What price for Olympic equality?

 

Cycling has been a part of the summer Olympics since the start of the modern Olympic movement in 1896.  Back then, the programme allowed for men to contest a road race, plus various time trials and a sprint event on the track.

 

The first women’s event, the road race, was only added as recently as the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984 and the first track event, the individual pursuit, was added in 1992.

 

Equality between the sexes is clearly not something that the Olympic movement has ever really embraced.  Across the whole program in Beijing, there were 167 events for men and just 125 for women.

 

Victoria Pendleton, Team GB’s only female sprinter, had to wait until the final day of the track competition to clinch a single gold medal, from one race and forever live in the shadow of Chris Hoy, one of three male sprinters sent to Beijing and who scooped a phenomenal three gold medals.

 

So perhaps it should be heralded as a strike for equality that, in 2012 men and women will have an equal number of cycling events to contest.  However, the news has been greeted with very different reactions from the endurance and sprint camps.

 

The female events that are lost from the program are:

  1. Individual pursuit
  2. Points race

In addition to these races, men will lose the individual pursuit, points race and madison - historic races that are real crowd pleasers.

 

 WH VP

                            Victoria Pendleton and Wendy Houvenaghel - both see the changes in a positive light

The events that will be contested by women in 2012 are:

  1. Women’s Omnium (the following events will be contested over two days: flying lap (250-metre time trial), points race (20 km), pursuit (3 km), scratch race (10 km), 500m TT, elimination race)
  2. Sprint
  3. Keirin
  4. Team Sprint
  5. Team Pursuit

 

Plus of course the Road Race and Road TT, which will continue to feature.

 

GB have become so strong in the women's individual pursuit that the team took home both gold (Romero) and silver (Houvenaghel) from Beijing.  So it is not surprising that Romero describes the changes as ‘a massive disappointment... I wanted to defend my title’.  She went on to say that the changes for track cycling as a whole are ‘ludicrous’. 

 

Wendy Houvehagel, however has a more positive take.  In an exclusive interview with BikeEnvy, she said ‘I’m in favour of gender equality with regards to Olympic medals in track cycling… I’m very disappointed to hear that the Men’s and Women’s Individual Pursuit events have been removed from the 2012 Olympic program, along with the loss of other endurance events.  I am however delighted to hear the Women’s Team Pursuit will be included in the programme for London’s games, since we are the current World Champions and World Record Holders’.

 

Another rider who sees a real opportunities for both herself and the team is Victoria Pendleton, Olympic gold medalist in the sprint.  She describes it as ‘great news for a female sprinter’ because women sprinters can now contest three gold medals.  She acknowledged that there would be additional pressure on her to win multiple gold medals but went on to say that the decision was potentially too late to benefit her as an individual. 

 

Overall, the positive news is that there will be more women riders attending the next Olympics.  Team GB had just three places available for women track cyclists in Beijing but at London 2012 there could be as many as 11. There is no doubting that this decision gives more women a chance to participate at the highest level.

 

Some statistics to ponder

 

There are apparently set quotas for each sport at the 2012 games:  Pat McQuaid (UCI President) explains ‘The Olympic charter states that there are 28 sports, 10,500 athletes and 301 disciplines’.  The only exceptions to these quotas are swimming and athletics. 

 

So for all sports to address the share of medals between men and women, events would have to be lost from the men’s program to create new events for women.  This is why the mens track cycling event total has gone from seven to five and the two lost events have been added to the women's total, which have gone from three events to five.

 

The last reshuffle we saw was the loss of the mens Kilo TT and womens 500m TT from the programme in Beijing.  These were dropped to make way for a men's and women's BMX event.  At the time the proposals were greeted with some dismay, but after the event most conceeded that BMX was a worthy addition to the programme.

 

 

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