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Olympics: Now make a level playing field for women

By Jackie Joyner-Kersee, special to CNN
updated 10:01 AM EDT, Tue August 14, 2012
Jackie Joyner-Kersee says Jessica Ennis lived up to the pressure she was under to become an Olympic champion.
Jackie Joyner-Kersee says Jessica Ennis lived up to the pressure she was under to become an Olympic champion.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Jackie Joyner-Kersee: The Games fostered a generation of hope
  • Participation of female athletes from around the world showed how far we've come, she says
  • But she says it was saddening that women's softball weren't a part of these Olympics games
  • Joyner-Kersee: We must not forget that lack of funding can be an issue for female athletes

Editor's note: Jackie Joyner-Kersee is a former long jump and heptathlon U.S. athlete. She has won three Olympic gold medals, one silver and two bronze, and is considered by many to be the greatest female all-round athlete in history.

(CNN) -- The 2012 London Olympic Games fostered a generation of hope. I witnessed women participating for the very first time, representing every nation. Congratulations to 800 meter runner Sara Attar and judoka Wokdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani. Shahrkhani represented Saudi Arabia in judo and was among a number of other pioneer women who were part of the very first Olympics in which every country sending a team to London included at least one female athlete.

Read more: Arab sportswomen finally in the picture

Former Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersee
Former Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersee

Their participation and that of athletes from Libya, Iraq, Jordan, Oman, Yemen, Qatar and other nations exemplifies how far we've come, on a global level. The celebration of 40 years of title IX -- legislation that guaranteed equal opportunities in women's college athletics -- what a year to celebrate!

The performances of USA women's basketball (five consecutive gold medals), USA women's soccer (bouncing back from the World Cup loss to capture the gold against Japan), Kerri Walsh-Jennings and Misty May-Treanor, after motherhood showed they are still the "Queens of the Beach" with an historic three-peat, and let's not forget double-gold for the Williams family in tennis and the stunning performance of Tianna Madison, Allyson Felix, Bianca Knight and Carmelita Jeter breaking a 27-year-old world record in the 4x100m relay, and Jamaican Frazier-Price winning back-to-back gold in the women's 100 meters and Ethiopian Tiunesh Dibaba making history in the women's 10,000 meters.

Women make their mark on the Games
The rise of the Arab female athlete
Lady boxer breaks Games glass ceiling
Jessica Ennis not in Games for money

Sanya Richards-Ross (400m), Felix (200m), Australia's Sally Pearson 100m hurdles, Brittany Reese (long jump) and Jenn Suhr (pole vault), as well as teenagers like Missy Franklin (swimming), Gabby Douglas (gymnastics), Claressa Shields (boxing), all claimed their very first individual gold medals. Jessica Ennis of Great Britain, the face of the games, lived up to the pressure and became an Olympic champion by winning the most demanding event (in my opinion) for a female athlete; the hepthalon.

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Dawn Harper, Jeter, Dee Dee Trotter, Brigetta Barrett, LaShinda Demus, Veronica Campbell, Lia Neal (second African American in swimming to bring home a medal) and the U.S. indoor volleyball team also all came away with medals.

To each of those remarkable athletes, and all of the women (and men) from around the world who came to London and put forth their very best efforts I extend a heartfelt congratulations. It was an honor for me to watch you, providing a wonderful trip down memory lane.

As exciting as these games were for women, it saddened me to know that women's softball wasn't a part of these Olympic Games and we still must not forget our female athletes come from grass roots programs and lack of funding is always an issue. We live in a world where sports have the potential to bridge the gap between racism, sexism and discrimination. The 2012 Olympic Games was a great start but hopefully what these games taught us is that if women are given an opportunity on an equal playing field the possibilities for women are endless.

Read more: Was London 2012 the women's Olympics?

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jackie Joyner-Kersee.

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