NewsWomen's History Month


Former Olympian and world-record holder discusses sexism in sports

Posted at 6:52 PM, Mar 30, 2021

Growing up in New Jersey, Sue Anderson always had a passion to compete.

"I probably was driving my father crazy, because I wanted to play football, and I wanted to play baseball, and I wanted to do all the things my brother could do and it was not allowed," says Sue.

Ahead of her time, swimming was one of the only outlets for female athletes. However, Sue's family still had to drive almost an hour away to a pool and a coach that would train her.

"It was difficult at times. There were no high school programs for girls. New Jersey doesn't readily have high school pools," says Sue.

Despite logistical obstacles, Sue thrived. In 1963 she set a FINA World Record in the 200-meter butterfly. Going on to make the Olympic team in 1964, you may expect to see a gold medal. But even the Olympics had to grow toward gender equality.

"There were fewer events for women than there were for men in 1964. That was evened out in 1968, [when] women got the same events. So there were fewer opportunities to make the team and my best event wasn't offered," says Sue.

Racing as an alternate in the relay, Sue swam to qualify the U.S. for the finals in 1964. She also trained and served as a co-captain at the '68 games. In today's world, Sue would have also received a gold medal for her efforts.

"Back then, only the ones that swam in the finals get medals, so there are places where I am listed as a gold medalist. But you can look around, there is no gold medal," says Sue.

Even when Sue was recognized for her ability, named New Jersey's Amateur Athlete of the Year, gender was still an issue.

"There's a lovely picture of me standing and being handed this award in the lobby of the restaurant, because I wasn't allowed to attend the actual event. My father went to the actual event to accept my award," says Sue.

Lucky for us, Sue Anderson and others never let society stop them from competing. Sue gives credit to Title IX for opportunities her daughters were able to take advantage of.

"I couldn't swim for a college team; I was expected to stop. So yes, things have changed so much for the better. My two daughters went to Penn State as scholarship swimmers. So I guess, in that way, I got my revenge," says Sue.

There's a binder full of photos that gives credit to a young woman who had a passion to win.

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