My Olympic Life: A Memoir

by Anita L. DeFrantz

with Josh Young

It is sometimes said of certain athletes that they “transformed the game,” by changing an approach to the sport, inspiring the creation of new rules, or in some way altering how the game is played.

Anita L. DeFrantz did just that for the Olympic Games. Named by Newsweek as one of the “150 Women Who Shake the World” and Sports Illustrated as one of the “101 Most Influential Minorities in Sports,” DeFrantz has used her platform in the Olympic Movement to advance fairness in sports. She’s fought sexual harassment, helped change outdated gender verification rules, pushed forward the introduction of women’s events, including Olympic soccer and softball teams, cracked down on doping, influenced new eligibility requirements, and more. With unwavering tenacity, she even took on President Jimmy Carter when he used Olympic athletes as leverage in the Cold War.

My Olympic Life

In My Olympic Life, readers will journey with an African-American youngster from racially-charged and segregated Indianapolis in the 1950s and ’60s, who went to a high school with no sports for girls, as she grows up to be a member of the first women’s U.S. Olympic rowing team and wins a bronze medal in the 1976 Montréal Olympic Games. They will then see how her Olympic experience galvanized her to become an active member in national and international sport and Olympic organizations, including becoming the first woman vice president of both FISA (the International Rowing Federation) and the International Olympic Committee.

Her story is more than a civil rights and sporting victory for one person. It reveals how with grit, determination and passion, one person can change the game positively for all.


Growing up in a family active in promoting civil rights, DeFrantz knew the importance of letting her voice be heard as an African American and as a woman. Her activism for individual rights and her ascent as a leader began in earnest at Connecticut College, where she was sophomore class president, chairman of the student judiciary committee her junior year, author of a student bill of rights, and a house fellow, supervising student dorm residents her senior year. At commencement in 1974, she was elected a trustee of the college by her class. Eventually, she would serve as a Connecticut College trustee for 24 years.

In college, DeFrantz found that she was a natural for the new and exciting sport of rowing, with its focus on teamwork. She continued her rowing training throughout law school and during her early career as an attorney. She competed in the 1976 Olympic Games in Montréal, which was the first time women’s rowing was on the program of the Olympic Games, and raced to a bronze medal in the U.S. 8-oared shell with coxswain.

From the start of her involvement in the Olympic community, DeFrantz found a new direction for her voice: to be the champion of athletes everywhere. Her rowing background and experience as an Olympian – matched with her legal training, powers of persuasion, and passion for equality and inclusion – propelled her to speak out on behalf of Olympians. In the process, she gained access, and eventually leadership, at the upper echelons of the Olympic world, where she remains to this day, fighting for equality in sports and promoting the Olympic ideal of “mutual respect and fair play.”

Buy The Book

Anita DeFrantz writes with the grace and beauty of an Olympic athlete in competition, and with the compassion of someone who cares all about human beings. But at the same time, she does not shy away from addressing the controversies and human failings that have threatened the integrity of the Olympic Games. Reading this book, I felt proud to her have both as an ally, a fellow Olympian, and above all, a friend.

–Edwin Moses
Olympic gold medalist & Chairman of the Laureus Sports Academy


Anita DeFrantz’s My Olympic Life is a must read first-hand account not only of her amazing life but also her impact on the world of sport.  When she started pushing diversity and inclusion boundaries more than four decades ago, she was a genuine pioneer.  Not only was she a woman but also a woman of color. She risked her athletic career standing up against the President of the United States over the 1980 boycott of the Moscow Olympics. She had continued that fight while rising to become the most powerful woman in sport in the world. My Olympic Life is a unique view of the Olympic Movement. Her philosophy of life and sport will help any reader to lead a principled life that values all of humanity.

–Richard Lapchick
Chair of DeVos Sport Business Management Program
Director, Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport
University of Central Florida


The Olympic Movement has been built and sustained by individuals with a strong personal constitution, and Anita DeFrantz is at the top of the list. Her devotion to the core principles of the Games through some of its toughest political times has helped sustain and grow the Olympic Movement. In addition to being a pathbreaker for women on many fronts – the first American woman to serve on the IOC, the first African American and the first of both to be elected IOC vice president, Anita has never been afraid of laying her reputation on the line for what is right, despite the personal cost to her. Her life serves a living example of how one person can make a difference.

Peter Ueberroth
Former Major League Baseball Commissioner
Chairman, U.S. Olympic Committee


Just reading My Olympic Life will make your heart race, your mind expand, and your hopes rise. That’s the kind of life Anita DeFrantz has lived, as a child in an activist family, an Olympic champion fighting for fairness, and a leader challenging limits of race and sex. Everyone needs her story — especially young women with dreams.

Gloria Steinem