FEMALE athletes did not compete in the first modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896 because its founder Pierre de Coubertin felt their participation would be inappropriate.It was only at the Paris Games four years later that women were allowed to compete and that too only 22 took part compared to 975 men.
Switzerland’s Helene de Pourtales competed as a crew member on boat Lerina and won the 1-2 ton class race to become the first woman to take home an Olympics gold medal.
For Malaysia, their first woman participant did not come until Annie Choong took part in athletics at the 1956 Melbourne Games.
That’s why it was a refreshing sight to see the parade of nations during the opening ceremony of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics last night.
The unusual scene did not only include the march past of athletes without the presence of any spectators but viewers who tuned in also got to view almost all the countries walking proudly led by two flag bearers each – one man and one woman.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) have insisted every nation give equal opportunity for both genders and naturally, it was nice to see it come to fruition.
The Tokyo Games, delayed by one year because of the Covid-19 pandemic, is the first in history to have close to a half women’s participation percentage with 48.8%.
Australia had two-time Olympics champion swimmer Cate Campbell as the female flag bearer alongside NBA star Patty Mills, who was the first indigenous Australian to carry the flag.
Two-time world champion female wrestler Yui Susaki jointly led the host contingent out alongside basketball player Rui Hachimura.
Volleyball captain Zhu Ting and taekwondo star Zhao Shuai, crowned champions at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, did the honours for Asia’s sporting powerhouse China.
And Malaysia did not miss out either with badminton stars Goh Liu Ying and Lee Zii Jia proudly carrying the Jalur Gemilang.
Mixed doubles specialist Liu Ying is only the second Malaysian female athlete to be given the mandate after diver Pandelela Rinong became the first flag bearer at the 2012 London Games.
There were more cheers for women and Malaysia.
The nation’s participation in Tokyo is special as for the first time, 18 of the 30 athletes are female. The highest was 15 at the last Games in Rio.
Diver Leong Mun Yee will also create history on Tuesday when she steps out at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre to compete with Pandelela in the 10m platform synchro event.
Mun Yee will become the only Malaysian athlete to compete in five Olympics starting with 2000 Sydney, 2004 Athens, 2008 Beijing and 2012 London.
Regardless of the gender, it is the hope that every Malaysian athlete will give their undivided devotion to strive for excellence under these extraordinary situation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. And to all participants in Tokyo, “Ganbatte” (Do your best).