The Games that changed America: a ‘Summer of Gold’ at the ’96 Olympics
We are already missing the Olympics (although the Paralympics are coming on August 24th) and the athletes that inspired us all. What we cannot possibly overlook, though, is that the U.S. women absolutely dominated these Games. Of Team USA’s 113 medals, the women took home 66 of those, the most ever for any nation. Women’s medals made up 58.4% of Team USA’s total, and would have placed third in overall medal rankings if they were their own nation. But, without the 1996 Olympics, we might not be here, and Sue Bird thinks so too.
“Summer of Gold” is a new documentary podcast that tells the story of those ’96 Games through the lens of the women who watched them, wrote about them, and competed in them. And Sue Bird believes her life would be very different without those games. She was just 15 during those Games, and wouldn’t compete until 2004, but she believes that 1996 made her legendary basketball career possible. “I don’t think there’s a WNBA without the ‘96 Olympics,” she says at the start of the podcast. And she’s probably right.
That year altered the course of women’s sports in America, and ultimately, the world. The US women’s basketball team won their first gold medal of their now 7-gold streak since then. The Magnificent Seven gymnasts who captured the world’s attention to the soccer and softball teams making their Olympic debuts by winning gold. The athletes became legends and started a cultural movement that ended up in the founding of the WNBA.
That year, at the start of the Games, reporters started off their broadcast considering that the American women could potentially win more medals than the American men. “Summer of Gold” tells us how 42 million people watched the women’s team gymnastics event, witnessing Kerri Strug stick her final vault landing on a broken ankle. While that vault ultimately ended her career, it shot her to an instant legend status. She changed the course of women’s sports. She was on Jay Leno, Rosie O’Donnell, and even 90210. The gymnastics team was being treated like rock stars: going on tours, signing autographs on body parts, going on talk shows.
The “Summer of Gold” podcast does not just look at sports in 1996, but music and pop culture. In 1996, the radio wouldn’t play two women artists in a row. Music festivals headlined only male artists on their A, B, and C stages. So, Sarah McLachlan staged her own festival with only female artists, now known as The Lilith Fair. And it was a raging hit, still ongoing today.
“Summer of Gold” features guests like Sue Bird, sportswriter Molly Yanity, retired U.S. gymnast Dominique Moceanu, TOGETHXR’s chief content officer Jessica Robertson and former USWNT players Julie Foudy and Briana Scurry. Hosted by retired U.S. figure skater Michelle Kwan, “Summer of Gold” is celebrating the 25th anniversary of ’96 Atlanta Games and the impact it had on American culture. The summer of 1996 was one of the most important moments in US sports and cultural history, so check out this Dead Media podcast for yourself.
Future episodes of will feature WNBA GOAT Sheryl Swoopes, gymnast Shannon Miller and more.