06 June 2012

Sexism in Track and Field and the Olympic Games

My older daughter's PE teacher gave me some good news today. Every year at my girls' school, beginning in first grade, students run 1000m for time at the beginning and the end of the year. They do this as part of an overall fitness evaluation. The students also throw a ball for distance and perform a standing broad jump. There are other events, but I can't recall right now what they are.

During the second running of the 1000m this year, my daughter recorded the second fastest time for a second grader in the school's history. She also recorded the second longest broad jump in the school's history. Now, if the run were a 100 or 200m sprint, then the broad jump would make sense. Both events require power, so a student who is good in one will also be good in the other. Carl Lewis was an Olympic gold medalist in both the 100m and the long jump. To my knowledge, though, no athlete has ever won a medal in the mile and the long jump. Training for the two events is too dissimilar. However, my daughter seems to have a nice balance of endurance and power. So, I hope to see her one day participate in the Olympic decathlon, an event for those athletes who don't quite have elite ability in either a power or an endurance discipline, but do have exemplary ability in both endurance and power disciplines.

What's that you say? My daughter can't be a decathlete? But I was going to buy her posters of Bruce Jenner and Dan O'Brien and all the women who have won a gold medal in the decathlon.

No women have won gold in the Olympic decathlon? There is no Olympic decathlon? But there is a men's decathlon, right? Okay, then shouldn't the women perform in the decathlon, too? They have a heptathlon? But that's only seven events. They should get three more.

The women's heptathlon (during an indoor track and field contest men perform in the heptathlon) consists of the 100m hurdles (should be 110m), the high jump, the shot put, the 200m, the long jump, the javelin throw, and the 800m. The decathlon consists of the 100m, the long jump, the shot put, the high jump, the 400m, the 110m hurdles, the discus throw, the pole vault, the javelin throw, and the 1500m. As you see, the men perform one intermediate distance running event that the women don't do, as well as the pole vault and the discus throw.

Unfortunately, the Olympics moves slowly when it comes to change. It took them until 1984 to allow women to run the marathon, and it took them until 2000 to allow women to pole vault. But now that women are pole vaulting, there is little reason not to allow women to perform the decathlon. We should let the International Olympic Committee and the International Association of Athletics Federation know that both sexes are equally capable of competing in a decathlon (as well as the 110m hurdles, which must be changed to provide an equal decathlon to both sexes).

With this in mind, I have begun a petition on change.org (click here) that is addressed to both the International Olympic Committee and the International Association of Athletics Federation, demanding that they end the sexism inherent in holding a heptathlon for women and a decathlon for men. Soon, I hope to draft a letter to both organizations expressing my dissatisfaction with this situation.

Please take the time to sign this petition. My older daughter will be 28 during the 2032 Olympics. She'll be in the prime of her athletic life, and I'd like her to have at least the opportunity to compete in the decathlon if she so chooses.

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