Every four years the Olympics roll around and four days ago we welcomed the 31st Olympiad in Rio. So far the Australian team is nearing the top of the leaderboard, meanwhile, back at home, we’re cheering along with Bruce McAveny in the wee hours of the morning. There is one Australian in particular, though, who is watching the Olympics closer than most. That person is Richmond-based graphic designer and illustrator, Wendy Fox.
Wendy loves the Olympics, especially the spirit and strength of the female athletes. How are these mere mortals capable of achieving such greatness, in such seemingly random and diverse fields, including dancing in-sync underwater with a team, vaulting oneself over a gravity-defying high bar, or somersaulting off a 20 metre diving board? ‘I’m a sucker for watching people with crazy physical skills, especially the ones that can fly or go really fast,’ she explains.
While watching the 2012 London Games, Wendy made the realisation that the fiercest, fastest female athletes in the world ‘did not have bodies that adhered to the model ideal of what a female body should be’. It was an interesting discovery that she hadn’t considered before, and one she thought was worth celebrating. ‘This variety of body types felt like something that we should embrace and celebrate,’ she explains. She decided to document these women using basic anthropometric data she found on the London Olympics website. Initially, Wendy thought she would simply chart the data, but quickly decided an illustration based infographic would work best.
Wendy illustrated each female gold medal-winning Olympian during the London Games, along with their name, age, height, weight and sport. Each female Olympian was connected by their gold medal status, making them the world’s best in their sport. Individually though, each woman had her own physical identity.
‘The first thing I noticed when I started working on the London project was that the fastest woman in the world, Shelley Ann Fraser Pryce, is tiny. She is 5’ 0” (152cm),’ explains Wendy. ‘It made me realise how many preconceived ideas I had about what sports were even an option for a short women (I’m 160 cm), and the exciting discovery that you can be ANY body type (shape or size) and find a sport that you can part take in!’
The second key thing Wendy noticed were that height and age were the biggest dictators of sport specific performance at an elite level. ‘Swimmers and gymnasts are among the youngest (late teens early twenties) team sports athletes are generally in their twenties and early thirties. Equestrian and fencing athletes are a little older (the oldest was 44).’
What started as a humble creative project evolved into a uniquely insightful document of the 2012 games, and in particular, a celebration of women in sports. With the 2016 games underway, Wendy plans to do it all again.
‘I am super excited about doing the project again, and turning it into a book and poster,’ says Wendy. ‘I think it’s going to be really beautiful, archival and a great resource for girls, young women, schools, universities and sport institutes.’