Leotard worn by gymnast Domique Dawes (b. 1976) at the 1996 Summer Olympic games, held in Atlanta, Georgia. At the games she won gold as part of the first place U.S. team. The Maryland native also took home an individual bronze for her performance in the floor exercise, becoming the first African-American woman to medal in her sport. Dawes was a member of three medal winning Olympic teams. She has been inducted as a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee's Hall of Fame. After her retirement, Dawes began a career as a motivational speaker.
The 1996 Summer Olympic Games, also known as the Games of the XXVI Olympiad were held in Atlanta, Georgia with 197 countries, 6,797 men and 3,523 women athletes participating. These Games saw the debuts of beach volleyball, mountain biking, softball, and women's soccer. These Games also saw the American women, who had taken full advantage of Title IX legislation, excel in Olympic competition. The women's gymnastics, soccer, softball and basketball teams all won gold, propelling the US women athletes into the global spotlight and beginning their dominance in Olympic competition. Atlanta benefitted from the Games as Centennial Olympic Park led to the revitalization of the downtown area and the Olympic Village became residence housing for area universities. These games marked the first time since 1984 that the United States topped the medal count with 101.
Girls have always played sports but often faced cultural barriers, the idea that girls were not athletic, and structural barriers that denied them equipment and a place to play. The federal government changed that in 1972 adding Title IX to the Civil Rights Act, which barred discrimination in education based on sex and race. Adequate resources challenged beliefs that girls could not play.
Dominique Dawes wore this gymnastics leotard at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta as a member of the gold-medal-winning "Magnificent Seven," where she also became the first African American woman to win an individual event medal. The synthetic materials used in the leotard provided the elasticity needed for athletic maneuvers, and head coach Marta Karolyi chose bright white to show off the gymnasts' athletic bodies making it easier for the judges to see their form.
Dawes began her Olympic career at age 15, won four medals in three Olympics, and became famous for her back-to-back tumbling passes on the floor exercise. For girls like Dawes, athleticism opened a door to self-expression, teaching her to dream and finding a way to achieve all that she was capable of.