Grace Luczak had quit competitive rowing and taken a job in the private sector when a move towards gender equality at the Tokyo Games drew her to a boat.
A women’s rowing event was added to create a more inclusive Olympics, which meant four more seats on the U.S. team and a spot for Luczak.
“It’s really hard to make the decision to come back, to plan financially not to work for a year,” Luczak said. She believed that a second consecutive Games was not possible for a veteran until the seats were added.
“There are four seats left. Four. And these are the first Olympic Games for gender equality. How not to try?
Most of the public’s attention is focused on big sports – gymnastics, swimming, track and field – but away from the spotlight, women in niche sports are recognized and given a chance at the Olympics.
The International Olympic Committee has added 18 new events to the Tokyo Games in the interests of gender equity. There is an equal number of women and men for each sport except baseball and softball due to the size of the teams.
The IOC said the participation of women in Tokyo will be 49%, compared to 45% in Rio, an almost even distribution with men. The committee also noted that when women made their Olympic debut at the Paris Games in 1900, there were only 22 women out of a total of 997 athletes. These pioneers competed in five sports, including croquet and horseback riding.
“Tokyo 2020 is expected to be the most equal to date with female participation,” said the IOC.
The new opportunities present themselves in several sports and sizes: Britain, for example, is sending more women than men to the Olympics for the first time. In water polo, two more teams were added, for a total of 10. This is still two less than the men’s tournament, but a victory for the women’s movement.
The gains for women in many cases meant fewer opportunities for men. Boxing will feature 100 women in five classes, compared to 36 female fighters in three classes in Rio. But two courses for men were abandoned.
Weightlifting this year is equal to seven teams for men and women, but reached the mark by dropping a men’s team. The women’s canoe was added, but the men’s 200 and men’s double kayak 200 were dropped – a move sparked backlash from male athletes when it was announced in 2016.
Erik Vlcek, who won silver with Slovakia in Rio, argued when the women’s canoe was added that women should only kayak because the women’s canoe “doesn’t look good. “. A Czech paddler joked that the canoe is bad for a woman’s posture.
The changes have gone through several sports, with the rifle probably undergoing the most changes. The sport lost the men’s prone rifle, men’s free pistol and men’s double trap, all replaced by mixed team events in the air rifle, air pistol and hatch.
Luczak, now 32, knows she took advantage to the detriment of her male teammates. The women’s coxless four returns to competition for the first time since 1992, but replaces the men’s lightweight coxless four.
“It’s not great when you have to take something away from the men’s side and add it to the women’s side. It’s never fun to watch people find out that their opportunity is gone, ”said Luczak. “But by creating an equal number of opportunities, it shows that there is a path for female athletes.”
Luczak left her fiance at home and moved in with a foster family in Princeton, New Jersey, while she trained. She also traded a paycheck for an allowance, simply because the extra four seats were too enticing she couldn’t even try.
The narrowing of the gender gap was a cause for many women. Equality concerns were exacerbated when gender gaps were exposed at this year’s NCAA basketball tournament. Images shared on social media of the vastly under-equipped women’s weight room have become a symbol of the injustices suffered by all female athletes in the shadow of men.
Former Stanford water polo player Maggie Steffens said the gender inequality at the NCAA tournament “made me sick to my heart to see,” but it also opened my eyes. Steffens is a two-time Olympic gold medalist, two-time Olympic MVP and captain of the US women’s team, but she always believed that the better-known women’s sports were treated better than water polo.
“The girls’ basketball teams are in the tournament, they have all these fans, they’re on TV and you’re like ‘Look how lucky they are,'” said Steffens. “But the behind-the-scenes stuff comes out and you find out it has it just like you.
“To make it all come out from an athlete’s perspective, to make what people don’t see now be visible, maybe it showed that women can do it. We don’t need all the fancy stuff, we don’t care. We will do it anyway.
Not all of the additions were a big blow to men’s sport. Swimming added the women’s 1,500-meter freestyle for the first time, while the men’s 800 freestyle returned to competition for the first time since 1904. The mixed relay made its Olympic debut.
Five new sports were added this year – baseball / softball, karate, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing – and the IOC has demanded that they have an equal number of males and females.
There are still significant gaps to be bridged, especially in funding and pricing outside of the Olympics. Steffens saw a long campaign for equal pay at a particular tournament come to fruition this year and posted a photo of the triumph titled #equalpay. Pioneer water polo player Maureen O’Toole commented: “Wait what. You get paid !! that must be nice !!! “on the post on social networks.
“It got me thinking, who in 20 years am I going to comment and say, ‘Look what you’re getting now?’” Said Steffens. “It’s just amazing that this door is open and that little girls with dreams like me can stand on my shoulders and go further and improve it.”
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