Today, athletes like Simone Biles and  Katie Ledecky are Olympic rockstars. But did you know that when the Olympics started, women weren’t even allowed to compete? And when they did join the games, female athletes struggled to get the same recognition as men. Join Joy, co-host Elysse and couch coach “Dubs” as they explore the surprising and triumphant history of how female athletes became Olympic stars. Plus, a brand new round of First Things First!

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[WHISTLE] ELISE: OK, Joy, let's go over the rules.

JOY DOLO: Yes, ma'am, Elise!

ELISE: The first rule of Couch Club is?

JOY DOLO: We do not talk about Couch Club.

ELISE: Correct! The second rule of Couch Club is?

JOY DOLO: Just kidding. We definitely talk about Couch Club. Tell everyone.

ELISE: Also correct! The third rule is?

JOY DOLO: You stay on the couch as long as humanly possible!


JOY DOLO: But what?

ELISE: Uh, no! Your butt!

JOY DOLO: Oh, right. You must have at least one butt cheek on a cushion at all times for it to count.

ELISE: Correct! And the final rule of Couch Club, Joy?

JOY DOLO: No double dipping your chips!

ELISE: Great work!


Now, should we start practice?

JOY DOLO: Do you mean sitting on the couch, eating chips for hours on end and watching cool sports?

ELISE: Of course! Assume the position!

JOY DOLO: Legs bent, butts out! Ready to sit in three, two, one!


JOY DOLO: Ohh, yeah. Nothing like doing nothing.

ELISE: Nothing? We've got lots of training to do. You think we'll be the world class couch sitters by just sitting on our bums?


ELISE: Uh, no! We need to train. Sit and give me 20! 20 glute crunches, that is!



JOY DOLO: Ugh! OK! [GRUNTING] One! Two! Three.


Hello, you're listening to Forever Ago from APM Studios. I'm Joy Dolo, and my co-host today is Elise. Hey there, couch mate.

ELISE: Hey, Joy. How are you doing?

JOY DOLO: Oh, you know I'm doing so good, Elise, baby. It feels good to be alive, baby. Today's episode is all about the Olympics, specifically women in the Olympics, because believe it or not, the 2024 summer games in Paris is expected to be the first time in Olympic history that there will be the same number of female athletes as male athletes.

ELISE: Yeah, in the past, men have always outnumbered women. And in the early days, women weren't allowed to compete at all.

JOY DOLO: For shame, Olympics. For shame. So Elise, do you think it's more fun to play sports or watch sports?

ELISE: Probably playing sports, I guess.

JOY DOLO: Playing sports. What sports do you play?

ELISE: Volleyball, I'm trying to get into that, and lacrosse.

JOY DOLO: Lacrosse. Oh, lacrosse is cool. So lacrosse, volleyball, I just learned how to play volleyball this year, too, and so I didn't know any of the-- I can't even remember now the positions that there were, but I was really good at serving the ball, like in the very beginning when you have to hit it over the net, you know?

ELISE: Nice!

JOY DOLO: Do you think volleyball is fun to watch, or are there other sports that you like to watch?

ELISE: I really enjoy watching football with my dad. He is crazy.


ELISE: He's a nut. So he's like, yeah! Let's go E-A-G-L-E-S, Eagles! I'm just like, Dad, please, let's just watch the game. Let's get through the game.

JOY DOLO: [LAUGH] OK, so if you could create your own Olympic event, your own event, what would it be?

ELISE: I think my Olympic event would be like how many Chipotle bowls could you eat? I love Chipotle, and I just love their bowl so much. So I would wonder how many bowls could you really eat because it's like a whole plate of food. And usually, I eat all of mine when I'm starving. Like, I have the whole bowl. But I feel like that would be like such a cool sport to watch. That'd be so fascinating because I know a lot of people that like Chipotle. So it's like, we would just be all in common, and all the Chipotle lovers would watch it together. I feel like it would be great.

JOY DOLO: Listen, I would love to be a part of your team if I can join because I also love a Chipotle bowl.

ELISE: Absolutely, yes.

JOY DOLO: OK, now let's get back to business. We were talking about the history of female athletes in the Olympic games.

ELISE: Right. Let's start with a brisk jog back to the year of the first modern Olympics, 1896.

JOY DOLO: I thought we weren't leaving the couch.

ELISE: I mean jog in your seat, Joy! It's good for circulation. Kick your legs like you're running, but remember, one cheek on the couch at all times. And go!


JOY DOLO: Ugh! I'm sit jogging! I'm sit jogging!

ELISE: Now, picture 1896--


--way before TV. Most homes had no electricity. Phones or radios were brand new and not super common.

JOY DOLO: Right. There were no airlines, so if you wanted to travel far, you'd probably go by horse or by train or steamship.

ELISE: Over in Greece, some people organize a giant sporting event and invited a bunch of different countries to come, the first modern Olympic games.

JOY DOLO: It was inspired by the ancient Olympics held in Greece around 2,000 years ago. This new version was a mix of older sports, like wrestling and running, and newer ones, like cycling and fencing. But like we said, it was all men.

ELISE: Yeah. In a lot of Europe and America back then, it was popular to think that the perfect woman was gentle, frail, or even weak.

JOY DOLO: And those folks thought women shouldn't push themselves too hard, and being competitive was unladylike.

ELISE: In fact, one of the founders of the modern Olympics even once said women's sports were against the laws of nature.

JOY DOLO: Boo to all that. Boo. Plenty of women disagreed, and lots were already playing sports. So when the next Olympics rolled around four years later in 1900, things changed? Well, a little.

ELISE: Speaking of changing, time to change our sitting position so we can do some couch crunches! We got to keep training.

JOY DOLO: Um, seriously? I usually try to not move at all when I'm on the couch.

ELISE: Are you in it to win it, Joy? Or are you cruising for a losing? If we're going to do this, I want you all in.

JOY DOLO: This is not what I expected when I signed up for Couch Club.


Oh, good. The other couch coach is here.

ELISE: What? I thought I was the only couch coach.

JOY DOLO: Oh, yeah. Um, well, I just thought we needed someone a little less driven.


That's them now. I'll just get the--


ELISE: Joy! No getting up!

JOY DOLO: Oof! Right. Left cheek is still touching. Come on in! We're on the couch!

WINNIE: Hey, y'all. Someone call for a professional couch potato?

JOY DOLO: Elise, meet Couch Coach Winnie.

WINNIE: Hey. You can call me W for short.

ELISE: W is actually more syllables than Winnie, so it's technically longer.

JOY: W dubs. I'm going to call you Coach Dubs. Cool? Cool.

WINNIE: Just don't call me before noon. [LAUGHS] Because Coach Dubs is not a morning person-- or a night person. Honestly, I'm in bed most of the time.

JOY DOLO: See? This is the "do nothing" attitude we need on our side, Elise.

ELISE: Well, I guess.

JOY DOLO: Coach Dubs, join us on the couch. We were just talking about the first time women competed in the Olympics.

WINNIE: Noice. OK, I'll just sit still and listen. Listening is like giving your mouth a nap.

JOY DOLO: So wise. My mouth never naps.

ELISE: Anyway, like we said, in 1900, women were allowed to compete in the second Olympics, but only in five sports-- tennis, sailing, croquet, golf, and horseback riding. Out of 997 athletes, only 22 were women. That's less than 3%.

JOY DOLO: And it wasn't like we picture sports today. For starters, women still had to wear big, frumpy, long sleeve dresses when they did stuff, like play tennis. It's got to be hard to serve the ball when your outfit is serving Little House on the Prairie realness.

ELISE: But still, many of them gave it their all, including the first woman to ever win an Olympic gold medal, and she did it competing against men.

JOY DOLO: Her name was Helene de Pourtales. She was born in New York, but spent most of her childhood near Lake Geneva in Switzerland. Growing up near water, she absorbed a love of boats. Eventually, she learned to sail and started competing in races.

WOMAN 1: Oh, how I do love sailing. It's so relaxing.

WOMAN 2: Especially when I'm smoking the competition! Woo-hoo!

ELISE: When she heard the second Olympics would allow women to race boats, Elena and her husband and their crew signed up.

JOY DOLO: The race took place near a small town in France. Her team had to sail almost six miles. And it was pretty challenging, especially with so many boats competing, but they practiced a lot on Lake Geneva, where the weather could change quickly.

WOMAN 1: This is so tricky.

WOMAN 2: For you. For me, it's a walk in the park. Come on, team. Let's put those other boats on blast. Ha!

ELISE: They led their sailboat to victory and first place!

JOY DOLO: And just like that, Helene became the first woman ever to win gold at the Olympics. So you think she'd be super famous, right? Wrong! Newspapers mostly focused on male athletes. She lived the rest of her life without much attention for her historic win.

WINNIE: Harsh. I don't go much for pomp and circumstance, but seems like she should have gotten more attention.

ELISE: Yeah. Sail champ Helene wasn't the only woman to win gold that year, but these women didn't get much attention either. In fact, the first American woman to win gold didn't even know she won.


ELISE: In 1900, Margaret Abbott entered a golf championship in Paris, and Margaret crushed it.

JOY DOLO: Yeah, but instead of getting a medal, she got a porcelain bowl. The organizers didn't make a big deal about the contest, and no one told her it was part of the Olympics. It wasn't until 1955, long after she died, that someone found her story and told her family that Margaret made Olympic history. It was just one more example of how female athletes were an afterthought.

ELISE: Yeah, but coming up, one woman was about to steal the attention of the world.

WINNIE: Ooh, I can't wait to hear this. But in the meantime, can you give me a chip?

JOY DOLO: Uh, they are literally on your lap.

WINNIE: Yeah, but the key to doing nothing is to not do something. So it would really help me out if you just put one in my mouth for me.

JOY DOLO: Uh, I guess? Here comes the chip.


WINNIE: Ah. Maximum relaxation.

JOY DOLO: Yeah, for you. Anyway, sit tight, and we'll tell you more in a minute, but now time to play--

CREW: First Things First!


JOY DOLO: This is the game where we try to guess the order things came in history. Ready, Elise?

ELISE: Oh, yeah, I'm ready.

JOY DOLO: [LAUGHS] OK, our three items today are Olympic sports. You've got to guess which became an official Olympic sport first, which was second, and which was added most recently. The sports are ping pong, basketball, and volleyball, which you know a lot about. So what do you think, Elise? Which came first, which came second, and which came most recently in history?

ELISE: OK, so first, I'm going to say ping pong.

JOY DOLO: OK, all right. Why is that your first gut reaction?

ELISE: I feel like it's the easiest one out of them to put in there, especially with all the sports, and people get really into it. So I feel like it's easy to set up, and a lot of people do enjoy ping pong matches. So I would say that that goes first for me.

JOY DOLO: Yeah, I agree with that. That makes sense to me. OK, so we have basketball and volleyball still.

ELISE: Oh, gosh. That's a tricky one. For me, I'm going to say--

JOY DOLO: It's hard because they're both like court-based, you know?

ELISE: Yeah, I'm going to say volleyball. I am going to say volleyball.

JOY DOLO: OK, all right.

ELISE: Then I would say basketball last because I feel like it would take them a while to get an indoor stadium. I think it would be hard to set that up because it just would be hard to get that together. So that's why.

JOY DOLO: That makes sense. OK, so we have ping pong, volleyball, and basketball. Is that your final answer?

ELISE: Mm-hmm.

JOY DOLO: Mm-hmm, all right. Well, we'll hear the answers after the credits. So keep listening.


Here, at Forever Ago, we love talking about the surprising history behind some of our favorite inventions, like remember how the microwave was invented totally by accident?

ELISE: Or how early ice cream was made from whale puke?

JOY DOLO: Listeners, we want to hear from you. Do you have an invention you want to shout out for being totally awesome? It could be something unusual or something totally common that you think deserves more love. Send us a recording of yourself sharing your favorite invention and what's great about it at Elise, what's an invention you feel like you couldn't live without?

ELISE: I would probably say the invention of the phone. I feel like right now, teenagers are really in their phone, and that would be me, so.


Especially actually talking to people, it's like a basic communication thing, so that's important.

JOY DOLO: No, you're totally right. I think it's teens and adults alike. Like, we all live in our phones. Well, we can't wait to hear your invention mentions, too. Send them to us at

ELISE: And we'll be right back!


JOY DOLO: You're listening to Forever Ago. I'm Joy.

ELISE: I'm Elise, Joy's co-host and couch coach.

WINNIE: And I'm Coach Dubbs, co-couch coach. Now time for your next lesson on couch potatoing.

JOY DOLO: I'm ready. All set. Let's hear it. Lay it on me!

WINNIE: One great way to be one with the couch is to make like a couch cushion and sleep.

ELISE: Wait. I don't get it. Are couch cushions asleep? They're not really alive, so.


JOY DOLO: And she's out.

ELISE: Huh. I've never seen someone fall asleep on command like that. Kind of impressive, actually.

JOY DOLO: Well, I have too much energy to sleep. Plus, we have more history to explore.

ELISE: Yeah, her loss. Let's keep going.

JOY DOLO: Definitely. Today, we're talking all about the history of women in the Olympics. Women weren't allowed in the first modern Olympics. They were allowed in the second, but only in a few events. And the winners didn't get celebrated as much as men did.

ELISE: But now it's time to hear the story of an Olympic superstar who was celebrated as much, or more, than any man.

JOY DOLO: Wilma Rudolph had an unusual start for someone who was going to one day be called the "fastest woman in the world."

ELISE: She was born in 1940 in Tennessee and was the 20th of 22 siblings.

JOY DOLO: By 1940, the television had been invented, but almost nobody had one in their home. Instead, people got most of their news and entertainment from the radio.

ELISE: And in Tennessee, everything was segregated.

JOY DOLO: Segregation meant that white people and Black people were kept separate, and the businesses and services open for Black people were often worse than those for white people.

ELISE: Wilma Rudolph was born prematurely, meaning she was very small when she was born. She was only about 4 and 1/2 pounds at birth and needed extra care. Wilma was so tiny as a baby, her doctor didn't even think she would survive.

JOY DOLO: But she did. And as soon as she learned to walk, she was running and jumping all over the place. She was already showing herself to be a natural athlete.

ELISE: Except Wilma had a lot of health problems as a kid. Like, one of her siblings would get a cold, and she would end up with pneumonia and measles and mumps and scarlet fever.

JOY DOLO: Then when she was five years old, Wilma was diagnosed with polio. That's a dangerous virus that makes people very sick and can cause paralysis. That's when you're not able to move parts of your body. Today, we have a vaccine for polio, but back then, it didn't exist yet. So Wilma got really sick.

ELISE: Right. The virus left Wilma's left leg twisted, and doctors said she would never walk again. But her family always believed she would. And they were determined to help her get there.

JOY DOLO: The closest hospital that would treat Wilma was at a historically Black university in Nashville 50 miles away, so twice a week, Wilma and her mom rode the bus there.

ELISE: And every night, Wilma's mom, or one of her siblings, would massage her leg. Slowly, Wilma got better.

JOY DOLO: And she was able to walk again. For a few years, she had to use a heavy metal leg brace, but when she was 12, she surprised everyone by taking it off and walking without it.

ELISE: And once Wilma could walk, she was ready to play.

JOY DOLO: Yeah, she had spent years watching her classmates and siblings play basketball at recess and was eager to join her big sister on the team at school.


ELISE: By her sophomore year of high school, Wilma was a star player. She even broke her school scoring record.

CREW: 799! 801! 803! Woo! Woo! Go, Wilma!

WINNIE: Whoa. She scored 803 points in one season? That's a lot of scoring.

JOY DOLO: Dubs, you're awake!

WINNIE: Yeah, I woke up to eat more chips.


All this resting works up an appetite.

JOY DOLO: You said it.

ELISE: Anyway, the record was amazing, but it was Wilma's speed that made her stand out to Ed Temple.

MAN: Hey, kid. Who is that?

WOMAN 3: That's Wilma, but Coach calls her Skeeter because she darts around like a mosquito.

ELISE: Ed Temple was the women's track coach at a nearby university, and he convinced Wilma to run with the team.

JOY DOLO: Soon, she and her teammates were headed to Melbourne, Australia, for the 1956 Olympic games. They won bronze medals in the 400-meter relay. Over the next four years, Wilma kept training and eventually qualified for the 1960 Olympics in Rome.

ELISE: Go, Wilma, go! Now, 1960 was like no other Olympics that came before it. In the 20 years since Wilma was born, the popularity of TV had exploded!

WINNIE: I mean, obviously. TVs rule.

JOY DOLO: TVs rule so hard, and now since tens of millions of Americans had them in their homes, CBS had decided it would broadcast the Olympic games for the very first time.

ELISE: This meant beyond the thousands of people in the stands, millions of people were also watching Wilma back home.

JOY DOLO: An earlier generation of couch club, we owe them so much.

ELISE: They sat so we could sit more. Wilma won all three of the races she entered, becoming the first American to win three gold medals at the Olympics.

JOY DOLO: She became an instant celebrity, and not just in the US. People around the world were in awe of her style and speed. Here are some quotes from newspaper articles written about her wins.

WOMAN 4: Wilma Rudolph, queen of the women's sprinters, anchored the United States Women's Quartet to its world record.

MAN: She flicks over the ground, poised and reveling in her wonderful talent.

WOMAN 5: Wilma Rudolph, the Tennessee tornado, outraced a brilliant 200-meter field in 20 seconds flat yesterday.

ELISE: She earned lots of nicknames, including the "Tennessee Tornado." Her hometown even played a parade in her honor.

WINNIE: Finally. Female athletes getting their due.

JOY DOLO: Yeah, it was a big step up from the days of women winners getting porcelain bowls and not even knowing they were in the Olympics.

ELISE: But the parade was going to be segregated, which means Black and white residents would have to watch from separate areas. Wilma said she would not attend unless they changed course and integrated the celebration. She wanted it to be free and open for everyone.

JOY DOLO: Threatening to skip your own parade-- total power move.

ELISE: And Wilma had a lot of newfound power. Eventually, the city agreed, and the parade became the first ever integrated event in her hometown.

JOY DOLO: Wilma was a trailblazer in many ways.

ELISE: And lots of great women would follow in her footsteps.

JOY DOLO: There was Florence Griffith Joyner, who set sprinting records in the '80s that still stand today.

ELISE: Or Nadia Comaneci, the gymnast, who, at age 14, was the first athlete ever to get a perfect score at the Olympics. Before her, lots of people thought that that was impossible.

JOY DOLO: Today, athletes like Simone Biles and Yusra Mardini are pushing sports to new limits.

ELISE: Yeah, the Olympics have come a long way since the early days when women were an afterthought. There's still a lot to do to get female athletes the attention that they deserve, but thanks to all these groundbreaking women, we've seen even when society doesn't believe in you, you can win big if you believe in yourself.

WINNIE: Wow. That's really amazing stuff. You know, it's got me thinking, maybe the key to greatness isn't found in doing nothing. Maybe being a couch potato is just a way for me to hide the fact that I'm afraid of trying. Because when you try, you can fail. But none of these women would have broken barriers and won medals if they didn't try. So maybe it's time I stopped doing nothing and try doing something. Eh, maybe after another nap. [SNORES]

JOY DOLO: I can't get used to how fast she does that. It's like turning off a light switch. Elise, I don't want to do nothing either. I want to train hard and push myself to the limits of couch athleticism. Can you keep running couch club training?

ELISE: You mean it? Of course I can!

JOY DOLO: Oh, great!


ELISE: Now, Joy, get ready for your next drill-- aggressive reclining! Or just regular reclining. This should be fun, after all. Or else, why do we do it?

JOY DOLO: Well said. I love reclining. Hey, you know what would make this better? More chips.

ELISE: This bag is empty, and the other ones are in the kitchen.

JOY DOLO: The kitchen? I can't reach that from the couch, even with my arms outstretched and only one butt cheek touching. No!


This episode was written by Nico Gonzalez Wisler and Sanden Totten. We had help from Shahla Farzan, Molly Bloom, Nico Gonzalez Wisler, Aron Woldeslassie. Anna Goldfield, Rosie DuPont, Ruby Guthrie, and Anna Weggel. Sound design by Rachel Brees. Theme music by Marc Sanchez. Beth Pearlman is our executive producer. We had engineering help from Anna Havermann, Zack Hanni, and Alex Simpson. The executives in charge of APM Studios are Chandra Kavati, Joanne Griffith, and Alex Schaffert. Special thanks to Maureen Smith and [INAUDIBLE].

OK, Elise, are you ready to find out the answers to today's First Things First?


JOY DOLO: Yes! So just a reminder, you had in the Olympics, it was first ping pong and then volleyball, and then basketball. Those were your guesses.


JOY DOLO: Here are the answers.


JOY DOLO: First up was basketball.

ELISE: What?

JOY DOLO: OK, so basketball was invented in 1891, and it got popular real quick. But it wasn't a full event in the Olympics with medals and everything until the 1936 games, and it was only for men. Women's basketball wouldn't be added to the Olympics until the 1970s. What a mess that is.

ELISE: Mm, mm-mm.

JOY DOLO: Because even nowadays, women's basketball is doing great.

ELISE: Right.

JOY DOLO: But we still have to wait till the '70s. I'm so over this. OK, so get ready. Hold on to your horses. Because the second one, you were correct. It was volleyball.


JOY DOLO: Yes, you got it! You did it! I knew you could do it. Next up, volleyball. It didn't get officially added to the Olympics until much later in 1964. And at first, it was just indoor volleyball, but eventually, sitting volleyball was added to the Paralympics. That's a sport like volleyball, except players are sitting and have to keep one cheek on the ground when making contact with the ball. It's designed so it can be played by athletes with disabilities.

ELISE: Oh, wow. That's really awesome.

JOY DOLO: Yeah, yeah, that's pretty cool. Volleyball is for everyone. So we can all play. So that means that last, but not least, it was ping pong.

ELISE: Craziness.

JOY DOLO: That's nuts. I didn't think ping pong was going to be the most recent. I felt like-- I agreed with your table theory. But finally, ping pong entered the chat at the 1988 Olympics. The sport dates back to the late 1800s, and it was invented in London, England, as a way for tennis heads to keep playing in winter months when it was too cold to play outside. Oh! It had a lot of names over the years like Whiff Waff, clip-clap, Netto, and tennis de salon. Tennis de Salon. That doesn't even seem creative.

ELISE: That doesn't. It just seems random.

JOY DOLO: Yeah. [LAUGHS] It's like tennis, but smaller. It's mini tennis. So what do you think about that?

ELISE: That's actually kind of cool. I did not know basketball would be first.

JOY DOLO: Yeah, me neither.

ELISE: That's interesting.

JOY DOLO: Yeah, since like 1891.

ELISE: That's crazy.

JOY DOLO: I didn't think we played basketball back then.

ELISE: Right.

JOY DOLO: I also think, just to throw this out there, I think Whiff Waff is the best name for a sport.

ELISE: Me, too.

JOY DOLO: For ping pong.

ELISE: I think that's really cool. Or the other one, what's the other one with the N? What's that?

JOY DOLO: Netto?

ELISE: Netto, I like that.

JOY DOLO: It's like net, oh!

ELISE: Yeah. Oh!

JOY DOLO: That's it for this episode of Forever Ago. We'll be back next week.

ELISE: Thanks for listening!

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