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

Kaillie Humphries elevates another fresh U.S. face to podium status in two-woman bobsled World Cup

Kaillie Humphries of USA, Kaysha Love of USA in action at the 2 women's bobsleigh during Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games.
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PARK CITY, UTAH – Kaillie Humphries extended her podium streak on Saturday at the IBSF World Cup, where she and U.S. push athlete Jasmine Jones finished third in the two-woman bobsled.

The third-place finish in Park City marked the sixth podium for Humphries at the Park City track, which hosted the 2002 Olympics, and was Jones’ career-first World Cup podium in just her second World Cup start.

“This is our first race together, so really excited about that,” said the 37-year-old Humphries, considered the greatest female driver in history with three Olympic gold medals (2010, 2014 and 2022) and five world championships titles. She earned her 29th career World Cup win on Friday in Park City in the women’s monobob.

“Definitely a work in progress. … The runs weren’t perfect, but I’m really happy with our starts, happy with our drives minus a few little mistakes. It’s a good starting point, and we’ll look to grow from here.”

Humphries and Jones finished with a combined, two-run time of 1:37.69, 0.32 behind winners Kim Kalicki and brakewoman Leonie Fiebig of Germany at 1:37.37. Fellow Germans Laura Nolte and Lena Neunecker were second at 0.23 back.

Kalicki and Fiebig broke a 16-year-old track record with their first run, laying down a time of 48.60 seconds and besting the time set by Americans Shauna Rohbock and Valerie Fleming – the 2006 Olympic silver medalists – in December 2006 (48.73). It also marked the second straight victory for Kalicki, who’s won five career World Cup titles including last week’s two-woman bobsled race in Whistler, Canada.

“I was hoping Kaillie would get [the record],” said Rohbock, who is now a U.S. team coach and was on hand to see her record fall. “That first run there, she had that little skid in the bottom, so that didn’t help, but Kailee’s always putting up a great performance. And Jasmine, another great brakewoman, so we’re really lucky that we have that depth.”

For Team USA, it marked the second straight week that a fresh face earned her first podium finish while competing with Humphries. Last week in Whistler, push athlete Emily Renna and Humphries placed third in Renna’s first-ever World Cup appearance.

MORE IBSF WORLD CUP COVERAGE: Kelly Curtis notches career-best finish with top five at Park City skeleton World Cup

“Being able to race with her was really special,” said the 29-year-old Renna, who was a college track athlete at University of Rhode Island. “It’s really nice to be around seasoned veterans. It definitely makes you feel better in the back sled with you when you’ve got a good pilot who knows the track.”

Renna finished in eighth place in Park City with 12-year U.S. team veteran and pilot Nicole Vogt (1:39.04). Vogt partnered with Jones in her first World Cup last week where they finished seventh in Whistler, 1.33 seconds behind winners Kalicki and German teammate Anabel Galander.

“To have an opportunity to be with Kaillie in my World Cup debut – it’s exciting,” said the 26-year-old Jones, who was a collegiate track and field athlete at Eastern Michigan. “I just feel like I have so much more in the tank to give, and I’m just hungry for it.”

Jones is particularly gratified with her performance after returning full-time to bobsled less than 18 months ago following the birth of her daughter, Jade Quinn Jones, in February 2021. The Greensburg, Pa., native returned to training just five months postpartum, having sat out the 2020-21 season. She competed on the North American Cup last year, finishing the season with a win (the third NA Cup title of her career) and a third place in Lake Placid.

“I’m thankful,” said Jones. “Opportunity is the main thing, and I just feel blessed to have my first World Cup podium. I’m screaming on the inside. I may not show it, but I am jumping for joy because I’m just that excited and happy to have this accomplishment.”

She admits, however, it’s not always easy to compete balance a full-time competitive career with being a mom.

“Sometimes it’s a struggle being away from my daughter,” said Jones, whose mom takes care of Jade while she travels. “I try to get my facetimes in every night and just know that when I’m pushing, I’m doing it for her. Hopefully sometime in the future I’ll have her around on the sidelines cheering me on, and that’s my main motivation – that this is for her.”

The BMW IBSF World Cup continues its North American swing Dec. 16-18 in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Kaillie Humphries faces IVF journey head on — and collects monobob World Cup win along the way

Gold medallist Kaillie Humphries of Team United States celebrates during the Women's Monobob.
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PARK CITY, UTAH — Kaillie Humphries knew the quest to start a family would impact her 2022-23 season, but it’s certainly not slowing down Team USA’s reigning monobob Olympic gold medalist, who captured her first World Cup title in the discipline on Friday.

The 37-year-old Humphries, considered the greatest female driver in history with three Olympic golds (2010, 2014 and 2022) and five world championships, earned her 29th career World Cup win and her third victory on the Park City track, where she won the two-woman bobsled competitions in 2012 and 2016. Competing in Utah – as well as North American World Cup stops in Whistler last week and in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Dec. 17-18 – is one of the reasons that Humphries pushed pause on her journey to motherhood.

“I’m excited,” Humphries said following the win, marking her second straight podium in monobob following a third-place finish last week in Whistler. “I was excited for this year before it started. It’s part and parcel of why my husband and I delayed the IVF process and starting a family this season. To be able to be back in North America and have the first half of the season here – it’s been a long time since we’ve had that, so I wanted to be able to compete and it feels awesome.”

That’s not to say the leadup to this season has been without its share of hiccups. In fact, Humphries admits that following the Beijing Olympics, she had hoped to get pregnant immediately, but she and husband Travis Armbruster had to pivot when a diagnosis of stage 4 endometriosis made it clear that in vitro fertilization would be the best path for pregnancy.

“Right after the Olympics, I was like, ‘We’re going to get pregnant; it’s gonna be all good,’” she said. “I thought, my body has always performed, and it wasn’t going to be an issue. Fast forward to I find out we have to do IVF. We do the first egg retrieval, and it doesn’t go as well as I had hoped — which anybody that’s done this process knows, you can’t control any aspect of it. And so having to do a second round of egg retrieval, …it pushed everything back.”

What’s more, it brought Humphries’ training to a standstill at times, when she would have to limit all physical activity during the three-week period surrounding the egg-retrieval process.

“It impacted my training coming into this year a lot,” she says, “but I also think it definitely reset my hormones, which turns out I needed. I don’t think was a bad thing. I knew coming into this year, I wasn’t going to be in the same shape as I have been in the past, and I had to make peace with that. I know that each and every race I’m racing myself into shape, and each race is a preparation for January’s World Championships.”

Humphries also chose to share her IVF journey publicly, and she’s documented every step of the way, believing that her story makes it less scary not just for her but also for other women and female athletes who might be facing the same thing.

MORE IBSF WORLD CUP: Kelly Curtis notches career-best finish with top five at Park City skeleton World Cup

“My husband and I weren’t sure that we wanted to share it at first,” she admits. “But I felt it was important just to showcase this. I have nothing to hide. And as much as there are parts of me certain days when I think, ‘What’s wrong with me?’ At the end of the day, I know I’m not alone in this.

“It’s important, I do have a voice, and I want other people to know, as an Olympic gold medalist, if it can happen to me, it can happen to anybody. Infertility exists in the female body, and it’s important that I talk about it in my journey and hopefully that’s inspired other people.”

She says she’s received an outpouring of support, which has been particularly gratifying as she continues to put a painful breakup with Team Canada in the rearview mirror. Humphries, who was born in Calgary, competed for Canada for 16 years, winning three Olympic medals including a bronze in Pyeongchang in 2018. But the relationship came to an abrupt end later just five months after the 2018 Games, after Humphries alleged emotional and mental harassment by a former coach.

Winning a gold medal in Beijing just two months after her U.S. citizenship was finalized proved to be turning point for Humphries, who commemorated the milestone with two new tattoos. She first added the date of her win – Feb. 14, 2022 – to the back of her left hand and a larger rose and skull illustration to the back of her right knee and calf, all of which commemorate her triumph over that darker period.

“The skull represents a rebirth and a growth, overcoming challenges and/or obstacles and turning something negative into something positive,” explains Humphries, who says she chose the rose because it’s the national flower of the U.S. as well as a symbol of love won or lost. She notes that she has “an actual Olympic one” planned for August 2024, which is when her favorite tattoo artist is next available.

Humphries has also found the silver lining in her IVF journey, as the competition season has been a welcome break from some of the self-imposed pressure.

“By pushing pause for four or five months and competing, it allowed me mentally to know that we can go into all of next summer and all winter focusing on just doing the actual embryo transfers and having a good pregnancy,” she says. “I don’t feel stressed to try and get pregnant right away. I felt like I was becoming competitive with myself, wondering why isn’t this working? Why can’t I do this? I tried to control too many things, and I started to get really frustrated. Mentally, it was hard. So, by pushing pause, going back to what I know — which is the sport, which is what I love – it’s allowed me to control a little bit of my future.”

Humphries’ season continues Saturday as the IBSF World Cup from Park City concludes with the two-woman bobsleigh.