Isabelle Fougère highlights 50 exceptional sports women

Isabelle Fougère highlights 50 exceptional sports women

From Kallipateira, an ancient Greek athlete, to swimmer Laure Manaudou, how did you establish your selection?

For years, I have been working on the invisible history of women. I wanted to tell stories that inspire all generations, to offer models to the youngest. I sought to establish a thread, a progression between these pioneers who had to win the right to play sport, then the right to become competitors. Each era has its own realities. For example, at the end of the 19th century, when women got on bicycles, it was a real revolution! Every right acquired has been won by a woman who paved the way.

And many of them are involved beyond sport…

While some have become symbols through their success, others have had a voice that goes far beyond sport. Tennis champion Simonne Mathieu, for example, formed a female body of French volunteers from Free France during the Second World War. Australian runner Cathy Freeman, for her part, worked to recognize the crimes committed against Aboriginal people torn from their families.

How is women's emancipation linked to their bodies?

With sport, women become aware of the strength of their body: they reclaim it. Little by little, they dare to reveal it to move towards performance. In 1992, Algerian Hassiba Boulmerka was the first sportswoman to win a gold medal for her country at the Barcelona Games. But Islamist extremists condemn her to death for running “half naked in front of the whole world.” She had to leave her country. Mastering your body allows you to free yourself from patriarchal constraints, the extremists have understood this well!

How was the fight of Frenchwoman Alice Milliat a turning point?

From 1900, women could participate in certain Olympic events, “compatible with their femininity”. In 1922, swimmer and rower Alice Milliat (1884-1957) organized the first women's World Games which allowed them to compete in athletics. Little by little, the champions enter the Olympics. In 2024, for the first time, as many women as men will participate: we can measure how far we have come.

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