In 2020, before the decision was made to postpone the Olympics because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the International Olympic Committee said the games in Tokyo would be historical, including the first iteration of the Olympics with relative gender balance.
Team USA in Tokyo totals 329 women and 284 men, which is the third consecutive Olympics with more women on the American roster than men.
According to the New York Times, female athletes comprise almost 49% of the total cohort at this year’s games. That’s an uptick of 4% from 2016 and 47% from 1900, the first games to include women.
ABC News said on July 22 the plan for Paris 2024 is to have a 50/50 split among male and female athletes.
Before this year’s Olympics, the IOC asked all countries sending athletes to Tokyo to include at least one female and one male athlete.
The Times also reports that a handful of nations have made advances in gender equality because of changes in policy, more funds, and their local media embracing female athletes.
“The punchline here is that you see women in some countries — mostly white, westernized countries — really outperforming their male teammates, even though they get less resources, less support, less viability, less whatever else,” said Nicole M. LaVoi, Ph.D., Tucker Center director and senior lecturer in the School of Kinesiology at the University of Minnesota to the Times.
Presently, a third of the IOC executive board comprises women, and that figure rises only to 37.5% for committee members.
Change is a trickle-down effect; it must happen from the top down.
One example of change that benefits female athletes at this year’s games includes Tokyo organizers allowing moms to bring their infants and caregivers in light of the city-wide pandemic-related state of emergency.
Unfortunately, USA Today reported that two athletes left their children at home because the protocols the organizers put in place did not enable these competitors to care for their kids properly.
“For me to go and breastfeed [son] Kai whenever he needs it during the day, I would have to leave … the team’s bubble and go to their hotel, risking my team’s health during the Olympic Games,” said Spanish artistic swimmer Ona Carbonell via Instagram.
Progress Not Only in Numbers But in Play
Every nation at the Tokyo games had been requested to nominate one female and one male athlete to be co-flag bearers for the opening ceremony.
But the IOC’s mission to improve gender equality is also evident in the event schedule.
Firstly, the plan among broadcasters is to televise more womens’ sporting events than in Olympics prior.
IOC Sports Director Kit McConnell told ABC News there would be more women’s team gold medal events (17) than men’s (13) on the last weekend of the Tokyo games.
And that will create a positive impact for the future of women in sports. In 2016, 36 female boxers competed in Rio de Janeiro.
That figure will surpass 100 in Tokyo.
Without more visibility of women’s sports, there is no marketed improvement in gender equality at the Olympics in the last four years.
Mixed-gender events, where men and women compete on teams together, are not foreign concepts to the Olympics, but the competitions in Tokyo will include more of them than ever before.
Nine new mixed events have been introduced, including:
Mixed relays in swimming
Mixed relays in track and field
Mixed team events in archery
Mixed team events in shooting
Mixed team events in judo
18 mixed events in Tokyo is twice the number the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro featured.
An Opening Ceremony Like None Other
Last Friday’s opening ceremony commenced with the theme of “United by Emotion.” Since the Olympics are taking place against the backdrop of a global pandemic, being “United by Emotion” attempts to bridge together communities from around the world for the love of sports.
Read the 2020 Tokyo Olympics mission in full on Olympics.com:
“In the Opening Ceremony, Tokyo 2020 hopes to reaffirm the role of sport and the value of the Olympic Games, to express gratitude and admiration for the efforts we all made together over the past year, and also to bring a sense of hope for the future. It’s hoped the ceremony will be an experience that conveys how we all have the ability to celebrate our differences, to empathize, and to live side-by-side with compassion for one another.”
Team USA selected basketball player Sue Bird and baseball player Eddy Alvarez to carry the American flag at the opening ceremony through a voting process among all the American Olympians at this year’s games:
“It’s challenging to explain,” Bird said to Mike Tirico and Savannah Guthrie. “The energy is insane; I know our country is in a tough moment right now, but right now, we all feel unified, and it’s incredible.”
Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka lit the Olympic cauldron:
A four-time Grand Slam winner and the No. 2 ranked women’s player globally, Osaka was born in Japan but moved to the United States at three years old.
Names to Watch
Biles’ second appearance at the Olympics in Tokyo sets her up as the favorite to win three gold medals. She is a seven-time U.S. all-around and five-time world all-around champion.
Despite withdrawing from the team final Tuesday, and earning a silver medal, Biles is arguably Team USA’s biggest star.
Kudos to Ledecky, who’ll be competing in six races in 48 hours approximately. That isn’t easy.
She’s a seven-time medalist at the Olympics (five gold, two silver), expected to perform very well off her five-medal performance at the Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Now age 24, Ledecky made her Olympic debut with a gold medal victory in 800m freestyle nine years ago in London.
Tokyo marks Felix’s fifth appearance at the Olympics, and she’s the most decorated American female track athlete in the history of the games (9).
Felix needs one medal to tie Carl Lewis for the most all-time among any American Olympian to compete in track & field.
The only other women to win more than 10 medals at the Olympics are swimmers.
At 40-years-old, Bird is competing in her fifth Olympics, this time under new head coach Dawn Staley. UCONN’s Geno Auriemma stepped down after leading Team USA to a gold medal in 2012 and 2016.
Staley served as a flag bearer for the 2004 games in Athens, Greece.
Bird, alongside former college teammate Diana Taurasi, has the opportunity to return from Tokyo with a fifth gold medal, which would etch their names in history as the first basketball players to win five.
USA Women’s Basketball may win their seventh straight gold medal since 1996.
Megan Rapinoe is also in Tokyo along with her fiance, Bird, competing. The couple has five gold medals between them.
The U.S. Women’s Soccer National Team seeks their sixth medal in six Olympics (4 gold, 1 silver in the previous five games). They’re favorites as recent World Cup champions to win gold in Tokyo.
American women are dominating Olympic sports, including water polo. Team USA looks to make history as the first country to win three consecutive gold medals.
U.S. Women’s Water Polo has won consecutive titles in the following competitions:
World Championships (3)
World Cups (3)
World League (7)
Pan American Games (5)
Entering the Tokyo Games, Maggie Steffens needed 10 goals to break the career record for most women’s water polo goals at the Olympics.
Softball also returned for the first time since the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Team USA collected a silver medal following a 2-0 loss to Japan in Tokyo.
United States Olympic Team Athletes
Most Olympic Medals Entering Tokyo
Allyson Felix (track & field): 9
Allison Schmitt (swimming): 8
Katie Ledecky (swimming): 7
Simone Biles (gymnastics): 6
Sue Bird (basketball): 4
Diana Taurasi (basketball): 4
Mariel Zagunis (fencing): 4
Simone Manuel (swimming): 4
As a three-time world champion, Roberts makes her Olympic debut in BMX freestyle, making its debut a new sport at the Tokyo games.
Roberts is 19-years-old and will become the youngest gold medalist in cycling since 1904 if she wins.
Victory in Tokyo would make Roberts the first teenage girl in history to win Olympic gold.
Signs In Tokyo Point Towards A Better Future
It’s encouraging to see how many American women have the opportunity to make history at the Olympics this summer.
The biggest stars of the games are women.
And if Team USA performs well in Tokyo, it’s because women will be leading the way.
Even though that’s amazing, our global sports community must strive to continue doing more to promote gender equality.
Hopefully, by Paris 2024, society feels better about gender parity at the Olympics.
In the meantime, let’s reconsider the attire for women in sports like gymnastics, volleyball, and swimming.
Male athletes don’t reveal as much as their female counterparts.
So, are we striving to be sexy or functional?
Is it about fashion or freedom of movement?
Volleyball coaches told the Chicago Tribune that some players prefer the spandex tights for sports performance-related reasons yet others don’t see a difference between that and basketball shorts.
Flesh-bearing uniforms in women’s sports is a complex issue, but, in the context of youth sports, it seems more advantageous to have more modest-looking uniforms to attract any young woman who may feel self-conscious if she had to wear something skimpier to play.
And John Keilman of the Tribune makes an excellent point. Why do we continue to appease creeps on the internet who search for images of female athletes in tight-fitting gear?
Oh, There’s More
In June, the Guardian published that swimming caps for natural black hair are ruled out for the Tokyo games.
The International Swimming Federation (FINA) said the swimwear made by Soul Caps doesn’t fit around the natural form of the head, and to FINA’s “best knowledge the athletes competing at the international events never used, neither require … caps of such size and configuration.”
If the swim cap that FINA prohibited is not performance-enhancing, what’s the fuss?
Athletes in the NFL wear shooting sleeves typically worn by basketball players on one or both arms.
Some football players even cut off one pant leg of their tights.
Because as the saying goes, “look good, feel good, play good.”
Our female athletes do right by granting them the same level of freedom as their male counterparts.
It’s not tradition; it’s oppressive. We want our female stars on Team USA to be themselves, to inspire young women who appreciate authenticity.
Finally, it’s time to discard the notion in this country ‘women aren’t tough.’ Over the weekend, Anastasija Zolotic became the first American woman to win gold in Taekwondo.