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Helen Johns Carroll, now 97, was only 17 years old when she represented the United States in swimming at the 1932 Summer Olympics. That makes the gold medal she won 80 years old–and Carroll the product of a much different Olympic era.

“I look at (today’s Olympics) and try to compare it to ours, and it’s so much more elaborate,” she told TODAY.com. “Ours was really restricted because of lack of funds (during the Great Depression).’’

The games were held in Los Angeles that year, because no other cities made a bid to host (contrast that to the nine cities that bid to hold the summer 2012 Olympics). It was the first time an Olympic Village was built to house athletes, but only males were allowed in — female athletes were housed separately at a hotel.

See Also: 10 Great Older Olympians Who Went for the Gold >> 

Some have dubbed this year’s Olympics “The Year of the Woman,” because for the first time in history, every participating nation has at least one female athlete on a team and there are more females than males on Team USA. Women had originally been excluded from the modern Olympic games. The first female participants were the 19 women who were allowed to participate in “leisure sports” (tennis, golf and yachting) at the 1900 Games in Paris.

Margaret Abbot, an American studying art in Paris, won the nine-hole golf tournament that year, making her the first female American Olympian winner. At the time, though, she didn’t even know the tournament was part of the Olympics (this was also the last time golf was included in the games).

By 1932, the ranks of female Olympians had increased somewhat, to 202 participants. They were still excluded from competing in many sports (including gymnastics!), but were allowed to compete in swimming, fencing, diving, track and field and “art competitions” (which was apparently a pretty big event, with 511 male and 76 female competitors).

Carroll told Today.com she is proud of how far women have come in the Olympic movement, and savors being a pioneer. She is thought to be the second-oldest living female American gold medalist. The oldest is Evelyn Furtsch Ojeda, now 98, who was part of the gold-medal-winning women’s 4×100 meters relay team in Los Angeles that summer.

Wednesday Quick Hits: 

  • Cheese it up for heart health. No, we’re not talking the cheddar or Muenster variety. A new study suggests that holding a big old cheesy smile on your face during times of stress could be good for your heart. Sigh–that means all those people who tell you to “grin and bear it” when you’re upset may actually have a point …
  • Reunited after nearly half a century. Lena Henderson and Rolan Davis, both 85, got married when they were still in their teens, divorced 20 years and four children later, and are getting remarried Saturday after 48 years apart. Davis once-again proposed to Henderson this past March, even though they hadn’t seen each other in person since a family funeral in 1996.

Photo: Rex Features/AP