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.