By Chris Gallagher
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – From swimming to gymnastics, some of the biggest victories for Team USA in Rio have come from its women athletes, and swimmer Maya DiRado says having strong role models has been a key to their success.
U.S. athletes like gymnast Simone Biles and swimmer Katie Ledecky have basked in the spotlight at the Rio Olympics, and DiRado thinks they in turn will become examples for the next generation.
“We just have a lot of strong women role models. Start in the White House, you have Michelle Obama who’s kick-ass in so many areas of her life,” DiRado told reporters on Saturday, a day after she won gold in the women’s 200 meters backstroke.
“I think women’s sports have been growing at such a huge rate for the past 30 years that it’s been such an accepted part of the culture.
“I’m probably too young to know when it was different but I’ve always been encouraged and never thought that I couldn’t compete,” she said.
Biles dazzled the gymnastics world when she took gold in the all around on Thursday, her second after she and her “Final Five” teammates dominated the team competition earlier in the week.
Ledecky on Friday smashed her own world record in the 800 meters freestyle to complete a rare Olympic swimming treble, while DiRado herself won two gold medals, one silver and one bronze in Rio.
The women’s soccer team was less successful, suffering a surprise early exit, but triumphed in the World Cup last year and won gold at the previous three Olympics.
DiRado said that a lot still needed to be improved in women’s athletics but that girls growing up watching Olympics like the Rio Games would have confidence that they could be just as good as men.
“Little girls are going to grow up watching Katie Ledecky just destroy by crazy margins, and they’re going to watch Simone do things nobody’s ever done before,” DiRado said.
DiRado also gave a shout-out to her swimming team mate Lily King. King made the news not only for winning gold in Rio but for publicly criticizing her Russian rival Yulia Efimova, who has served two previous doping-related suspensions.
“Having an opinion, and saying it and backing it up, and just being so gutsy, I think that’s great and I think that’s why women’s sports are doing so well in this country,” she said.
(Reporting by Chris Gallagher; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli)