Kengo Kuma's Staidum
Kengo Kuma’s National Stadium design

One thousand and ninety six more days to the commencement of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics!

That’s 365 X 3 + 1. Don’t forget, 2020 is a leap year!

Three years hence from today, July 24, Tokyo will be welcoming the world to the biggest sports fest there is – The Summer Olympics.

The first country to ever host both the Summer Olympics and the Paralympics twice, Japan will be the focal point for sports from July 24 to August 9, 2020.

In 1964, Tokyo hosted the Olympics from October 10 to 24, for a total of 16 days, which was standard in the 1960s and 1970s. However, since Barcelona, the opening ceremonies was pushed one day earlier from Saturday to Friday, likely allowing for two full weekends of sporting events, and an opportunity to maximize television viewership.

Another difference between 1964 and 2020 is the timing. In 1964, the “Summer” Olympics were held in the Fall to avoid September monsoons. But this time, the Olympics will be held in the hottest period in Japan – late July and early August. This has been the general timing for the past eleven Summer Olympics, excluding a September Sydney Games and Seoul Games.

My guess is that the various international federations want consistency in Olympic scheduling so that their own world championships and Olympic trials do not end up in conflict. That would be the same for many school systems that go on holiday break during the summer months. And television broadcasters may also prefer to have the Olympics to fill what are usually filled with summer repeats.

But I speculate.

One thing is certain. The Summer Olympics are coming to Tokyo on July 24, 2020.

Hope to see you here.

And just in case you need to know, click here for the countdown to Tokyo 2020.

See you in Tokyo Rio Olympics
Tokyo’s Presentation at the Rio Olympic Closing Ceremonies
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

Monster Strike Kaekura memem
The Monster Strike mobile game ad in the Yamanote train in June, 2017.

I was on the Yamanote Line train when I looked up to see all in-car advertisements devoted to Japan’s #1 best-selling mobile game from 2016 – Monster Strike. I usually don’t care about mobile games, but the ad immediately caught my attention – animals in mid-stride racing together, on a dark black background.

It is exactly the same concept as the second of designer Yusaku Kamekura‘s poster in 1962, marketing the 1964 Tokyo Olympics to come.

Kamekura emblem design_2

That same evening, I see a television commercial for a logistics company called Kuroneko Yamato, with nearly the exact same design concept. Kuroneko means “black cat”, so with a black cat leading five Kuroneko transportation men in a sprint, they put the bodies in action on a yellow background instead. And yet the nod to Kamekura’s poster design is unmistakable.

Kuro Neko Shinka
Kuroneko Takkyubin Ad

After Kamekura settled on a design for their second Tokyo Olympics poster (click here to see the first design that won Kamekura the Olympic account), he assigned Osamu Hayasaki as the photographer, and Jo Murakoshi as the director of the project. The idea was to employ photography for the second photo, instead of the mainstream use of illustrations.

Their idea must have been to capture the idea of speed and power, so they arranged to have men from the US Military (from the airbase in Tachikawa as I believe someone once told me) dress in track gear, and move as if exploding from starting blocks. As this site explains, they employed four photographers to snap a shot of the runners in motion, in the dark, pressing the shutter button just as they flashed strobe lights.

It is said that it took over 80 takes to get just the right balance for that poster.

And over 50 years later, this meme lives on.

Rio Closing Ceremony_3
From the 2016 Rio Olympics closing ceremony video tribute to Tokyo 2020

Weightlifting Bending under the weight

The IOC sought to inject youth and improve gender diversity into the 2020 Tokyo Olympics by adding events, while keeping the total number of invited athletes the same. In addition to the five new sports added in August, 2016 (baseball/softball, karate, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing), the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced the addition of 15 new events to existing sports.

And yet, to keep to a limit of 11,090 total athletes at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, cuts had to be made. The IOC made decisions that resulted in the elimination of 285 quota slots for various sports. Much of this was driven by a need to improve gender ratios, particularly in sports like cycling, judo, rowing, sailing, shooting, swimming and water polo.

But the biggest losers? Wrestling with 56 cuts, weightlifting with 64 and athletics with 105 cuts.

Perhaps messages are being sent.

Wrestling was actually dropped from the Olympic menu of core sports in February, 2013 because the rules were considered vague.  Wrestling’s scoring system was too difficult to understand, which in turn made it difficult to engage the average television viewer. Somehow, through significant lobbying efforts, wrestling was reinstated as a non-core sport for the 2020 Games, but the latest decision to cull the wrestling numbers may be a reminder that wrestling has to work at its game.

Athletics, with its high profile events and global track stars, also suffers from a deep and dark history of doping. Most recently, the IAAF banned the entire Russian track and field team from the 2016 Rio Olympics. All of this may have made it easier for the IOC to prioritize cuts in athletics.

As for weightlifting, the dark clouds of doping have hung over this sport for decades. The IOC dropped an entire men’s weight class on its way to eliminating 64 quota slots for Tokyo 2020. Said Japan Weightlifting Association President Yoshiyuki Miyake in this Mainichi Daily News article, It’s a shame. I’m confused why they would make this kind of decision without any discussion.”

The New York Times wasn’t confused, as they stated in this piece entitled, “Freshening Up the Olympics. Sorry Men’s Weight Lifters.”

In the men’s 94-kilogram class at the 2012 London Games, Poland’s Tomasz Zielinski finished ninth. A disappointment, to be sure, but Zielinski was eventually awarded the bronze medal after six of the lifters ahead of him failed drug tests.

Wonderful story, right? Not so much. Zielinski, who obviously didn’t win a medal for his ability to learn from other’s mistakes, was kicked out of the 2016 Rio Games when one of his own tests came back positive.

IOC president has been explicit that he is sending messages, according to that same article:

Bach called weight lifting’s punishment in Friday’s reordering of the Games “a strong signal” to the sport. Good for him. Standing up to cheaters, and meting out real punishment, is common sense. If one sport’s athletes can’t follow the rules, other athletes from other sports should get a chance.

YOG winner of inaugural triathlon team relay - Europe 1
Youth Olympic Games winner of inaugural triathlon team relay – Europe 1

A triathlon team relay? A normal Olympic triathlon lasts about 2 hours. Would a relay version last 8 hours? That’s definitely not must-see television.

On June 9, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced that the triathlon relay will be a part of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. But it isn’t as long as I had initially imagined. The specs for this particularly relay is that each of four team members run mini-triathlons. Instead of say, swimming 1.5 kilometers, cycling 38.48 kilometers, and then running for 2.5 kilometers like they do at the Olympics, the relay triathletes will instead each swim for 250 meters, cycle for 7 kilometer, and run for 1.7 kilometers. With those significantly shorter distances, four triathletes can complete a race in less than 90 minutes.

Where did this idea come from? The IOC, in a way, has their own innovation lab called the Youth Olympic Games (YOG). As a reaction to growing concerns of obesity in children, the IOC created the Youth Olympic Games, a smaller-scale Olympics for athletes aged 14 to 18. The first YOG was featured in Singapore in 2010, where 3600 athletes from over 200 nations came together to compete in 26 sports.

One of those sports was the Mixed Triathlon Relay. Another was 3-on-3 basketball.

What’s on the horizon? AT the 2018 Buenos Aires 2018 Youth Olympic Games, athletes will compete in dance sport -more specifically, break dancing.

Will you be 14 to 18 in 2018? Are you an amazing at headspins, airflares, robot moves and the baby swipe? Then here’s your chance to compete in Buenos Aires at the Youth Olympic Games, and potentially, legitimize breakdancing as sport to the point where the IOC asks, “so you think you can dance at the Olympics?”

Gender Equality IOC

Imagine if we had the 4×400 Mixed Relay at the Rio Olympics. Imagine 400-meter bronze medalist LaShawn Merritt passing the baton to 400-meter gold medalist, Allyson Felix, for the finish.

At the Tokyo Olympics, we no longer will have to imagine as the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced on June 9, 2017 the addition of 15 new events for the 2020 Games, including the 4×400 Mixed Relay track event.

The IOC has worked to inject the Olympics with youthful enthusiasm with additions of such sports as skateboarding, surfing and sport climbing. And they have also worked towards gender equality, recently announcing in March 2017 the start of a study entitled “Gender Equality Review Project . The aim of the study is to produce recommendations to raise awareness and “further assist us to remove the barriers that continue to prevent women and girls in sport in general and elite sport in particular.”

Along those lines, the IOC has worked towards ensuring equality in Olympic events by ensuring that there are no events that only men compete in, or only women compete in. For example, the IOC announced the addition of the men’s 800-meter freestyle swimming and women’s 1500-meter freestyle swimming to balance out the gender ledger. And with the elimination of a men’s weightlifting class, and now ensuring that canoeing, rowing, shooting and weightlifting have equal number of men and women participants, the Tokyo2020 Olympics will approach a 50:50 male:female athlete representation. Considering that women made up 44.2% of athletes at the 2012 London Olympics and 45.6% at the 2016 Rio Olympics, getting to nearly 50% by 2020 is impressive.

Additionally, the Games will be reinvigorated with the mixed competitions. In addition to the 4×400 mixed relay footrace, the IOC is adding a 4×100 medley mixed swimming relay, a mixed archery team event, a mixed judo team event, mixed fencing team events, mixed doubles table tennis and, intriguingly, the mixed triathlon team relay.

Said gold medal breastroker, Adam Peaty, in this BBC article, “it’s something that would make things [at the Olympics] a little bit more fun. Obviously it’s very serious, but it’s great to mix things up from what they’ve been for so long as it adds a little spice and they’re great to watch.”

Watch the video for a fascinating look at what happens when women and men compete against each other in a relay race, particularly in the third and fourth legs.

Winners of the first FINA 4x100 mixed medley relay- Great Britain
Winners of the first FINA 4×100 mixed medley relay- Great Britain

In the history of the Olympics, both Summer and Winter versions, athletes who have compiled the highest medal hauls over their Olympic careers tend to be gymnasts and swimmers. In fact, of the top 20 greatest career medal recipients, seven are swimmers, including the all-time record holder, Michael Phelps, and his 28 total medals.

It just got a little easier for swimmers to add even more medals.

On June 9, 2017, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced the addition of another 15 events for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, including the men’s 800-meter freestyle, the women’s 1500-meter freestyle, and the intriguing 4×100 mixed medley relay, in which 2 men and 2 women form a single team and swim the butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle in succession.

Phelps reacted strongly when he heard the news, stating that the additional swimming events would “(take) away from the sport,” according to this NBC Sports article.

What else are we going to add? Are we going to do, like, 75m frees? How many other events are we going to add? When you add something like an 800m for men and a 1500m for women, and you’re adding mixed relays and 50s of strokes. I don’t want to say it, but it seems like there’s too much going on. It seems like, so then we’re going to grow the team by a handful of other people? I don’t like it. I don’t think it’s what swimming has been through all of this time, and hopefully we don’t have it for too long, but it’s not in my power. I can’t really do anything. I’ll just sit and watch.

It’s a bit of a ramble from Phelps, but it’s clear he’s unhappy. One could speculate that the IOC made it easier for some young swimmer to have more chances to earn medals, and perhaps one day, overtake Phelps’ 28 medals.

On the other hand, British gold medalist in the 100-meter breaststroke, Adam Peaty, expressed dissatisfaction with the fact that the IOC didn’t add even more swimming events as he thought that people wanted to see more sprints, for example, 50-meter races in the breaststroke, backstroke and butterfly. Perhaps more accurately, Peaty believes that the emphasis should have been on speed over distance, as he said in this BBC article.

Sprints engage people more than distance events. I don’t like that there’s another distance event and I don’t think that’s what’s needed. I’m a bit disappointed. Maybe they could have both just done a 1500m and then done away with the 800m. You can’t please everyone and I know I’m a sprinter but they’re the races I always remember growing up watching the Olympics.