Sixteen years ago, at the Olympics in Atlanta, only 26 nations had female athletes. But if one looks further back to the year 1908, the London Games saw only 1.8 per cent female participation. According to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), since then the Olympic Games has been witnessing a slow but steady rise with the Beijing Olympics seeing more that 42 per cent female participation.
However, the Olympics Games this year will witness the unprecedented participation of women from every nation. The London Olympics 2012 will have the distinction of being the first to include female athletes from every competing nation with Saudi Arabia lifting the ban on women's participation in the Games and sportswomen from Brunei and Qatar also taking part in athletics, swimming, table tennis and shooting for the first time in the history of the Games. The fact that Muslim states are now giving their women opportunities to showcase their talent and physical endurance on an international platform is a very encouraging development. But more importantly, ordinary Muslim women will have the chance to represent themselves on a global platform. You! takes a detailed look at the participation of women in the Olympic Games 2012...
When Pakistan's 15-year-old swimmer Anum Bandey takes for the pool at the Olympic Games later this week, she would be in familiar territory. She has been training throughout her swimming career at London's Barnet Copthall Swimming Club. Not only that, but she would also have a good number of people backing her at London's Aquatic Centre where the swimming events will take place.
"Everyone at Barnet Copthall Swimming Club will be supporting her this summer," Barnet coach Rhys Gormley told Barnet Press in an interview last month.
"Anum has been with Barnet Copthall throughout her swimming career and has worked hard to represent her country. She has qualified in the 400m individual medley, and is their national record holder in the event."
Anum is one of two Pakistani women athletes who will represent their country at the London Games. The other is the 20-year-old Rabia Ashiq, who will be participating in the women's 800m race. "She is preparing well," her coach Bushra Parveen said in an interview to a local TV channel earlier this week. "We hope that she gives a good performance in the qualifying heats."
While there is very little chance that the duo would progress into the finals of their respective events, it will still give aspiring women athletes in the country an impetus to perform and maybe one day be counted amongst the global array of female stars that would be at the Olympics.
While the likes of Australia's 400m hurdles champion Sally Pearson and Russia's pole vault queen Yelena Isinbayeva will be stealing the headlines at the July 27 - August 12 Games, there will be no doubting which two women athletes will be the centre of attention for all at the Olympics - the Saudi Arabian duo of Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani (judo) and Sarah Attar (800m).
Another athlete who is tearing down the walls is first woman to compete in table tennis at the Olympics, Neda Shahsavari from Iran. Mandatory Islamic dress code in Iran requires all women to cover their bodies from head to toe, and women athletes must adhere to these rules if they are to compete nationally and internationally. And Neda Shahsavari is comfortable with it. "I've been competing dressed like this for more than a decade here at home and in international games. I am accustomed to it," the 25-year old shared in a recent interview. This could bode well for her team, since she will be concentrating more on her game at the same time being comfortable wearing her outfit.
Another Asian woman, meanwhile, who may create history, is India's badminton player Jwala Gutta. The doubles specialist is looking to dethrone badminton heavyweights China and win gold with her partner Ashwinin Ponnapa.
"I am not afraid of losing at all," she told Reuters in a recent interview. "And I am hopeful of winning a medal."
Women athletes have come a long way and the London Olympics will be the first ever Games in which women will compete in all the same events as men. In the ancient Olympic Games, women were barred from competing. And even when the Games were revived by Baron Pierre de Coubertin in 1896, the doors were not opened to women, with the Baron feeling that women's participation would be "impractical, uninteresting, un-aesthetic and incorrect."
In the second Olympic Games held in Paris in 1900 women were allowed to take part, in tennis and golf. However, three Frenchwomen did compete in croquet while there was a woman competitor in sailing as part of the mixed crew. Charlotte Cooper of Britain, who won the tennis title, is believed to be the first woman gold medallist.
Women's swimming made its entry in the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, with the first gold going to Australia's Sarah Durack, who won a gold medal in the 100m freestyle category.
In 1928, women made their foray into athletics but when many of the runners collapsed after the 800 race, a few horrified officials decided to limit their participation to events shorter than that distance. It remained that way till 1960.
Gradually, more distance events were added to the programme and women's marathon made its debut at the 1984 Olympic Games, with Joan Benoit of the United States being the first winner.
This time around, USA will send more women athletes than men athletes to the 2012 Olympics Games.
In track and field events, Russian Anna Chicherova (high jump), American Allyson Felix (200m) and Kenya's Pamela Jemilo (800m) have already been touted as the best bets alongside Pearson and Isinbayeva.
In the pool, Britain's Rebecca Adlington (800m and 400m) leads the charge and with home support behind her, she would be looking to give the home fans something special to cheer about.
The Olympic tennis event, meanwhile, is sure to provide the action and the excitement. Russian beauty queen and French Open champion Maria Sharapova will be up against the American warrior queen Serena Williams at the courts of Wimbledon, redesigned for the Olympics, in a fight for Olympic gold. Five-time world player of the year Marta will spearhead Brazil's bid for their first women's football title at London.
Many sportswomen have enriched the Olympics over the years. And come August 12, many newcomers will have been added to that list of the great women Olympians.