The addition of mixed-gender team events and more events exclusive to women make the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics the most “gender-balanced” Olympic Games to date, in terms of numbers. According to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), women account for 45 percent of Olympic athletes in this year’s Games, and more than half of the events feature women – a significant increase from PyeongChang 2018.
Prior to Beijing 2022, bobsledding was limited to men. Since men typically compete in two and four-man races, the introduction of monobob, bobsledding for one, exclusively for women, broke the stereotypes typically associated with the sport. According to Andover Athletics Director Lisa Joel, the elite women who compete in such events serve as role models to the younger generations.
“I think the most important thing is role modeling. You have to see someone doing something, so that you believe you can do it. So I think if there are more women elite athletes engaged in these, what we know is those are the people [young athletes] look up to. They will do things because they see women doing these sports, so I think that’s fantastic,” said Joel.
Beijing 2022 also includes new mixed-gender team events on its program, including mixed team freestyle skiing, mixed team ski jumping, mixed team snowboard cross, and mixed team relays in short-track speed skating. Although this provides opportunites for women and non-binary athletes to compete in the same environment as men, Joel also believes the IOC should not turn its back on one gender when advancing the opportunities for another.
“You don’t want to advance one gender by taking away the opportunities from another gender, which is a little bit of the controversy of what the Olympics has done in the interest of having more gender balance is them taking away opportunities of men. I think again what you want to do is be very thoughtful about looking at how you advance more women’s opportunities without detracting from another gender,” said Joel.
To further promote gender equity, the airtime of women’s events on the penultimate day of competition increased from five hours to nine hours. Despite this improvement, Joel believes equity in terms of coverage is also dependent on the quality of the commentary.
“I mean, look at the newspaper. They do studies on this. The coverage of women’s athletes and women’s sports is not even close. I don’t watch all of the Olympics, but I suspect they try to be more equitable in that. We also have to look at the quality of the commentating, and you see more women commentators, which is really fantastic. But I think the coverage is still lacking, and I think the quality of the coverage is also something you want to be thoughtful about,” said Joel.
According to Joel, numbers can easily cover up the true experiences, culture, and environment female athletes must compete in. For example, women race shorter distances in cross-country skiing, speed skating, and biathlon compared to men. In addition, women can only ski jump off the smaller of the two hills available to men.
“Numbers are a part of the story, and it can be distracting, so I think understanding, like anything, what’s the culture for them, what are the true opportunities… The policing of testerone still falls heavily towards, entirely towards female athletes, trans women, trans females…And that’s not going to get all the press because that’s what is not going to be as compelling as a story. I think it’s great that we’re looking at it because we’ve made progress, but there’s still progress to be made,” said Joel.
As a member of the bronze medal USA Hockey team in the 2006 Torino Winter Olympics, Assistant Director of Admissions Jamie Hagerman Phinney wasn’t focused on gender inequities during her participation in the Games, but rather on the privilege it was for her to compete on the world stage. Only after the Games did her experiences expose gender inequities in other aspects of the Olympics.
Phinney wrote in an email to The Phillipian, “Being an Olympian is one of the greatest gifts, and I don’t often share my experiences but I will say, the minute you step into the Olympic Village, the minute you step onto your Olympic stage that you have worked your life for, nothing matters but you and the challenge before you. It is once your games are over, your time in the spotlight is over that you must use that platform to make change and shed light on inequities.”