With the 2014 Olympics just a few weeks away (Feb. 7-23), anticipation of the world’s biggest sporting event is beginning to build. But coverage surrounding the Winter Games is just getting started. We had a chance to catch up with Angela Ruggiero, a four-time Olympic medalist and current member of both the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) and International Olympic Committee (IOC). Angela is considered one of the most prominent women’s ice hockey players in the world, and she also happens to be one of our CEHD Rising Alumni. Her remarkable experience surrounding the Olympics, both as a competitor and administrator, offered the perfect opportunity to see Sochi from a unique perspective.
From Athlete to Administrator
My biggest goal in sports after retiring as an athlete was to continue making a difference. This has been my goal for all athletes, both men and women.
In some ways, my reach is wider now than when I was on the ice, when the Olympics were primarily about my team and my sport. Now I’m learning more about the Olympic movement as a whole and leveraging my athletic experience to make a difference with the USOC and IOC. I spend a significant amount of time on the road with both organizations, traveling to help prepare for future Olympic sites like the 2016 Winter Youth Olympics and 2018 Winter Olympics.
The Winter Youth Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway will be a great addition. We’re bringing athletes ages 14-18 from all over the world to compete in events never before seen in Olympic competition. There will be mixed-gender and mixed-country sports as well as variations of the sports themselves. Ice hockey, for example, has an individual skills competition, something that will be fun and different for fans and athletes alike. But more than that, Lillehammer will be a cultural and educational learning experience. It’s about bringing different people and different athletes together to learn more about each other. While it is the Olympics, there will be much more to it than meets the eye. Watch the short video below to learn more:
Equality for Women’s Sports
Advocating for women’s sports has always been close to my heart. This passion started with the Women’s Sports Foundation (WSF), which had a profound effect on me as a young person not only in my athletic career, but in my understanding of what advocacy in women’s sports should look like. This understanding was also influenced by the University of Minnesota’s Tucker Center, an interdisciplinary research center leading a pioneering effort to examine how sport and physical activity affect the lives of girls and women, their families, and communities. My role as President of the Women’s Sports Foundation enabled me to jump at the opportunity to be elected to the IOC. So how far have we come in this movement?
Title IX has done a fabulous job creating equal participation opportunities for girls and women of all ages and abilities. At the Olympic level, the IOC continues pushing for more equality and giving more spots to female competitors. In fact, London was the first Olympics with a female participant from every country. But the struggle we face now is how equal are those opportunities? We’re talking about resources, funding, staff, etc. All of these things that make a program successful are still lacking for girls and women, especially girls and women in countries other than the United States. While I’m excited about how far we’ve come, I’m also realistic about how far we have to go.
Equality for Women’s Sports Around the World
Again, I can’t underestimate how powerful Title IX has been for girl’s and women’s team sports. We need to remember, however, that this progress is a result of American legislation, which was an education act, not just a sports act. Compared to Olympians around the world, our women’s sports teams are dominant, and the difference-maker is having a support system in place, which affords women four years of experience at great universities. This is unique to the United States. The majority of countries around the world don’t have the same support system, the same education opportunities or the same integration of academics and sports. These differences in structure and culture illuminate why U.S. women are not only the majority medal-winners for the United States, but also in their events.
The Biggest Piece of Advice for Any Athlete
Another way I try to make a difference is by talking with young athletes. My advice is always the same. Figure out what you want and think hard about why you want it. There are a lot of kids who may be playing out their friends’ dreams or their parents’ dreams. This is the biggest hurdle, because once you know that, you can put your heart and soul into what you’re doing. It’s the difference between a successful athlete and someone who is very skilled, but doesn’t succeed. Do you have the passion to work hard, stay late and really become invested in being successful? It’s an internal question that you have to ask yourself. If you can say yes, all the hard work will be worth it, both in between and outside the lines.[sc:angela-ruggiero]
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