Indiana native Anita DeFrantz’s main sports experience prior to college was as the only girl on the swim team at her local park in Indianapolis; her high school offered no team sports for girls. After trying basketball at Connecticut College, DeFrantz discovered rowing as a sophomore at college in 1973. After graduation, DeFrantz worked towards both making the Olympic rowing team and attending law school at the University of Pennsylvania. She obtained both goals, later becoming an attorney and she made the Olympic team for the 1976 Montreal Game. This was the first year that women could participate in the rowing event. DeFrantz was the captain of the U.S. rowing team and, as a member of the U.S. women’s eight-oared shell, she received a bronze medal.
During the next four years DeFrantz graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Law School, passed the bar exam, and began training to win the gold medal at the 1980 Olympics. When President Jimmy Carter boycotted the 1980 Moscow Games, DeFrantz was one of the few athletes to publicly protest. She led a group who filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Olympic Committee, hoping to force them to send a team to Moscow. Although the lawsuit was unsuccessful, DeFrantz received the Olympic Order medal from the IOC for her efforts.
In 1986, DeFrantz became the first American woman, first African American, and the fifth woman in the world to serve as a member of the IOC. DeFrantz played a key role in enabling the introduction of women’s soccer and softball at the Atlanta Games. In 1993 she was voted to the executive board, and she became the first female American vice president of the IOC in 1997. DeFrantz’s dedication to sports does not end there; for many years she has also served as the head of the Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles.