We were sitting around the dining room table the other night talking about the Olympics and the conversation wandered to the original games in ancient Greece.

Brunswick resident Heather D. Martin wants to know what’s on your mind; email her at [email protected]

Among some of the more bizarre and gruesome bits of trivia and history was the relatively “common knowledge” nugget that the original games were played entirely in the nude. True story.

No one is 100% sure why or how this became the rule, only that it was. Whatever the origin, the “clothing not an option” rule certainly was tied to enforcement of the “men only” rules for competition as well.

History tells us that a separate competition for women, dedicated to the goddess Hera, was held at the same time on separate grounds and may go back just as far.

Props to the early women athletes who, banned from the Olympic games, simply started their own competition. But, as we all know, separate is inherently unequal.

However, one smart and clever woman did manage to compete (sort of) in the ancient Olympiad – and won gold. Twice! Who was this rebel, you ask? Her name was Kyniska, daughter of King Archidamus II. Being a princess, she had access to wealth and opportunity others did not. What’s more, she was Spartan, and in her culture, girls and women were encouraged to compete.

Kyniska bred horses – magnificent, champion horses. In modern racing, it is the horse that is considered the victor, not the jockey, and it is the owner of the horse who reaps the rewards. The same was true in her world. And so, although she was not allowed to set foot inside the arena – not even to claim her prize – when her horses won in the four-horse chariot races, Kyniska claimed the victory and became the first woman to win an Olympic event. She did it again four years later, too.

As for the modern games, they began in 1896 and women first competed just four years later, in 1900. Not too shabby, really.

The permitted sports for women were tennis, sailing, croquet, golf and equestrianism. Nice to have that tradition handed down. Thanks, Kyniska.

In those games, 22 out of the 997 total athletes, or just about 2%, were women.

Today, according to the International Olympic Committee, 49% of all competitors are women, making these games the first ever to have near gender parity in athletes. Whoop!

But before we start tossing the gender equity confetti: Gender parity does not equal gender equality.

This year’s games have been marred by gender-dismissive commentary, discrimination against athletes who are also mothers and, to circle back to the earlier clothing conversation, the truly odd incident where the women’s Norwegian beach handball team was fined for wearing athletic shorts, like male handball players, in lieu of the oh-so-skimpy bikini bottoms the women are issued.

So we clearly still have some work to do. But – and this is a big but – we are talking about it openly.

I, for one, find this incredibly heartening. Women’s voices are being raised and they are being heard. When Nike punished Allyson Felix for motherhood, she formed her own company and just took home her 11th medal in track, making her “the most decorated American track-and-field athlete in Olympic history,” according to The New York Times.

New role models are emerging, artificial boundaries are being dismantled and I am excited for what the future holds.

Comments are not available on this story.