With the NBA season at a close and the Olympics looming there have been plenty of headlines about which star players are, or are not, going to Rio to represent the Stars and Stripes. The men’s basketball team has been a bright spot for the USA on the international stage going back to the fabled original “Dream Team”. And why not, it’s a basketball fan’s fantasy to see all the best NBA players from the U.S. united against some fairly stiff international competition. But with all the hoopla about the Dream Team or the “Redeem Team or the “Dream Team 2.0”, a simple fact has been largely overshadowed: The U.S. National Women’s Basketball Team is equally impressive. In fact, when compared to our men’s teams, or to any other women’s sports program in the world, our women’s national teams in basketball, soccer, softball, and hockey are ridiculously dominant. Yet despite unmatched international success across four major team sports, our women’s teams never seem to get the respect they deserve, whether that be press, tv ratings, or pay. Let’s take a tour of how crazy good the U.S. women’s national teams have been at the Olympics (with some side by side comparisons to the fellas) and see if we can’t get Americans a little more fired up about the women wearing red, white, and blue representing us in Rio.
Since 1984 the U.S. Men’s Basketball Team has won 7 gold medals in Olympic competition and only once walked away with less than that (a bronze in 2004 which spurred The Redeem Team’s gold medal run in 2008). That’s very impressive, particularly considering the rest of the world continues to develop more of an interest in basketball and is starting to produce some very high caliber talent.
But the U.S. Women’s Basketball Team has perfectly matched the vaunted men’s team medal for medal over that same span, with 7 gold and 1 bronze (1992). And they are not just winning games, they are dominating in the style of the 92 men’s “Dream Team”. In London in 2012, their closest game was a 25-point victory over Croatia. They dropped 114 on China. They beat Angola 90-38.
This year’s team is in a great position to repeat the past success U.S. women’s basketball has had in the Olympics. They return 9 players from previous gold medal teams and have an overall experienced roster. IF they lose a game it would be a first in international competition under coach Geno Auriemma who has led them to a 23-0 record recently. If you love watching the USA win, our women’s basketball team is an even safer bet than the dominant men’s.
The story of U.S. men’s and women’s soccer in the Olympics could not be more different. The U.S. Men’s soccer team has never captured an Olympic medal of any type. They have an overall record of 4-5 with 6 draws. And don’t look for them to improve on that record this year because they did not qualify.
The U.S. Women’s team is an entirely different story. In the Olympics the U.S. women are 24-2 with 3 draws. They have earned a medal in each Olympic games since 1996 (the infamous Brandi Chastain shootout victory), and most of those have been gold. In addition to the Olympics the U.S. women have had a lot of success at the FIFA World Cup. There is a sense that women’s soccer is perhaps the first sport that is starting to breakthrough and gain more mainstream attention and popularity in America. That has been spurred by some great personalities, some off-field drama, and some of the most dominant players ever to take to the pitch. But despite all their winning and increasing popularity, the women don’t get paid nearly as much as the men. That’s a problem.
For our purposes here we’ll consider women’s softball and men’s baseball to be analogous sports, though we recognize there are big differences in the two (beyond the gender of the players of course). Baseball and softball are so iconic as American sports you would expect that we would win the gold each and every year. But that is far from the case for men’s baseball in the Olympics. While the U.S. Men have snagged several medals, there has been only one gold. They have also had similarly mediocre results in the relatively new World Baseball Classic, which aspires to be the World Cup of baseball.
U.S. women’s softball at the Olympics, and in general in international play, has been completely dominant. All-time, the U.S. National Women’s Softball Team has an astounding record of 367 wins and 36 losses. They have won gold in every Olympic Games with the exception of 2008 when the Japanese team pulled off a huge upset.
Both baseball and softball were voted out of the Olympic Games after 2008 by an International Olympic Committee that has a decidedly European bias. It was the first time in 69 years that the Olympics Committee voted to remove a sport. Although there is some momentum to bring both sports back in 2020. If that happens, you can fully expect the U.S. women will be chomping at the bit to get back to the top of the podium.
While not a summer Olympic sport, hockey still deserves some discussion in this article as another of the popular team sports. U.S. men’s hockey has experienced a moderate amount of success since the 1998 games (when the women’s tournament was added) with a pair of silver medals in 2010 and 2002. But in other years the U.S. men have fallen to strong Canadian, Russian, and European teams. But hey, no matter what happens, the U.S. men will always have “The Miracle on Ice”.
The U.S. women’s Hockey team has been a lot more competitive and has captured a medal in each year of competition. If you need an example of how good the U.S. women are in comparison to the rest of the world, in 2010, they outscored opponents 31 to 1 in group play. The Canadian team has consistently been the only thing coming between the U.S. women and gold medals in recent Olympics. What do you expect, they’re Canadians, it’s kind of their thing.
Here’s the remarkable statistic that you should take away from this to impress your friends: among these 4 popular team sports we have sent our women into competition 22 times (all sports and Olympic Games combined) and they have come home with 22 medals. That is truly remarkable. Not once has there been a women’s team in any of these three sports across any Olympics that failed to quality, or stumbled in a semi-final, or had a swoon during group play that has prevented the them from earning a medal. You cannot keep our female athletes away from that hardware.
The comparisons to the U.S. men throughout this article are not an attempt to trash the world-class male athletes that represent us. They have brought home plenty of glory for the stars and stripes as well (particularly in basketball). And it is only fair to note that the fields of competition do differ some between the men and women when it comes to international competition. Unlike the U.S., which has both a men’s team and a women’s team for virtually all popular sports, many countries around the world simply have men’s teams representing them in international play. There are a variety of reasons for a country to only have male teams. Those reasons vary by country but could include funding or religion. The end result is that our women very often play against a smaller overall field, one that typically includes only socially progressive and well-developed countries. But the fact that Uzbekistan does not field a women’s basketball team, as an example, does not make the accomplishments of the U.S. women less impressive. They are still beating the best female athletes the rest of the world has to offer.
The play of U.S. female athletes on the world stage is a true bright spot for our nation and is a great example of America being a social leader. Of course there are many places in the world where women are not allowed to play sports. Even in the U.S., it was not that long ago that women were not being given equal opportunities when it came to both education and sports participation. Title IX changed a lot of that, and it’s a big reason why our women are allowed to meet their full ass-kicking potential. We are far from perfect as a country, and there are still too many examples of gender inequality that need to be dealt with both within and outside of the sporting world. But when other countries tune into the Olympics in Rio this summer they will see American women competing and winning (predicting a medal in both soccer and basketball seems rather safe), exemplifying the types of opportunities afforded in America that make our country great. We let women play, and when that happens, we all win. But they especially do.