LONDON — The phrase running around the Olympic Village on the last day of the London Games was, “If women were a country . . .” The phrase will be one of the legacies of the fortnight, certainly more lasting than the British afterglow or the disposable-kit stadiums. There is no dismantling or dispelling what women did here: If they were a country, they would lead the medal chart.
If women were a country, the Japanese World Cup champion soccer team wouldn’t have flown coach, while their far-less-successful male teammates flew first class. If women were a country, we would all understand how hard it was for Candace Parker to win a basketball gold medal with a 3-year-old on her hip. If women were a country, they would get better pay for better work.
Women outmedaled men for the United States, China, and Russia. I’ll say that again: The leading medal winners for the three traditional Olympic powerhouses were women — despite the fact that there were 30 fewer medals available to be won. We can talk all we want about the financial complexities of Title IX, or try to analyze the stratospheric growth of women’s sports by country or culture, but the bottom line was that the London Games defined something crucial: It can’t happen if it isn’t available. With no gold medal to aspire to, no one gets better.