In the lead-up to the 2022 Winter Olympics, figure skating’s marquee event saw a small – but significant – change. In June, the International Skating Union announced that moving forward, “ladies'” figure skating would be rebranded as “women’s.”
“I thought it was awesome,” said 2021 U.S. champion Mariah Bell, who will make her Olympic debut in Beijing. “Ladies are great, but women are empowered and mature.”
The name change is the result of a 2018 IOC gender equity review, which recommended that international sport federations use equivalent terminology when referring to men’s and women’s events.
“The equivalent of ‘ladies’ would be ‘gentlemen,’ and the ‘men’s’ event has been the ‘men’s’ event for as long as I know,” said Ashley Wagner, a 2014 Olympian who will be a correspondent for Peacock’s Olympic Ice show during the 2022 Winter Olympics. “Bringing in that element of gender equality – no matter how small and superfluous… It’s a big moment.”
Figure skating is not the only sport that needed to make this change. The international sports federations that oversee skating (the International Skating Union) and skiing/snowboarding (the International Skiing Federation) previously used “ladies'” as the official name for all women’s events, but in no sport was this as ubiquitous as figure skating.
While the terminology change has been implemented for international figure skating competitions, it hasn’t yet been adopted domestically. When Bell won her first national title last month, she was referred to as the “ladies’ champion.”
A spokesperson for U.S. Figure Skating said the organization is “in the process of reviewing the impact of (the ISU announcement) and how the change will be implemented domestically.”
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Wagner, who competed on the international level from 2007 until she retired after the 2017-18 season, hopes the name change helps fuel other evolution within figure skating.
“I really hope that – as this sport progresses – the gender normative boundaries that it exists so strictly within start to loosen.”
She points to the fact that women are not currently allowed to compete a quad jump in their short program, only their free skate. Men, on the other hand, have no similar restrictions.
“If you have female athletes who are capable of doing those quads, why are we holding them back from doing that?” she said. “It’s a reminder that we still have a ways to go.”
Wagner is also excited to see the Olympic debut of Timothy LeDuc, who will become the first publicly out nonbinary athlete to compete at a Winter Olympics. LeDuc, a two-time national champion, competes in pairs’ skating with Ashley Cain-Gribble.
“It’s such a big deal for them to be competing openly – at this Olympics – as nonbinary,” Wagner said. “In some ways, that is in direct conflict with what figure skating represents and what people’s traditional idea of pairs’ skating represents.”
She continued: “For Timothy, having them compete on such a big stage and showing the figure skating world and international community that you don’t have to follow the traditional stereotype of intensely male masculine skating – paired up with the delicate female… that is a really big moment for the sport’s world in general, but definitely figure skating.”
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