It was impossible to watch the 2012 Olympic Games without noticing: This was the Year of the Woman. For the first time ever, women competed in the same 36 sports as men. Another first? More women than men made the U.S. team—and they brought back a bigger medal haul too. “There’s a mind shift that’s happening,” says Janice Forsyth, Ph.D., director of the International Centre for Olympic Studies. “Women’s bodies too delicate to box? Come on!”

These five athletes exemplify all those groundbreaking firsts: There’s 17-year-old swimming phenom Missy Franklin, a high schooler from Aurora, Colorado, who broke two world records and nabbed five medals (four of them gold); Kayla Harrison, 22, already a role model for having had the guts to take her former coach to court for sexual abuse at age 17, who went on to become the first American—male or female—to win the gold in judo; Allyson Felix, 27, who won the 200-meter sprint to become the most decorated athlete in the history of the event; soccer player Carli Lloyd, 30, who scored both goals in the gold-medal-winning match watched by a record number of people; and, of course, Gabby Douglas, the 17-year-old gymnast who was virtually unknown before the Olympics but who won gold in both the team final and the individual all-around—becoming the first African American gymnast in history to stand atop the podium. “I knew I had it in me,” Douglas tells Glamour. “I kept hearing ‘You just have to grab it. It’s right there.’ And I grabbed it.”

The girl power at this year’s Games was contagious. “It felt awesome to be a part of Team USA,” says Harrison, “but it was even more amazing to be part of such a big female movement.” That movement will only grow: “Soon people won’t see anything unusual about half the athletes being female,” says David Wallechinsky, president of the International Society of Olympic Historians. “We’ll take it for granted: Of course they are. To me, that will be the real achievement.”