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

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drone-shot-surfing
Expect incredible drone shots of surfing at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

One of my favorite toys as a kid was Verti-bird, a Mattel product from 1973 in which you operated a mini-helicopter to stop the bad guys. You had to control the helicopter’s lift and descent as well as speed, but it was connected to a wire so its flight was limited to a circular route.

But it was very cool!

Today, drones are the modern-day Verti-bird. This is a very weak comparison because drones today are in the middle of cutting-edge advancements in logistics, the military, security, news and sports coverage.

I remember talking with a photographer who covered the sailing events at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and he mentioned that it is hard for people unfamiliar with yacht competitions to show interest because of how hard it is to capture these competitions visually. Perhaps drones will change that.

Fox Sports made a commitment last year to provide broadcasts of golf and super cross using perspectives provided by drones. This has been made possible by adjustments to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) guidelines in the US, which now allows the use of drones for commercial use.

Because drones, when controlled by a skilled technician, can provide unique angles, particularly from above a stadium or an athlete, or close ups of athletes who are far from areas where cameramen or spectators watch.

Drones can currently move at speeds of 64 kph (40 mph). They can venture as far as 1.2 kilometers (.75 miles) away from the controller, which is a pretty wide berth. And battery life for a drone is about 20 minutes. These specs are true as of this writing, but I’m sure it’s already an outdated reality as this technology will advance rapidly.

Yes, there are fears that a drone will plop out of the sky and interfere with an athlete’s performance. People will point to the drone falling just behind a skiier at the Sochi Olympics. But the benefit, in terms of the birds-eye-view images and up-close perspectives in sports where such access was not possible, will outweigh the risk.

Expect to see incredibly creative use of drones at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

drone-shot-sailing

Flying Dutchmen medal podium 1964
The medalists in the Flying Dutchman class yachting event on the podium at the Olympic Games, Enoshima, Japan, 21st October 1964. The gold medalists are Earle Wells (front) and Helmer Pedersen (1930 – 1987), of New Zealand. The silver medalists are Keith Musto (front) and Tony Morgan of Great Britain. The silver medallists are Buddy Melges (far right) and William Bentsen (obscured), of the USA.

Buddy Melges and Bill Bentsen had completed their first two of the seven races in Enoshima. It was the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, and the pair from Wisconsin were doing so-so in the Flying Dutchman-class sailing competition: they finished tenth in the first race, but second in the second race. The third race, however, was a disaster.

“We were leading the (third) race,” Melges told me over the phone. “So we put up the spinnaker (the sail), which we should not have done. Our rudder broke, and our mast jumped out of the socket.” Dead in the water, they waited to be rescued. A large ship, part of the Japan Self Defense Forces, which were playing various roles in the Tokyo Olympics, approached Melges and Bentsen’s boat, named Widgeon. But the Japanese barge was coming on hard.

“This big profile was blowing down on us pretty fast! The captain saw our huge eyeballs and us waving our hands. He threw his vehicle in reverse, but he just missed crushing us. He almost sunk us!”

Self Defense Force at Enoshima
From the book, The Games of the XVIII Olympiad Tokyo 1964

Having just averted disaster, the barge brought the men and the boat back to shore. The Flying Dutchmen competition was held over seven days during the Tokyo Games. There was a four-day break between the fourth and fifth races, but unfortunately for Melges and Bentsen, there was no break between the third and fourth races.

“When we got back to shore, we got the Japanese boat repairers on it,” Melges said. “They were busier than hell all night long. We had to jump in and lend a hand because we thought there was no way they were going to get our boat out on time.” Additionally, the Americans needed a little help from the Canadians. The Widgeon’s rudder was made of plywood, so it simply wasn’t strong enough. In the spirit of sportsmanship, Paul Henderson of the Canadian Flying Dutchman team, shared a solid mahogany rudder with his competitor south of the border.

Melges and Bentsen went to bed at 6am on the morning of October 15, and woke up a few hours later to one of the few fine days during the Tokyo Olympics. With the wind blowing North Northeast at a wind speed of 10 m/s, Melges and Bentsen took to the water and shot out to a second place finish.

While the Widgeon finished tenth of the 21 boats in the first race, and was DQ’ed in the third race, they finished second in the second, fourth and fifth races, before dropping to third in the sixth race. In these sailing competitions, points are heavily weighted to top three finishes, so Melges and Bentsen were in strong contention for gold before starting the seventh and final race.

“We were in nice shape going into the last race,” Melges said. “We had expectations of a gold medal. We were a minute away from an imaginary line, the finish line, and we were in a perfect position as the wind was favoring us on the left side of the course. But there was this Star boat, tuning up before its race. He shouldn’t have been there, and he was right in our wind. He was blanketing our wind.”

The Widgeon lost its wind and Melges said that his boat almost sank, so close to golden glory. They ended up in tenth in the final race, giving them enough points to take third place.

“Even to this day, I tell people I didn’t do well,” said Melges. “But my rudder won bronze.”

Canadian Flying Dutchman Team 1964
Canadian athletes compete in the Team’s Flying Dutchman during the Tokyo Olympic on October 15, 1964 in Fujisawa, Kanagawa, Japan.

sailing in guanabara bay_AP

The head of sailing’s governing body threatened Saturday to move all Olympic sailing events out of polluted Guanabara Bay unless the water is cleaner and floating rubbish is removed.

http://globalnews.ca/news/2180470/sailing-officials-threatens-to-move-olympic-sailing-from-polluted-bay/

Fusanori Nakajima at Enoshima 3He’s taken pictures of America’s Cup skippers Ted Turner and Dennis Conner, the regatta at the bicentennial birthday party in New York Harbor, as well as the sailing competitions at the Tokyo Summer Games in 1964.

Fusanori Nakajima, who’s lived most of his life in New York, is enjoying life back in Japan. Below are a few of his photographs, which are now on display at the Enoshima Yacht Club, where I caught up with him.

Photograph by Fusanori Nakajima: 5.5 meter competition at 1964 Tokyo Olympics
Photograph by Fusanori Nakajima: 5.5 meter competition at 1964 Tokyo Olympics

Nakajima, who goes by the name “Fred” in the US, recollects being very busy with the Olympic work….taking shots all day in the water, and then driving back home to develop the film, and starting all over the next day. As he was asked by the Japan Olympic Committee to take on this job, he was provided an official JOC car