CRAWFORD | Biles, Serena, for women's sports in America, the best of times
With Serena Williams and Simone Biles on historic runs in their respective sports, WDRB's Eric Crawford says this is a time to remember for women's sports.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- This is the kind of thing it’s easy to miss, if you’re not looking for it. But I was watching Simone Biles on TV (and Twitter, and Instagram, and in Tide commercials, and with Zac Efron) and thinking about Serena Williams and the run she is on in tennis, and was struck by something.
For women in sports, a step is being taken. I don’t want to call it a Golden Age, because that implies that it won’t come again. Let’s just call it a pretty good time.
These women are at the top of their sports from a recognition standpoint. And they aren’t just at the top of the women’s sides of their sports.
You know, men compete in gymnastics, too. Go ahead and name for me the men’s all-around gold medalist. You get my point.
How about this? A year ago, with Serena Williams pursuing a calendar-year Grand Slam, women’s tickets for the U.S. Open sold out before the men’s. Last September, her match with her sister, Venus, was the second-most watched tennis broadcast on ESPN ever. The stands were a who’s who. Kardashians. Anna Wintour of Vogue. Oprah. Donald Trump.
Serena (there’s only one, no last name necessary) is the reigning Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year. Only once have women won that honor in back-to-back years (Mary Decker in 1983 and Mary Lou Retton in 1984).
If you asked me to vote today, I’d happily vote for Biles, who has dominated her sport like nobody else -- and there have been some awfully dominant people over the years -- while using social media to strike a positive chord with people around the world.
You may give me LeBron James, for leading Cleveland to a championship and ending the losing streak of his home city. Perhaps you’ll hold up Michael Phelps, who became the most decorated Olympian in history this month.
I can’t argue with either of those. But consider where Biles came from. She was born to drug addicted parents who couldn’t care for her. She spent part of her early life in foster homes. It wasn’t until she was 6 years old that she was adopted by her grandparents, Ron and Nellie Biles. That same year she took up gymnastics.
Ron, a native of Haiti, and Nellie, an immigrant from Belize, weren’t exactly well-versed in the rigors of big-time gymnastics. But they knew this little girl needed something, needed a purpose. And she found it in the gym.
To go from there, to become the first woman ever to three-peat as World Champion, and to do it in dominating fashion, then to do it just as impressively to win Olympic Gold in Rio, is the stuff of legend.
The shelf-life of gymnasts is short. But Biles determination and her story deserve a longer look than a brief career in the sport may afford her.
She’s not the first women’s gymnast to grab this kind of spotlight. But she is unique as much for who she is as what she has done.
Hers is a tale of the power of love to overcome difficult circumstances, and the power of hard work to reach extraordinary heights. Watch her jump during her floor exercise routine, and you’ll have no doubt, she has reached those, and then some.
As for Serena, she, too, isn’t the first women’s tennis player to dominate her sport. But she is the first to do it in the modern era, and has done it against better competition, including her older sister.
She’s the best women’s tennis player in history. The numbers will confirm that soon enough. She needs two more majors to tie Margaret Court.
Like Biles, she has played a role in changing her sport on the women’s side. Biles has created a move named after herself and brought power into the sport’s poise. Williams did the same, long before, in women’s tennis.
She had to withdraw from the Western & Southern Open just up the road in Mason, Ohio, this week, and could lose her world No. 1 ranking as a result, but she has held the top ranking for 183 straight weeks.
At age 33, she won 53 out of 56 singles matches last year. She’s 33-5 this year. But she’s more than her game.
She has taken it upon herself to speak candidly about issues of race and body-shaming.
There’s a long way to go for women in sports, of course. Look at the top 25 earners in sports a year ago and you won’t find Williams’ name anywhere. The U.S. women’s soccer team, long dominant, slipped at the Olympics this year. But they won the one that mattered, the World Cup, a year ago.
Nothing is ever perfect.
But in the spirit of appreciating what we have, while we have it, we ought to appreciate Biles and Williams and the dominant runs they are on.
Both possess once-in-a-lifetime-type talent. And we’re seeing them at the same time.
“So amazing,” Serena Tweeted last week, to Biles and American swimmer Simone Manuel.
Yes, it is.
Copyright 2016 WDRB Media. All Rights Reserved.