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Women at the Olympics

An interactive history

The long road to Rio - the changing role of women at the Olympic and Paralympic Games

From the first Olympic Games held in ancient Greece, through to the modern era, female athletes have not enjoyed parity with their male counterparts. Indeed, in ancient Greece, only male competitors were allowed to participate. Married women were not even permitted to watch the Games!

Even at the start of the modern era in 1896, the man widely regarded as the father of the modern Olympic Games and Founder of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Pierre de Coubertin, said, "Olympics with women would be incorrect, unpractical, uninteresting and unesthetic [sic]”.

Thankfully a few years later, attitudes began to change. The first female Olympians took part in a handful of events at the 1900 Games in Paris and over the course of the twentieth century, women played an increasingly prominent role in the Olympics.

Not only were more women’s events added to the Olympic programme, but some of the most significant milestones in Olympic history were achieved by women.

As a reflection of our commitment to sport, a number of GDST alumna have also had an impact in the Olympics and Paralympics. Competing at Rio 2016 will be: Hannah Mills (Sailing, Howell's School alumna), Ellie Robinson (Para-Swimming, current Northampton High student), Emma Pooley (Road cycling, Norwich High alumna), Fiona Bigwood (Equestrian-Dressage, Croydon High alumna) and Sam Quek (Hockey, Birkenhead High alumna).

Browse our interactive timeline below to discover more.