From Paris 1924 to Paris 2024: Spanish female participation turns one hundred years old

With decent skirts below the knee, her legs hidden by white stockings and a wooden racket in her hand, This Sunday it will be exactly a century since the Spanish tennis players Lilí Álvarez and Rosa Torras performed at the Colombes Stadium to participate in the 1924 Paris Games and thus became the first Spanish Olympic athletes of history.

One hundred years later, in Paris 2024, His heirs Sara Sorribes and Cristina Bucsa will compete at Roland Garros their matches wielding light graphite rackets, dressed in short, colorful and tight-fitting clothing and becoming professionals in their sport. Álvarez and Torras were the first and the only Spanish in 1924because two other registered players, Isabel Fonrodona and María Luísa Marnet, did not compete.

Instead, Sorribes and Bucsa will travel to Paris accompanied by another 190 women, 50.2% of the Spanish Olympic team, in which for the first time there will be more women than men. Spain’s women’s debut on an Olympic stage could have occurred earlier, in 1920, when ‘Panchita’ Subijana and Lily Rózpide, also tennis players, were summoned for the Antwerp event. But none finally went to Belgium.

So it was up to them Lilí Álvarez and Rosa Torras that honor, which they took full advantage of, because in 1924 they participated in all three tournaments: singles, doubles and mixed doubles. Torras won his first individual match and lost in the next, in the round of 16. Álvarez reached the quarterfinals, played on July 17. In the women’s doubles they lost first and in mixed Lilí Álvarez and Eduardo Flaquer passed a round, until the second round, and Torras and Ricardo Saprissa were eliminated in their debut.

Torras traveled to Paris with bronchitis and in Colombes he had a little fire next to the field to inhale vapors between games. According to the authors Alejandro Leiva and Antonio Sánchez Pato in the book ‘Olympism in Spain. A historical look from the origins to the present day’, “Lilí Álvarez herself in her autobiographical notes “he never gave special importance” to his participation in Parisso “probably these athletes were not aware of the true significance” that their presence in that edition meant for women’s sports.

Without further Spanish participation until 1960

Rita Pulido posing during her participation in the 1960 GamesGeorge Silk

We had to wait 34 years, until 1960, to see another Spanish woman compete in the Olympic Games. The Civil War and the Franco dictatorship fell like a stone on the incipient women’s sport in Spain, which barely resurfaced in the late 1950s.

Eleven women attended the Rome Games, in three sports: gymnastics, swimming and fencing. In that group there are emblematic names such as those of the swimmers Isabel Castañé and Rita Pulidowho competed when they were 14 and 15 years old, or those of Elena Artamendi, later a prominent leader of Catalan gymnastics, and María Shaw, as well as an outstanding physical fencer.

In Tokyo 1964 and Mexico 1968 the presence was almost token, with three and two swimmers, respectively. Pulido and Castañé repeated in the Japanese capital, accompanied by Asuncion Ballester, and Mari Paz Corominas, who was a finalist in the 200 m backstroke, and Pilar von Carsten competed in Mexico. Munich’72 only recorded the participation of five Spaniards, among them the painter María Teresa Romero, who was thirteenth in archery.

From Montreal to Seoul: a slow improvement in numbers and results

Carmen Valero our first representative in athleticsSpanish Athletics Federation

The Montreal ’76 Games had the first Spanish representative in athleticsthe remembered Carmen Valeroamong a team of eleven women.

Despite the openness brought about by the newly launched democracy, for female athletes things were going slowly and in Moscow’80 it was reduced to nine representativeslimited to gymnastics – Aurora Morata, who was champion of Spain and the Mediterranean Games, was on the team -, swimming and jumping.

Los Angeles 1984 and Seoul’88 recorded significant increases that prepared the ground for the great change that Barcelona’92 would entail.

Teresa Rioné (athletics), Laura Muñoz (artistic gymnastics), Marta Bobo (rhythmic), Ana Tarrés (synchronized)… The 16 athletes who traveled to Los Angeles already enjoyed popularity among fansand even more so the 29 who competed in Seoul, with the following edition, at home, already in everyone’s minds: Eva Rueda (artistic gymnastics), Blanca Lacambra, Sandra Myers, Rosa Colorado, Maite Zúñiga (athletics), Gemma Usieto (shooting), Arantxa Sánchez Vicario (tennis) and Silvia Parera (swimming) were part of that expedition.

Barcelona’92: the first medals

Blanca Fernández Ocha with her medal

The ADO preparation plan Barcelona Games It showed that, with equal treatment, economic conditions and preparation, Spanish athletes were also ready to get on the podium. 125 competed and the medals finally arrivedpreceded a few months earlier by the bronze of Blanca Fernandez-Ochoa at the Winter Games.

The golds of the judokas Miriam Blasco (the first in time) and Almudena Muñoz, of the sailors Theresa Zabell and Patricia Guerra and of the field hockey team (the only Spanish women’s team that to date has been Olympic champion), Carolina Pascual’s silver in rhythmic, of Arantxa Sánchez Vicario and Conchita Martínez in tennis doubles and Natalia Vía-Dufresne in sailing and, finally, Sánchez Vicario’s bronze in singles formed a panorama that was difficult to imagine a decade earlier.

The ‘Barcelona effect’ extended until Atlanta ’96, with 93 women classified and six medals won in rhythmic gymnastics, sailing, tennis and judo. In Sydney 2000, the hundred participants were once again surpassed, a barrier that has never been turned back: 139 in 2004, 121 in Beijing, 111 in London, 144 in Rio, 137 in Tokyo. If until 1992 the percentage of men in the Spanish team had always exceeded 87%, the women were already more than 40.

María Vasco achieved the first female medal in athletics, with his bronze in the 20 km walk in Sydney; In the same edition came Nina Zhivanevskaya’s bronze in swimming. In 2004, the first women’s podium came, the only one so far, in artistic gymnastics thanks to Patricia Moreno and her bronze on the ground, among other Spanish hits. And in Beijing 2008, sports such as weightlifting, with Lidia Valentín, and synchronized swimming were added to the podium.

The Second Revolution: from London 2012 to Tokyo 2020

Mireia Belmonte medalist in London

A similar leap in importance to that of Barcelona occurred at the London 2012 Games, when The Spanish Olympians practically doubled their teammates in medals, 13-6. In Rio 2016 the superiority was maintained (9-8) and in Tokyo 2020 the medals with women’s signature dropped to 6 again, plus the mixed medals in shooting.

They were the years of Mireia Belmonteby Maialen Chourraut, by Marina Alabau, by Ruth Beitia, by Carolina Marín, by Sandra Sánchez, by Teresa Portela… But the step taken by team sports was also transcendental: silver in water polo and basketball, bronze in handball.

With the classification for the Paris 2024 Games of the Spanish soccer team, the boxer Laura Fuertes, the pentathlete Laura Heredia, the surfers Nadia Erostarbe and Janire González and the climber Leslie Romero, Spanish women’s sport will only have participation pending in the newly incorporated discipline, breaking.

As for medals, a century after that premiere in Paris in 1924, the Spanish ones They already have metals in 19 Olympic sports.


Davide Piano

An experienced journalist with an insatiable curiosity for global affairs on newshubpro

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