This year’s summer Olympiad has a lot of firsts. After pressure from the International Olympics Committee about its ban on women athletes, Saudi Arabia is sending two to London, ensuring that the 2012 Games is the first in which at least one woman from each country competes.
Back home, the U.S. Olympic team boasts more female athletes than men--a first.
In celebration of the Games and all the nations competing, we’ve put together a slide show of some of the notable--and diverse--faces from Olympic history.
(Related Next America story: 40-Pus on Team USA Are Foreign-Born)
Ethelda Bleibtrey, swimming
Women were allowed to compete for the first time in 1900, and in swimming for the first time in 1912. Just eight years later, Bleibtrey became the first American woman swimmer to win a gold--and finished first in all three women’s races (100- and 300-meter freestyle and 4×100-meter freestyle relay).(AP photo)
Alice Coachman, track and field
With her performance in high jump, Coachman became the first black woman to win an Olympic gold--and the only female American athlete who won the top prize for any track and field event that year in London.(AP Photo)
Victoria Manalo Draves, diving
The Filipino diver was the first Asian-American woman to win an Olympic medal. She also gets the honor of being the first woman to win two gold medals for diving in the same Games.(AP Photo)
Paul Gonzales, boxing
After coming out on top in the light flyweight division, Gonzales became the first Latino-American to win a gold medal in any discipline. He was also the first American to win gold in the light flyweight division. Here, Gonzales appears with 1984 Democratic presidential nominee Walter Mondale.(AP Photo/Lana Harris)
Trent Dimas, gymnastics
Hispanic-American Trent Dimas was the first to win an Olympic gold in gymnastics on non-American soil after beating the competition on the horizontal bar.(AP Photo/Craig Fujii)
Sammy Lee, diving
Lee, who is also known for coaching several Olympic divers including Greg Louganis, was the first Asian-American to win an Olympic gold medal.(AP Photo/Preston Stroup)
Michael Johnson, track and field
Olympics: 1992, 1996, 2000
The track superstar boasts four gold medals, and in 1996 he earned the title of being the first man to win both the 200- and 400-meter sprints. Johnson was selected to be a torchbearer for the 2012 London Games.(AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
John Baxter Taylor, track and field
With his win in the medley relay, Taylor became the first African-American to win an Olympic gold medal.
Dara Torres, swimming
Olympics: 1984, 1988, 1992, 2000, and 2008
Torres is the only American swimmer to have competed in five Olympic Games, and at 41 in 2008, she was also the oldest. Torres, whose father was Cuban-American, also holds the honor of being one of the few Olympians who boasts medals from five different Games.(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)