5 Of The Greatest Champion Mums In Olympic History - Women's Health

5 Of The Greatest Champion Mums In Olympic History

They’re Olympians. They’re also mothers. These athletes are changing the game, proving professional sport doesn’t have to be separate from motherhood.

Childbirth and motherhood will always be an intensely personal and unique experience. But for the most part, the return to work after giving birth is unanimously a tough one. From feeding schedules and limited sleep, to trying to claw back some time of your own, it can be difficult to balance the two, let alone feel like you’re thriving. Consider then, what such an experience must be like for an Olympic athlete, someone who doesn’t just need to show up to the gym or track each day, but needs to ensure they perform at their best if they want to succeed. 

It might sound like an impossible feat, but time and time again, female athletes have proven that competing in sport isn’t separate from motherhood; you don’t need to choose between your passion and your desire to start a family, instead you can do both – and excel at them. Since women were first allowed to compete in the 1900 Olympics, mothers have continued to show their strength in their chosen sport. From those that came back from childbirth stronger than ever, to the incredible comebacks, it’s made for thrilling viewing for audiences around the world. 

More importantly though, without mothers competing at the top levels of sport, we wouldn’t have the strong message that anything is possible that we have today. It’s thanks to these women that tireless campaigns for equal pay, maternal health, parental benefits and racial justice continue to play out in the field of sport, with women reimagining what it is mothers can do and are capable of. As a number of mums take to the Tokyo Olympics, including soccer player Alex Morgan of the US team, we’re shining a spotlight on five of the greatest champion mums in Olympic history. 

Kristin Armstrong

The gold medal cyclist decided to retire after winning gold in Beijing, believing maintaining her athleticism as a new mum wouldn’t be feasible. After the birth of her son Lucas in 2010, she still wanted to compete in a home Olympics and began training again for the London Olympics where she won gold. Speaking about the shift, she told Today, “The decision to start training again wasn’t easy. I struggled with that a lot. At the beginning I felt selfish, I felt like, ‘Well, I’m not supposed to be thinking of myself anymore, it’s all supposed to be for my kid.”

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Oksana Chusovitina

The Olympic champion gymnast who has competed for the Soviet Union, Germany and Uzbekistan marked her seventh Olympics at Rio in 2016. From 1993 to 2006, she was considered the strongest gymnast on the Uzbekistan national team, earning more than 70 medals in international competitions and qualifying for the Olympics three times. At Rio, she was the oldest female gymnast in history, aged 41, where she made it through to the vault finals. 

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Kerri Walsh Jennings

The beach volleyball mum of three marked her fifth Olympic appearance at Rio de Janeiro in 2016. But even despite the number of medals she has to her name, it was her third gold medal that proved most impressive at the London 2012 Olympic Games, where Jennings was actually five weeks pregnant at the time. 

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Alysson Felix

With six gold medals to her name, Felix underwent an emergency C-section in 2018 at 32 weeks pregnant after being diagnosed with a life-threatening case of preeclampsia. At birth, her daughter Camryn weighed just 3 pounds, 7 ounces and was taken to the neonatal intensive care unit. Now aged 2, Felix’s daughter was there to see the star athlete qualify for Tokyo where Felix will be aiming for that gold medal. She’s become a champion of athlete mothers and even spoke out about contracts that were unfair towards expecting mothers.

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Jessica Ennis-Hill

The British track and field athlete specialises in combined events, scoring a total of 6,995 points at the 2012 Olympics in London where she won a gold medal and set a new national record. She also represented Great Britain at the 2016 Rio Games as a mum of two. At the time, she was looking to become the third woman in history to have given birth and retained her Olympic title within the same Olympic cycle, but she came away with silver instead. 

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By Jessica Campbell

Jess is a storyteller committed to sharing the human stories that lie at the heart of sport.

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