Madeline de Jesus
Madeline de Jesus

At the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, the American woman’s team won the gold medal in the 4×400 relay finals, easily breaking the Olympic record by nearly a second and trouncing silver medalists Canada by nearly 3 seconds, an eternity in sprint.

The 4×400 meters event, by definition, is a race run by four people. But due to the rules of track at the time, teams were allowed to list up to six people eligible for the relays, and if there were athletes who competed in heats, but who did not run in the finals, they could still be awarded a medal for helping their team to the medal podium.

Thus, at the LA Games, six women received gold medals, including Diane Dixon and Denean Howard, who helped Team USA to an easy victory in the preliminary 4×400 competition. They not only assisted in getting their team to the finals, they rested two of the team’s stars, Valerie Brisco-Hooks and Chandra Cheeseborough, so they would be fresh for the finals.

Team Puerto Rico, on the other hand, did not have that luxury it seems.

Madeline de Jesus was representing Puerto Rico as a long jumper and sprinter at the ’84 Games. During the long jump competition on August 5, she pulled her hamstring, and she knew she would not be able to suit up for the 4×400 relay six days later.

Only six days….but enough time to plan a caper.

According to this article, Madeline consulted with her sister Margaret who was a spectator at the Olympics. And they wondered if they could get away with it. No one knew that Madeline’s injury would keep her out of the relays, so if her sister could take her place in the relays, the Puerto Rican team would have a chance. After all, Margaret was a sprinter as well. She didn’t qualify for the Olympic team, but she had a particular quality that could make this work – Margaret was the identical twin of Madeline.

Madeline and Margaret de Jesus
Madeline and Margaret de Jesus

So Madeline suited Margaret up, presumably passing her sister all her credentials that gave her access to the village, the training facilities and the stadium. And on August 11, it was Margaret de Jesus lining up for the second leg of the 4×400 heat. Since there were ten teams competing for eight spots in the finals, Team Puerto Rico’s finishing time of 3:37.39 was enough to grab the eighth spot and qualify for the finals.

Margaret had fooled the world.

For a little less than a day.

Unfortunately for the de Jesus sisters, there was a journalist present for a Puerto Rican newspaper called

La Nación, This journalist had covered the sisters’ athletic accomplishments, and was actually able to tell the difference between Madeline and Margaret – a “beauty mark one had on her cheek.”

When the head of the Puerto Rican Olympic team heard of the deception, he immediately pulled his 4×400 team from the finals. After an investigation held by the Puerto Rican Olympic Committee, Madeline and Margaret were banned from future competition. The investigation also revealed that the relay team’s coach, Francisco Colon Alers, knew of the plan and allowed it, resulting in his lifetime ban from international competition. Sadly, the three other members of the track squad were also complicit, and they received a one-year suspension from competition.

Antigua and Barbuda finished almost two seconds behind Puerto Rico in the heats. Getting to the finals and racing one more time on the big stage would have been sweet…if not for those twins.

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Long Jump in meters

Whenever I write a story on an American high jumper, long jumper or a discus thrower, I have to go through the painful back-and-forth conversion between feet and meters, inches and centimeters.

It used to be the holy grail in the United States and Britain to run a mile in fewer than four minutes, until Roger Bannister broke it, which broke the mental barrier and allowed others to blast through the four minute wall. Today, however, no one really cares about the mile, as the standard racing distance is the 1,500 meters, which is a little less than a mile.

Now, track and field in the US has generally gone metric. For example, the USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships hold the same distance running events that other countries do: 100 meters, 800 meters, 5,000 meters, 110 meter hurdles etc. In fact, the organization, USA Track and Field, adopted distances using the metric system in 1974.

They were ahead of their time apparently, because in 1975, the US Congress passed an act that states preference for the metric system of weights and measures, which was followed by an executive order from President Gerald Ford. Essentially, the entire world had already adopted the metric system. Politicians and businessmen alike wanted the US to get with the international game plan. However, for some reason, probably related to a tremendous resistance to change, the act and the order watered down by stating adoption was voluntary.

What was this resistance? Listen to this fantastic podcast on design, 99 Percent Invisible, and their story on America’s implementation of the metric system, titled Half Measures. History professor, Stephen Mihm is quoted as saying in the podcast that interestingly, uncommon bedfellows united to resist: astronomers, theologians and industrial engineers:

But abandoning the U.S. customary system did not sit well with a lot of people, including and influential group of “astronomers, theologians, and cranks,” Mihm explains. “And keep in mind that those categories which we consider separate and distinct today were not at this time.” This group spun together scientific arguments with other wild and nonsensical ideas, and developed a theory that to abandon the inch was to go against God’s will. Converting to metric, they argued, would be tantamount to sacrilege.

But the real core resistance to metrication came from a different group entirely: some of the most innovative industrialists of their day. Engineers who worked in the vast machine tool industry had built up enormous factories that included everything from lathes to devices for cutting screw threads — and all of these machines were designed around the inch. The manufacturers argued that retooling their machines for a new measurement system would be prohibitively expensive. They also argued there was an “intuitiveness” to the customary system that made it ideal for shop work.

Imperial Metric Conversion for cooking
Imperial – Metric Conversion for Cooking

This reluctance for to fully shift to the metric system can result in engineering miscalculations, sometimes with tragic or costly consequences:

  • In 1983, an Air Canada Flight ran out of fuel mid-flight because the ground crew and the flight crew all calculated fuel requirements in pounds instead of liters, granted this mistake happened just after the Canadian government required conversion to the metric system. Fortunately, the pilots managed an incredible “dead-stick” landing, gliding safely to a nearby airstrip.
  • In 1999, NASA lost a $125 million Mars Climate Orbiter spacecraft because engineers in Lockheed Martin calculated thruster data in pounds to NASA while NASA engineers were making their calculations in metric units called “newtons.”
  • In 2003, a car on the Space Mountain roller coaster ride at Tokyo Disneyland derailed due to a broken axle, resulting in the injury of 12. Apparently, new axle parts ordered in 2002 were measured in inches as opposed to millimeters, making the new axles off spec.

In the end, there are bigger issues than the momentary confusion of trying to know how far 5,000 meters is in feet or miles. And to be fair, American institutions have gradually adopted the metric system due to its partnerships and obligations internationally.

And yet, the fact that America still clings officially to inches, quarts and Fahrenheit can be a pain. Don’t we know that we are shooting ourselves in the foot?

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Oh there were a bunch of dignitaries there. A Governor. Organizing Committee Head. Olympians. Celebrities. There were proclamations. Couldn’t see it. It was rainy. And I was too late to get to a good spot.

But it was still cool, on October 28, 2017, to celebrate 1,000 Days to the Opening Ceremony of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in the Ginza.IMG_5418

 

At the moment the photo above was snapped, there was 1,000 days and over 4 hours to the start of the Tokyo Olympiad – in other words, 8pm on Friday, July 24, 2020.

We got to see the 2020 logo on display, the white geometric design on traditional Japanese indigo blue, featured on the festival happi coats of supporters.

We got to see demonstrations of a few of the new events to debut in 2020, like 3-on-3 basketball and sports climbing.

IMG_5430

In the case of 3-on-3 basketball, basketball players slipped on the rain-slicked asphalt, but still put on a show. Afterwards, renown kabuki actor Ebizo Ichikawa and Olympic weightlifter Hiromi Miyake showed off their shooting prowess.

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Olympic weightlifter Hiromi Miyake

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Famed kabuki actor Ebizo Ichikawa
This event at the Ginza, still one of the world’s swankiest shopping areas, was an opportunity for Tokyo 2020 local sponsors to promote their linkage to the Olympics.

 

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Eneos does the classic tourist gimmick.

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A new ANA plane, with artwork designed by a junior high school student.
Here, I put my origami skills to the test to fold a paper crane. I failed…but I still put my heart into it.

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Kinki Nihon Tourist asking passersby to fold cranes.
On November 29, it will be 1,000 days to the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics.

The countdown continues…..

Brandi Chastain Sports Illustrated Cover

It was 1999 and the two premier national teams in women’s soccer were facing off in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena California to determine the champions of the second FIFA World Cup Championship.

The United States and China were locked in a scoreless draw through regular and extra time, with victory coming down to a penalty shootout. After goaltender Briana Scurry stopped a shot in the third round, victory rested in the left foot of Brandi Chastain. And when she rocketed the ball into the upper right hand corner of the net, Chastain immediately ripped off her jersey, fell to her knees, her arms extended in ecstatic triumph, and her black Nike sports bra exposed for the entire world to see.

Lisa Lindahl was at home in Vermont when her phone rang and her friend told her to switch on the TV. Lindahl was an entrepreneur who established the market for sports bras in the late 1970s, so when she saw Chastain raise her arms in victory, she said was astonished, and proud. “It was her confidence, her preparation and her long journey that came to fruition in that moment,” said Lindahl in this 99% invisible podcast. “And that is perfect because I could say that about my journey of the jog bra.”

One of my favorite podcasts, 99% Invisible, is not about sports, but about design. And strange as it may seem today, the sports bra was non-existent before 1977. No sportswear or sports equipment manufacturer ever imagined why women would ever need a sports bra.

Dr. LaJean Lawson, who is the Sports Bra Science and Marketing Consultant to Champion Athleticwear, and has been shaping the design of the sports bra for three decades, said that the environment for women in sports when she was growing up was very different.

When I started high school we weren’t allowed to run full court because there was the assumption that girls were too weak, and we couldn’t run any races longer than 400 meters. So women participating in sports having/needing a sports bra is so recent.

The more Lawson promoted the sports bra and the idea of better fitness for women, she even got hate mail.

This letter said “If God had intended women to run he would not have put breasts on them.” There was a whole socio-cultural stereotype of how women should behave, and it wasn’t vigorously and badly. It was more calm and sweet, and how to comport yourself with more steadiness, and not the sort of enthusiasm and passion you see with sport.

But in the 1970s, circumstances were conspiring in the United States to make it easier for women to participate and compete in sports.

In the United States, a section of the United States Education Amendments of 1972, famously called “Title IX,” was created, and subsequently had a huge impact on American society. While the overall goal was to ban gender discrimination within federally funded schools and universities, encouraging greater access for women to higher education, protecting pregnant women and parenting students from being expelled, and challenging gender stereotypes about whether boys or girls were strong in a particular academic category like math and science, Title IX has had a tremendous impact on women in sports.

According to this article, “the impact of Title IX on women’s sports cannot be overstated: the NCAA says the number of female college athletes is at an all-time high, and the numbers of girls playing high school sports has swelled from fewer than 300,000 in 1974 to more than 3.1 million in 2012.”

Additionally, getting into shape and staying fit became a huge part of the American pop culture in the 1970s and 1980s. With bestselling books like The Complete Book of Running by Jim Fixx, which came out in 1977, and Jane Fonda’s Workout, published in 1981, women were running and working out more.

And the more women ran, the more obvious it became that they had a problem men did not. Here’s what Lindahl had to say about that:

My whole generation started exercising, and I had a friend introduce me to what was then called “jogging”. When you have at-shirt over bouncing nipples, you get chafing. So the answer to that is to put a bra on. Because I did try running without any bra. And then of course I got a lot of comments from passing motorists, and certain male runners. So you wear a bra and that poses problems of different sorts, like the straps that fall off your shoulders so you’re always jigging them back up, hardware can dig into your back, and they’re hot and sweaty.

One day, Lindahl’s sister, who also ran, called to ask this obvious, painfully obvious, question: “‘What do you do about your boobs? I am so uncomfortable when I’m running! Why isn’t there a jock strap for women?’ That’s when we really laughed. We thought that was hilarious.”

Jog Bra ad from 1970s 2

But Lindahl couldn’t get the idea out of her head, and started to think about the ideal bra for female runners – a bra with straps that wouldn’t fall off the shoulders and wide enough so they wouldn’t dig in. Lindahl recruited a friend, Polly Smith, who was a seamstress and costume designer. And they worked through multiple prototypes for this bra, but could not hit upon the design that made it easier for her to run. Then one day, Lindahl’s husband came down the steps with a jock strap not where it was supposed to be – over his head and across his chest – and said playfully, “Hey ladies, here’s your new jock bra!”

The three of them had a great laugh, and Lindahl thought to continue the joke by pulling the jock strap off her husband and putting it on herself….except that when Lindahl put the jock strap over her breast, she had an epiphany. “Oh!”

The next day, Lindahl went running in a contraption that featured two jock straps sewn together, and realized she had a design that would work. Lindahl, Smith and Smith’s assistant, Hinda Schreiber decided to build a business. Schreiber’s father lent them $5000, the team built a relationship with an apparel manufacturer in South Carolina, and by 1978, they were distributing the “Jog Bra.”

Despite the initial reaction of sports retailers, who thought that the jog bra should go in a lingerie department and not in a sporting goods store, sales of the $16 bra took off. Jog Bra had annual sale increases of 25%, and created an entirely new market. More importantly, it enabled women to enjoy their sporting activities more fully and freely, whether it was taking part in a Jane Fonda workout, playing point guard on a high school basketball team, or running a marathon. The sports bra that Lindahl, Smith and Schreiber created liberated a whole generation of women athletes.

That feeling of liberation came to fruition that moment Brandi Chastain ripper off her jersey in 1999. But that vision was in Lindahl’s head in 1977.

It should be modest enough I could take off my t-shirt on really hot summer days because I had a running partner who would do that. He would take off his shirt in the middle of his run, pull it over his head and tuck it in the back of his shorts. I was so jealous because I couldn’t do that.

Today, millions of women can and do, thanks to the Jog Bra. Happy 40th!

PyeongChang gold medal
The gold medal
At 586 grams (nearly 1.3 pounds), the gold medal to be awarded at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics will be the heaviest medal ever created for an Olympic Games.

The previous heavyweight champion of Olympic medals was the Vancouver medal of 2010 that tipped the scales at 576 grams, according to this article.

But more importantly, at least to me, the simplicity of the Korean medal design is striking. There is very little to disturb the surface, much of the text blends inconspicuously in the design, including use of native Korean alphabet letters that in its entirety spell out the words “PyeongChang Winter Olympics.”

PyeongChang Olympic medals held by hands

Textured like the bark of a tree, the surface of the medal complements the actual weight to give the athlete a sense of solidity. This may be top of mind for Olympians who have heard about the flimsiness of the medals awarded at the 2016 Rio Olympics. The intent, of course, is to make the association of the medal design with Korean society, according to the Korea Herald.

“Hangeul is the foundation and the soul of Korean culture,” PyeongChang’s organizing committee said. “Hangeul is considered the seed that eventually blossoms and bears fruit, which symbolize Korean culture. The trunk is the process of that development.”

Additionally, the ribbon that will allow the medal to hang from the neck of an Olympian will be made from a traditional Korean textile called “gapsa,” and the round wooden case for the medal is said to be inspired by traditional Korean architecture.

“I tried some new techniques and went through a lot of trials and errors,” medal designer Lee Suk-woo said. “I wanted the medals to represent the hard work and dedication of the athletes. And the finished products came out a lot better than I’d expected.”

PyeongChang Olympic gold medal and case

 

Top Ten Universities for Olympians
Top Ten All Time American Universities for Olympians

 

High school students and their parents in the United States, frankly all over the world, look at the multiple annual top university lists, from US News to Forbes.

A new list is out – American universities or colleges with the most Olympians. The site, Olympstats, published this list a few days ago, after the editors went through the onerous task of figuring out the collegiate affiliations of all American Olympians since 1896.

Question: Which American university is in the top ten for producing the most Summer Olympians, and the most Winter Olympians?

Above is Olympstats list of top ten American universities for producing Olympians since the first modern Olympics in 1896. I’m proud to say that my alma mater placed 9th, although I imagine a bulk of those Olympians were in the early 20th century when Ivy League institutions were the only ones that had students who could afford to go to Europe from the United States.

Top Ten States for Olympians
Top Ten States for Olympians

 

The first four universities are from California. It had always been my running assumption that year-round warm-weather states like California would produce a large chunk of Olympians. But as we can see below, Florida and Hawaii don’t merit top ten mention.

Top Ten Universities for Summer Olympians
Top Ten American Universities for Summer Olympians

Predictably, the top four American universities to produce Olympians also dominate the list of top ten American universities to produce Summer Olympians.

Top Ten Universities for Winter Olympians
Top Ten American Universities for Winter Olympians

When we look at Winter Olympians, the Midwest and Northeast dominate. One to note is #11 on the list below – Westminster College, a college in Salt Lake City, Utah. Since Westminster partnered with the U. S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA), this liberal arts school has become a hotbed for winter sports. In fact, Westminster students made up 10% of the US Olympic Team at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

 

So, what’s the answer to the question posed at the beginning of this blog post?

Harvard University

  • #5 for Olympians sent to the Summer Olympics
  • #4 for Olympians sent to the Winter Olympics
Oldsmobile Dynamic 88 The Delta
Oldsmobile Dynamic 88 The Delta

The American government, yet again is trying to sell American cars in Japan. But a reputation of poor quality and poor mileage (unfounded perhaps) result in poor re-sale value. No matter what the government does, Japanese citizens do not want to buy American cars.

In fact, the people who used to buy the long, sleek American cars were the Yakuza, or at least that was the perception.

Chevrolet Impala
Chevrolet Impala

But when I look at the ads for cars in the weeks of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, me – a non-driver without a license – I do admit, I lust.

Above and below are the ads from October 10 and 17 editions of The Saturday Evening Post, the weeks of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. George Lucas’ film, American Graffiti, portrayed the youthful car culture of 1962 Modesto California, which showcases automobiles primarily from the 1950s and 1960s. And again, I’m no car expert, but you get a sense that in 1964 cars were getting longer and sleeker – rounded edges giving way to sharper angles.

Take a gander at the American cars of ’64, as seen through the eyes of the readers of The Saturday Evening Post. Which one gets your motor running, makes you wanna head out on the highway, lookin’ for adventure, and whatever comes your way…..

Buick Electra 225
Buick Electra 225
Pontiac Grand Prix
Pontiac Grand Prix

 

Ford Galaxie 500, Fairlane 500 Sports Coupe and Mustang Hardtop
Ford Galaxie 500, Fairlane 500 Sports Coupe and Mustang Hardtop

 

Rambler Classic
AMC Rambler Classic

 

Tokyo 1a
Ted (Theo) Mittet in Tokyo, from the collection of Dick Lyon

 

It was as if 1964 was Year 1, and Japan was re-born.

Japan was young, energetic and full of hope. One of the biggest hits of 1964 in Japan was “Konnichi wa Akachan,” – “Hello, my sweet baby!” – a bouncy, happy tune of fresh starts.

Ted (Theo) Mittet was a 22-year old from Seattle, Washington, who qualified for the Tokyo Olympics as a rower on the US Olympic team, and came to Japan with eyes wide open. And he loved it from the start. “Japan is all that I expected and more,” he wrote to his parents a week before the start of the Olympics. “Its people are very friendly to say the least.”

Mittet was on a powerful rowing crew that took the bronze medal in the fours-without competition at the Tokyo Olympics. But while many of his teammates on Team USA went home, Mittet sold his air ticket to the States and travelled Japan. More importantly (to me), he wrote and received many letters. This was a time when people sent telegrams, when long-distance phone calls were expensive, and letters took days if not weeks to traverse the seven seas, pens were our keyboards, while boats, planes and people were our internet.

It was a time when getting a letter from the postman was sometimes a thrill.

I was very glad to see you letter beside my Mother’s Mirror and I cried my father “Received, Received”. My father was glad, too. My mother and brother were glad, too. I cried your letter’s news all over.my friends. I’m afraid you did not write to me soon. But I got your letter. I think happily.

The above was the opening of a letter from a high school student in Matsuyama City, Ehime Prefecture name Katsuhiro Matsuo, overjoyed to get another letter from the young American rower.

Katsuhiro Matsuo
Katsuhiro Matsuo, high school student in Matsuyama, Ehime

Mittet travelled from Tokyo to Yokohama, then on to Kyoto. He passed through Hiroshima, Matsuyama, Beppu, Nagasaki, Niihama and Nara, before heading back to Yokohama and Tokyo. During his 2 months of travel in Japan, he wrote constantly and voluminously to family and friends in the US, as well as new acquaintances he met during the Olympics and his travels. The letters from the Japanese in particular reflect Japan’s excitement and curiosity about foreigners and their desire to welcome them to their country and their home.

In some cases, the Olympics may have given some Japanese the courage to break out of their normal shy shells and reach out to the world. Mittet was the closest to the outside world for these letter writers, and so they made what was likely an extraordinary effort to write letters in English.

Dear Theodore, I know how surprised you are to receive this letter from unknown friend in Japan. You visited Silk Center in Yokohama. Where I was working during Olympic season. You gave me your card. Oh, no. I required you to give it to me. Do you recollect me? If you could, I am glad. Ha Ha. It is difficult for you to recollect me because you met many people, did not you? – Junko Aoki, a student at Kanagawa University in Yokohama

Dear Theodore, You may be surprised to receive this letter from a complete stranger, but I met you at the Toda Rowing Course and talked with you for a few minutes. I gave you a little badge, do you remember me? I’m taking this liberty of writing to you with the sincere hope that you’ll accept me as your new Japanese friend. – Emiko Kobayashi, a high school student from Toda-machi, Saitama

The Tokyo Olympics were a rush of adrenaline for the Japanese, so many of them amazed and happy to be surrounded by so many foreigners from so many different countries. Mittet met a volunteer interpreter named Teruyo Wakui at Enoshima Station, not far from where she worked translating for the sailors competing in the nearby yachting events. Despite her fatigue, meeting Mittet proved to be another rush for this volunteer just after the end of the Tokyo Olympics.

When I happened to meet you at Enoshima station, I was rather tired after twenty days’ work. But I was so glad to meet you and to speak with you. In yachting game, there was no competition as you. Most of all the competitors of yachting were rather gentle and kind, and even the younger men were not as young as you. You are so young and full of dream and curiosity to many things of Japan.

After twenty days in yacht harbor, I suddenly remembered that youth is more wonderful than any other thing in this world. We can do anything without money, as we are young. And I think you have enough courage to do anything that you want, though you say you don’t have courage, but pleasure.

THAT was Japan in 1964.

Synchronized Swimmers Bill May and Christina Jones
Synchronized Swimmers Bill May and Christina Jones

The Tokyo2020 Olympics will be the closest the Olympics have ever come to gender equality, with female:male participation reaching an amazing 48.8 to 52.2 percent ratio. This list from the IOC shows an amazing level of equality in the 321 events currently planned for Tokyo.

In part two of this look at the remaining holdouts of gender-specific events, let’s take a look at the women-only events.

No Men Allowed

  • Synchronized Swimming: Bill May is a relative rarity in sports – a male synchronized swimmer. When people wonder if men compete in a sport heavily represented by women, May is the poster child. Essentially, he’s the only one. There are discussions of adding male synchronized swimming as an Olympic event, but that would not happen until 2024 at the earliest. Synchronized swimming emerged from a sport called “water ballet” in Europe in the late 19th century. What’s interesting, according to this article, is that synchronized swimming as a show or a sporting event at that time was male only. But as people understood that women actually had body make ups that made them more effective as synchronized swimmers, women began to play bigger roles in events and competitions. The association of women to this discipline became stronger in America in the 1930s, when a swimming coach named Kay Curtis developed a form of “water pageantry” which we today call synchronized swimming, and publicized it through a swimming act known as the Modern Mermaids, a show that became very popular across America.
  • Rhythmic Gymnastics: Rhythmic Gymnastics, which involves elements of ballet, gymnastics and dance while manipulating a rope, hoop, ball and/or ribbon, has been an Olympic sport since the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. However, this discipline was born from the work of men in France “who all believed in movement expression, where one used dance to express oneself and exercise various body parts,” according to Wikipedia. So why the gender split? The New York Times essentially concluded in this article that real men don’t do rhythmic gymnastics. “There are male rhythmic gymnasts, but not at the Olympics. And their numbers are small. The stigma of the term rhythmic gymnastics poses “a huge marketing challenge,” said Mario Lam, a martial arts and gymnastics instructor in Canada. Lam uses the term “martialgym” to help avoid the connotation that it is a female-only sport, he said.”
  • Balance Beam: As this site explains, the gymnastics discipline of the balance beam is an event that requires “an obscene amount of strength, flexibility, and balance” on a long and narrow piece of wood, 10cm wide and 500cm long. The reason why men don’t compete? “Basically, the decision to keep men off of the balance beam most likely borrows from centuries-old gender norms. …the balance beam requires a particular amount of grace and flexibility — traits that are designated to the women of gymnastics, whereas the men’s sport keeps a more specific focus on displays of strength.”
Man on balance beam
Man on balance beam
Zach Railey in a Finn
Zach Railey in a Finn

Outside of Title IX in America, one of the most powerful levers for gender equality in sports have been the IOC. As I mentioned in this post, the IOC has added new sports categories and re-shuffled events so that Tokyo 2020 will have a female-male participation rate of 48.8 to 52.2%. That’s up from a 44.2% female participation rate at the 2012 London Olympics.in this post

Take a look at this list of planned Tokyo 2020 events and you’ll see that there is equality in almost every sports category. Can’t say that for much of the work world!

Interestingly, there are a handful of events that are gender-specific. In other words, there are still events that only men can compete in, and some that only women can compete in. In part one of this series, I will look at the men-only events, and part two will feature the women-only events.

No Women Allowed

  • Greco-Roman Wrestling: There has never been an Olympic competition in Greco-Roman wrestling at the Olympics, and there are currently no international tournaments devoted to women in that sport. It is unclear to me why Greco-Roman wrestling, which disallows grabbing of legs and kicking of legs compared to freestlye wrestling, is not encouraged for women. One of most significant physical differences between men and women is muscle mass, particularly in the upper body, but no one is saying that men and women should compete against each other in Greco-Roman wrestling. While the IOC has pressured the United World Wrestling Federation to improve gender representation in their tournaments, Greco-Roman, for whatever reason, has not had a high female participation rate historically. The biggest challenge for the wrestling federation, as I understand it, is to increase the popularity of Greco-Roman wrestling for women so that they can put together a competitive enough field. This may take until after Tokyo 2020 to hit critical mass and allow for gender equality in Olympic wrestling.
  • Finn – One Person Dinghy: This sailing discipline is apparently the greatest sailing test for an individual. According to sailor Zach Railey in this article, “It is well documented that overall people throughout the world are getting bigger, stronger and fitter, and the Finn is really a true test of power, endurance, and mental strength. Anyone who has sailed a Finn in steep chop and 20 knots can tell you just how physically hard the boat is to sail.” So strength again emerges as a differentiator. And perhaps as a result, the number or women who compete in Finn has not reached critical mass. The question is, with the strength requirements for the Finn, is it too dangerous for the fairer sex? Who knows.
  • 50km Race-Walking: I can’t find any decent explanation for why the 50-km race walk is male only in the Olympics. Both men and women can compete in the 20-km race walk as Olympians. And women appear to have raced competitively in the 50k race walk in IAAF competitions through much of the 21st century. Who knows?
  • Rings: Again, men have the advantage in upper body strength vis-a-vis women. So perhaps the number of women competing in this gymnastics discipline never reached critical mass. And yet, according to this site, women competed in the rings (or as they used to be called, “the flying rings”, at the 1948 London Olympics as a part of the Women’s Team All Around competition. Women never competed in the rings again after the ’48 Games, and I don’t know why.
  • Pommel Horse: Hmmm….the pommel horse discipline in gymnastics appears to be a less popular discipline for men than say, the floor exercise, the rings or the parallel bar for example. This article explains that the pommel horse “caters to a different body type. Having long arms helps, giving the gymnast greater separation from the horse, and in turn, room for his hips and legs to swivel underneath him. And the basic motion – going around and around on a horizontal plane – is the opposite from the up-and-down motion of the bars, rings and vaults.” And yet, I can’t find any explanation as to why women have not traditionally competed except for the reason it’s true for the rings – greater requirements for upper body strength have discouraged women from training on the horse, and so a critical mass of women fit for competition may have never emerged. Again, who knows?

 

Woman on Rings