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.

jarrion lawson
Jarrion Lawson

Jarrion Lawson lept into the Brazilian night and landed in the sand, confident he had gold in his grasp. He was certain he exceeded his American teammate, Jeff Henderson, who was in first with a jump of 8.38 meters. When Lawson’s mark was revealed, he was astonished to see his leap recorded as 8.25 meters. Lawson not only lost the gold, he failed to medal, falling to fourth place behind Luvo Manyonga of South Africa and Greg Rutherford of Great Britain.

Lawson, in the follow through, had apparently grazed the sand with the fingers of his left hand before his feet landed. While Henderson was thrilled with his victory as he trotted along the track wrapped in his nation’s flag, he could see his teammate in the throes of agony. Such is life in the cut-throat world of athletic competitions measured in hundredths of centimeters or seconds under the microscope of digital recordings.

It must have been what Hungarian swimmer, Katinka Hosszu felt when American Maya DiRado touched the wall .04 seconds earlier in the 200-meter backstroke finals. It must have been what Chad Le Clos or László Cseh felt when they tied Michael Phelps for second, losing to Singaporean Joseph Schooling in the 100-meter butterfly finals, as they all finished at exactly 51.14 seconds. But at least they got to share silver.

Shaunae Miller and Allyson Felix
Shaunae Miller and Allyson Felix

And perhaps, more painfully, it must have been what 4-time gold medalist, Allyson Felix felt when she hit the tape at the end of the 400-meter sprint finals, only to see Shaunae Miller of the Bahamas dive over the line, her hands, wrists and ultimately her shoulder hitting the finish line earlier than Felix’s torso.

Jim McKay, the late, great host of ABC’s Wide World of Sports, began his show by explaining his show’s raison d’etre: to deliver sports that showed “the human drama of athletic competition”, “the thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat.”

The thrill for one often comes at the agony of the other. That’s why we love the Olympics.