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Opinion

America's young 2012 Olympians are its future

Gymnast Gabby Douglas, runner Galen Rupp, the women's 400-meter relay team: America got a clear glimpse of its bright future at the 2012 Olympics as 'Millennial Generation' Olympians exhibited their unique take on the country’s traditional pride, diversity, and can-do spirit.

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Girls rule. In 1972, Congress enacted and President Nixon signed Title IX, guaranteeing that women would be treated equally in any educational program receiving federal assistance, including sports.

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Never has the impact of Title IX been clearer than in the 2012 Olympics. For the first time, more women than men (281 to 271) represented the US at the Olympic Games. And, US women won almost twice as many gold and total medals than the men.

Participating and doing one’s best is winning. Critics of the Millennial Generation complain that these young people were reared by their parents to expect a trophy just for showing up; they worry that such an approach will produce soft adults who will wilt in the face of stiff competition.

The success of the Americans in the pressure cooker of the London Games should dispel such fears. But it was also clear that the way they were raised made Millennials appreciate even more the Olympic creed that participating and doing one’s best is its own reward. With few exceptions, Millennial athletes regarded winning a silver or bronze medal or just beating their own personal best as almost as much of a reason to celebrate as winning a gold medal.

Millennials are an upbeat, team-oriented, high achieving, can-do generation. Their belief that it’s a victory just to play the game, work hard, and do your best will be a gift that keeps on giving for America as this generation  comes to dominate the adult population.

An April 2012 Pew survey indicated that, even confronted with the impact of the Great Recession, Millennials were significantly more likely than older generations to believe that “as Americans we can always find a way to solve our problems and get what we want.”

That optimism, determination, and achievement were on ample display in London during the past two weeks. America is fortunate that this generation moving up to enter far bigger arenas where the stakes for the nation are even higher.

Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais are co-authors of the newly published “Millennial Momentum: How a New Generation is Remaking America” and “Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube, and the Future of American Politics.” They are fellows of NDN and the New Policy Institute.

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