While Michael Phelps was breaking world records in the pool and the U.S. softball team was shutting out opponent after opponent during the Olympic Games in Athens last month, two Yale women were also quietly making history. Sada Jacobson ’06 and Patricia Miranda LAW ’07 each became the first athletes to ever win Olympic medals in their sports, women’s sabre and women’s wrestling, respectively.
These women competed in sports that garner little TV time and even less interest from Yale students, but their accomplishments mean that maybe it’s time Yale students rethink their ideas of what it means to be a great athlete.
Jacobson, who was ranked first in the world in her event, the women’s sabre, going into the Games, regrouped after an unexpected loss to claim the bronze medal. In doing so, Jacobson became the first Olympic medalist in the women’s sabre, which was just added to the Games this year, and the first American woman to ever win a fencing medal. In another Olympic first, Miranda won the bronze medal in women’s wrestling, which, in Athens, became an Olympic event for the first time in history. Isabelle Kinsolving ’02, a former captain of the Yale sailing team, also performed well, winning fifth place in the women’s double-handed dinghy sailing competition.
The competitiveness of these women is inspiring. Their sports are complex, grueling and require finesse and grit. As an undergraduate at Stanford, Miranda competed on the men’s wrestling team, going for four years without a single win. Miranda earned her first win as a fifth-year senior and then deferred her entrance into the Law School to train for the Olympics. Jacobson also took time off of Yale to train. But until this summer, neither of their events had ever been included in the Olympics. These women have devoted their lives to these sports, and their goals could never have been an Olympic medal. And Jacobson and Miranda won’t make a career out of wrestling or fencing. There’s something refreshing about seeing athletes training purely for the love of the sport, without thoughts of or pro contracts or athletic fame.
The performances of Jacobson and Miranda are all the more poignant because they came in sports that aren’t even on the horizon for most students here at Yale, where “sports” generally refers only to the big three: football, basketball and hockey. Rather than using the football team’s the three-year losing streak in The Game as evidence of the paucity of Yale sports, students should expand their conceptions of athleticism.
Yale teams and athletes regularly win Ivy titles or national honors and rarely do many students take notice. The women’s sailing team won nationals this summer, as did the women’s squash team last year. Jacobson was ranked number one in the world throughout last year. And still, a favorite Yale pastime during halftime of a basketball game seems to be rethinking admission offers from Stanford or Duke.
Most athletes here never play in the Harvard-Yale game and never have that many of their peers watching and cheering for them. There are a lot of great athletes here that deserve our support and attention, and it shouldn’t take an Olympic medal to make us notice them.