How close are the Winter Olympics to being gender equal?

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Originally published: February 6, 2022

At the 2022 Winter Olympics, 45 percent of athletes are women, a Winter Games record. That’s up from 41 percent four years ago in PyeongChang – and 4.3 percent at the inaugural Olympic Winter Games in 1924.

Beijing will feature the debut of seven new events – one women’s event (monobob) and four mixed gender events – all part of an IOC gender initiative.

As a result, these Olympic Winter Games have been called the most “gender equal” in history.

Still, not every Olympic sport features equal opportunity. And even in the sports that do – take alpine skiing for example – women are often nowhere to be found in decision-making positions.

MORE ON GENDER EQUALITY IN OLYMPIC SPORTS: In alpine skiing, women compete, but that’s about it

There’s also the fact that the binary on which most sports are currently organized – men on one side, women on the other – doesn’t accurately represent society. That line is starting to blur thanks to a handful of pioneering athletes, including U.S. pairs’ figure skater Timothy LeDuc, who will become the first publicly out non-binary athlete to compete at a Winter Games when they skate in Beijing (more below).

As the 2022 Beijing Winter Games get underway, here is a look at a few sports in which progress still needs to be made.


Nordic Combined: The only Olympic sport not open to women

There is only one Olympic sport that is open to men, but not women: Nordic combined, a winter sport that includes both ski jumping and cross-country skiing. It is one of six sports that has been contested at every Winter Olympics in history.

Women’s nordic combined initially seemed like a possibility for Beijing, but when the official Olympic program was revealed, female athletes realized they would need to wait until at least 2026.

“I’ve wanted to compete internationally in Nordic combined since I was about 11 years old. And now I’m 26. And [my sport] isn’t in the Olympics, and I don’t know when it will be in the Olympics,” U.S. athlete Tara Geraghty-Moats told On Her Turf in 2020.

As a result of the uncertainty, Geraghty-Moats recently decided to switch her focus to biathlon.

“Since taking a step back and experiencing the difference of being in a sport where men and women are treated equitably and given equal prize money and equal competition starts,” she wrote on Instagram in December. “I’ve realized how short [sighted], behind the times, and sad it is that FIS Nordic combined is not moving more quickly to have equal prize money and events for men and women.”

MORE ON THE FIGHT FOR GENDER INCLUSION IN NORDIC COMBINED: Not every Olympic sport is open to women (or men)


Cross-Country Skiing: Equal number of events, but unequal distances

In cross-country skiing, there are six races for men and six races for women. But the race programs are far from identical, with men skiing longer distances in four of the six races. The biggest disparity is in the longest distance competition, where men ski 50 kilometers and women ski 30 kilometers.

“On principle, it really bothers me a lot,” U.S. Olympic gold medalist Jessie Diggins told NBC Olympics last spring. “Not only can we ski 50k, but we can ski more.”

That said, Diggins doesn’t necessarily think the women’s race should automatically increase to 50 kilometers.

“I actually think having the race be so long at 50km, it makes the race less spectator friendly,” she said.

Diggins believes races could be organized so that men and women’s events take the same amount of time. In PyeongChang, the winner of the men’s 50km – Finland’s Iivo Niskanen – crossed the line in two hours, eight minutes, while the winner of the women’s 30km – Norway’s Marit Bjorgen – only spent just over one hour and 22 minutes skiing.

“Do we need to race the exact same length? Maybe not. Do we need to race the same amount of time on course? Yeah, I think that’s absolutely reasonable,” Diggins said.

Cross-country isn’t alone in having men and women race different distances: biathlon, short track, and speed skating all have men’s events that are longer than the women’s counterpart. Even in alpine skiing, men’s courses are often longer than women’s courses.

ALSO FROM ON HER TURF: Jessie Diggins’ legacy extends far beyond her historic Olympic gold


Ski Jumping: Eight years after Olympic debut, women want access to the large hill

The 2022 Winter Olympics will marked the third appearance of women’s ski jumping, with Slovenia’s Ursa Bogataj winning gold in the women’s individual normal hill competition.

In addition to the individual event, new for Beijing is a mixed gender team event. So while women now have two medal opportunities, men still have four, thanks to an individual large hill competition and single gender team event.

“It’s eight years later; let’s step some stuff up and get some more equality,” American ski jumper Anna Hoffmann recently told the Wisconsin State Journal.

A women’s large hill event has been added to the World Cup and world championship program in recent years, and competitors hope the Olympics follow suit.

At the final competition before the Beijing Winter Olympics, Norway’s team manager Clas Brede Brathen pointed out that men and women competed on the same large hill at a World Cup in Willingen, Germany.

“It will be a difficult job for those who will argue against the girls jumping on all the slopes after what happened in Willingen,” he said. “There, the girls showed what many of us have said for a long time, that they will show it when they get the opportunity.”

MORE ABOUT GENDER EQUITY IN SKI JUMPING: Women face uphill battle ahead of third Olympics


Hockey: Women’s tournament expands for 2022 Winter Olympics

A total of 10 women’s hockey teams will compete in Beijing, up from 8 at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics. (Since 1976, 12 men’s teams have competed in the Olympic tournament, except for 1998 and 2002, when the number was raised to 14.)

Men’s teams also have slightly larger rosters: 25 players, compared to 23 on the women’s side.

There’s also the fact that the coaching pipeline is clearly broken. Of the 10 women’s hockey teams competing in Beijing, all are coached by a man.

But the gender disparity most women’s hockey players are most concerned about is the lack of investment and visibility of the women’s game: from the youth level to the professional landscape.

“In order to make money, you need to spend money,” Olympic hockey gold medalist Kendall Coyne Schofield explained on an episode of “On Her Turf at the Olympics” during last summer’s Tokyo Olympics.

“Everything that it ultimately takes to be professional goes into a proper infrastructure and that ultimately allows the players to put the best product on the ice, court, field, whatever the sport may be,” she said.

MORE WOMEN’S HOCKEY NEWS: U.S. women’s hockey faces test after Decker’s tournament-ending injury


Luge: Is a women’s doubles Olympic event on the horizon?

The doubles event in luge is technically mixed gender, but of the 36 athletes expected to compete in Beijing, all are men.

It seems unlikely the event will truly become mixed gender in the future, so in September, the International Luge Federation (FIL) said it would ask the IOC to add a women’s doubles event to be added to the 2026 Milan Cortina Winter Olympics.

And earlier this week, a women’s doubles World Championship was held for the first time. Germany won both gold and silver, while the American duo of Chevonne Forgan and Sophia Kirkby took bronze.


Bobsled: Gender equal events, but only for pilots

While men have competed in two Olympic bobsled events for nearly a century, thanks to the addition of a women’s monobob event, the 2022 Winter Olympics will mark the first time that female bobsledders have two medal opportunities.

Female pilots, that is.

While U.S. pilots Elana Meyers Taylor and Kaillie Humphries – among others – advocated for the addition of a four-woman event, a women’s monobob event was added instead.

“It wasn’t what me and Kaillie intended when we started this journey,” Meyers Taylor said in October at the Team USA media summit. “We intended to try and get more women in, to give more medal opportunities to the female brakemen, too.”

Because of the work that goes on behind-the-scenes, female push athletes often spend just as much time preparing for the monobob competition as they do the two-woman event. “We’re increasing the workload, but with less people to do it,” U.S. push athlete Sylvia Hoffman said.

“It takes an entire team just to manage one monobob,” Meyers Taylor said. “Some of the monobob-specific pilots who don’t have brakemen… I have no idea how they get anything done.”

MORE ON THE ADDITION OF MONOBOB: Despite the name, monobob is not a one-woman event


Figure Skating: A sport in which competitors are now “women” – not ladies – and one athlete is breaking gender norms

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.

MORE ON FIGURE SKATING’S NAME CHANGE: Figure skaters are now “women” instead of “ladies”

“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.

Also in Beijing, U.S. figure skater Timothy LeDuc 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.

“As a person that exists and really thrives outside of the binary, it can be very complicated sometimes navigating a gendered sport,” they explained on a recent episode of My New Favorite Olympian.

 

ALSO FROM ON HER TURF: Women of Team USA lead the way at 2022 Winter Olympics

Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC

Crystal Dunn returns to USWNT roster five months after giving birth

Nigeria v USWNT
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Crystal Dunn was named to the USWNT roster for two upcoming friendlies against England and Spain, marking her first official selection since giving birth to son Marcel in May.

Dunn made her NWSL return with the Portland Thorns earlier this month and also trained with the U.S. team as a non-rostered player ahead of friendlies vs. Nigeria.

In addition to Dunn, the 24-player roster features a veteran core of Alyssa Naeher, Becky Sauerbrunn, Rose Lavelle, Lindsey Horan, Mallory Pugh, and Megan Rapinoe.

Alex Morgan was not named to the USWNT roster due to a knee injury. While U.S. head coach Vlatko Andonovski did not provide details of the injury, he noted that “if this was a World Cup final, Alex was going to be on this trip and was going to play, no question.”

Other roster highlights include 17-year-old Alyssa Thompson, who becomes the first player born in 2004 to receive a USWNT call-up. Thomas, a high senior, plays club soccer for the U-17 Total Futbol Academy boys’ team.

“We are very excited for her, very excited about her potential and qualities and looking forward to seeing how she will turn out in our environment,” Andonovski said of Thompson. “This camp is not make it or break it. It’s a first experience for her, it’s just something that she shouldn’t even worry about.”

The USWNT also includes a handful of players who have made their USWNT breakthrough this season — thanks in part to both strong NWSL play and injuries to more veteran players. That list includes the likes of Naomi Girma (7 caps), Taylor Kornieck (5 caps), Hailie Mace (5 caps), Sam Coffey (1 cap), and Savannah DeMelo (0 caps).

Andonovski on Thursday called Coffey, a midfielder for the Portland Thorns, a candidate for NWSL MVP.


USWNT Roster for October 2022 Friendlies vs. England and Spain

Goalkeepers (3):

  • Aubrey Kingsbury (Washington Spirit)
  • Casey Murphy (North Carolina Courage)
  • Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars)

Defenders(7):

  • Alana Cook (OL Reign)
  • Crystal Dunn (Portland Thorns FC)
  • Emily Fox (Racing Louisville FC)
  • Naomi Girma (San Diego Wave FC)
  • Sofia Huerta (OL Reign)
  • Hailie Mace (Kansas City Current)
  • Becky Sauerbrunn (Portland Thorns FC)

Midfielders (8):

  • Sam Coffey (Portland Thorns FC)
  • Savannah DeMelo (Racing Louisville FC)
  • Lindsey Horan (Olympique Lyon, FRA)
  • Taylor Kornieck (San Diego Wave FC)
  • Rose Lavelle (OL Reign)
  • Kristie Mewis (NJ/NY Gotham FC)
  • Ashley Sanchez (Washington Spirit)
  • Andi Sullivan (Washington Spirit)

Forwards (6):

  • Ashley Hatch (Washington Spirit)
  • Mallory Pugh (Chicago Red Stars)
  • Megan Rapinoe (OL Reign)
  • Trinity Rodman (Washington Spirit)
  • Sophia Smith (Portland Thorns FC)
  • Alyssa Thompson (Total Futbol Academy)

Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC

Justine Wong-Orantes’ atypical path to becoming one of the best liberos in the world

Justine Wong-Orantes hits the ball in the women's semi-final volleyball match between USA and Serbia during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
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It’s been 20 years since the same nation held both the Olympic and world volleyball titles at the same time, but libero Justine Wong-Orantes is looking to help lead Team USA accomplish that very feat at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championships in the Netherlands and Poland. Competition began on Friday and the U.S. is currently 2-0 after group play wins against Kazakhstan and Canada.

“We’re trying to win, for sure,” Wong-Orantes told On Her Turf. “I think, especially with the new turn of the program and the new year of the quad, we just have a really nice blend of veterans and also newcomers on the team.”

The 14-woman roster for Team USA, which is ranked No. 1 in the world and won its first Olympic title last summer, features six players from that gold-medal-winning team. And while Wong-Orantes is among the 2021 U.S. Olympic team veterans, she’s still a relative newcomer to international play.

The Southern California native enjoyed a notable junior career – she was 12 when she became the youngest female to ever earn an AAA rating in beach volleyball – and was a standout collegian at Nebraska, where she was a member of the 2015 NCAA championship team. But Wong-Orantes followed a different path upon graduation, initially choosing not to go overseas to play professionally.

While she was first selected for the U.S. national team in 2016 and played a handful of international tournaments in the following years, it wasn’t until she started playing professionally in Germany in 2019 that she saw the potential to elevate her position on the roster. In particular, the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics gave her an additional year of overseas experience, which she calls “a blessing in disguise.”

“I just felt like I was still in that developmental stage,” she said. “And a whole year postponement allowed me to go overseas and really get all the touches, all the repetitions, and just kind of expose myself to international volleyball another year. So I was, in hindsight, pretty thankful for that COVID season because I got an extra year under my belt, and I think that just gave me a ton of confidence.”

Ahead of the Olympics, Wong-Orantes earned “best libero” honors at the 2021 FIVB Volleyball National League in Rimini, Italy, which helped secure her spot on the Olympic roster. In Tokyo, she followed up with another standout performance and was named best libero of the Olympic tournament.

As to how the Wong-Orantes transformed into one of the world’s top liberos, she points to her background as a beach volleyball player. She began competing at age 8, and her first partner was Sara Hughes, a star on the AVP Pro Tour who also won two NCAA titles with USC.

“I think having that background and just the court awareness that beach volleyball forces you to have allowed me to really have a good read on the game,” said Wong-Orantes. “I think that’s what makes a great libero is just reading and always being reactive towards the ball.”

Wong-Orantes also credits the assistance of mental coach Sue Enquist, a former UCLA softball coach and U.S. national team coach, who now helps teams work on their culture and relationships. Enquist began working with the U.S. volleyball team during the pandemic and has continued in her role ever since.

“We just worked on a lot of stuff within ourselves, within our program, how to communicate with each other off the court, and I think that honestly propelled us into such a high, high level with how we worked with each other, and then that transferred onto the court,” explained Wong-Orantes, who noted the team has Enquist on speed dial while at the World Championship. “I really commend Sue. I just really give a lot of praise to her because I think our culture was never bad, but I think [she] just transformed into a different level.”

2022-09-26 - FIVB Volleyball Womens World Championship 2022 - Day 4
ARNHEM, NETHERLANDS – Justine Wong-Orantes (far right) poses for a photo with her U.S. teammates after defeating Canada at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship on September 26, 2022. (Photo by Rene Nijhuis/Orange Pictures/BSR Agency/Getty Images)

Wong-Orantes said she and her U.S. teammates are on their toes for the world championships, which features twice as many teams (24) as the Olympics and a “more grueling” format.

“It’s going to be a long tournament, and I think we’re really going to need all 14 of us that are here. I’m pretty certain that, at any given moment, someone’s going to be called on and someone’s going to need to step up in big moments.”