Eileen Gu made history this week when she became the first freestyle skier to win three medals at a single Olympic Games.
Gu, an 18-year-old Californian competing for China, won her first gold medal of the Games in the first women’s big air freestyle competition, introduced as part of the International Olympic Committee’s effort to achieve gender parity. gender at the Games. She also won a silver medal in the slopestyle event this week.
The Beijing Games, which end on Sunday, have been described by the IOC as the most “gender-balanced” Winter Games in history, with women making up a record 45% of athletes. This represents an increase from the 41% recorded at the Pyeongchang Games in 2018 and the 4.3% recorded at the 1924 Games in Chamonix, France.
The women’s big air is one of seven competitions that have been added to the Beijing Olympic programme. The addition of the mixed team format – in which men and women compete together – to the short track speed skating, ski jumping, aerials and snowboard cross events is another part of the IOC’s effort to promote gender equality. The inaugural monobob competition was contested only by women.
Nicole M. LaVoi, director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport at the University of Minnesota, said that in some ways efforts to achieve gender parity are moving in the right direction.
“Being able to show off their talent alongside their male peers is a good thing,” LaVoi said of the Olympians.
But the number of women participating in the Games is not the only metric by which equality can be measured, and women “still compete in a system where they don’t feel safe, valued or supported”, he said. she declared.
The founder of the modern Olympics, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, banned women from participating in the first Games in 1896. In 1900, 22 women were allowed in five events, including croquet, while 975 men competed in all fields, from athletics to rowing.
The number of women participating in the Olympic Games has gradually increased since then, but it was not until 2014 that the IOC’s planning program included a recommendation asking the committee to work “to achieve 50% female participation in the Olympic Games. “.
While the gap is narrowing, there are still areas where women have little or no access compared to men.
Nordic combined, a sport that combines cross-country skiing and ski jumping on the Olympic program since 1924, is the only winter sport in which women do not participate. (Women should be able to compete soon, possibly by 2026.)
Even if a sport is accessible to both men and women, there are often far fewer competition places allocated to women than to men. This week, bobsledder and skeleton athlete Simidele Adeagbo, who in 2018 became the first black woman to compete in skeleton at the Olympics, sent a letter to her sport’s governing body claiming that gender discrimination had prevented her to participate in this year’s Games. . In the letter, which was reported earlier by Reuters, Adeagbo’s lawyers said she was excluded from the monobob event in Beijing due to “an insidious and deliberate gender disparity in the number of sledding places made available to men and women”.
Men have the advantage in terms of slots: there are 28 luge spots reserved for men in the four-man event and 30 spots reserved for the two-man competition. Women are allocated 20 places in monobob and 20 in two-man bobsleigh.
There are disparities in other sports at the Winter Olympics. Cross-country skiing, alpine skiing, biathlon and long track speed skating all have men’s events that cover greater distances than women’s events. If men participate in events that are considered “bigger” than women, it overshadows women’s events, which may be “considered secondary or less than,” LaVoi said.
Ski jumping, which added a women’s division in 2014, is also falling short. Although a mixed team event has been added to the Olympic schedule in Beijing, giving women another opportunity to win medals, men have an even better chance of making the podium. Anna Hoffman of the United States, who made her Olympic debut in Beijing, posted a video on TikTok highlighting that the ski jumping event featuring the big hill, which rises about 450ft, rules out women at the Olympics, although women can now compete on the big hills at other international events, including world championships.
Hoffman said the women’s large hill competition was exceptional, but despite the accomplishments of the past few years, “we’re still told to be patient and wait” when it comes to Olympic programming.
“We shouldn’t have to fight for this,” she said, later adding that the issue was not ensuring equal results for men and women in various sports.
“It’s about opportunities, and that’s what we’re asking for,” Hoffman said.