beliefs at the time that if a woman competed in athletics: "She wouldn't be able to bear children; that her uterus would fall out; that she might grow a mustache; that she was a man, or wanted to be one."


1928: Women run a 800 meter race, but six of them collapse.

After six women collapsed after completing the 800m race, officials decided that "even this distance makes too great a call on feminine strength." (An 800m race is only half a mile.) After this, the Olympics barred women from running races longer than 200 meters.


2004: Kuwait sends its first woman to the Olympics in Athens.

At 16 years old, Danah al-Nasrallah competed in the 100m sprint. She finished third-to-last, but apparently had never competed in that race before. Being not particularly religious, she wore shorts and a t-shirt.

2008: Ruqaya Al Ghasara of Bahrain wins 200m sprint.

In 2004, she was the first woman to wear a hijab while competing in the Olympics. In 2008, she said: "I hope that my wearing the hijood sports top will inspire other women to see that modesty or religious beliefs don’t have to be a barrier to participating in competitive sports."

2012: Activists call for Saudi Arabia to be barred from Olympics.

According to Humans Rights Watch, discrimination in the Olympics of any kind is not allowed in the Olympics, allowing for the argument that Saudia Arabia, which bars women from participating, should be banned. Qatar and Brunei have also never sent a woman to the Olympics, but activists are less concerned with those countries because they don't explicitly ban women from competing.