skip to content
06 Mar 2015
IOC News

Moment in Time: A big step for womankind

Morocco’s Nawal El Moutawakel’s performance in the women’s 400m hurdles at Los Angeles 1984 was a watershed moment in many ways.


Not only did she win gold in the first ever women’s 400m hurdles staged at the Olympics, setting a new world record in the process, but she was the first Moroccan and the first woman from a Muslim country to win gold in any event. It was a watershed moment both for female athletes in general, and Muslim athletes in particular, and the achievements of El Moutawakel, now IOC vice president, have been a source of inspiration for generations of young athletes ever since, held up as an example of defying barriers and pursuing one’s dreams.

The LA Games saw a number of other notable landmarks involving female athletes.

The USA’s Connie Carpenter-Phinney, who as a 14-year-old competed at the 1972 Winter Olympics as a speed skater (and remains the youngest American to feature at the Winter Games), became the first ever female athlete to win an Olympic cycling event when she took gold in the inaugural women’s individual road race. Her son Taylor followed her into the saddle, finishing just off the podium in both the men’s road race and time trial at London 2012.

© Getty Images

Meanwhile, Carpenter-Phinney’s compatriot, Mary-Lou Retton became the first gymnast from outside Eastern Europe to win gold in the coveted all-around competition. Retton, who had been inspired to take up gymnastics by watching the legendary Nadia Comaneci on TV, also won silver medals in the team competition and the horse vault, and bronze in the floor exercise and uneven bars.

Female athletes also crashed through the glass ceiling in long-distance running, with a women’s marathon gracing the Olympics for the first time. The gold medal was won by Joan Benoit of the USA, however the race will perhaps best be remembered for the moving images of Swiss runner Gabi Andersen-Schiess, who, despite suffering terribly from exhaustion in the intense heat, dramatically staggered through the last lap to complete the race. Benoit’s own story was one of triumph over adversity. She had originally taken up long-distance running in order to help her recovery from a skiing accident. And then in March 1984, she suffered a serious knee injury during a training run and had to undergo major surgery just weeks before the Olympic trials for the marathon. She recovered sooner than predicted and miraculously produced the best performance in the trials.

Last, but certainly not least, New Zealand archer Neroli Fairhall became the first paraplegic athlete to compete at the Olympic Games, finishing 35th in the women's individual competition.

Tags IOC News
back to top