< Tokyo Games Become First Gender-Equal Olympics
By Dan Novak
22 July 2021

Grace Luczak had left competitive rowing and taken a job. But a move toward gender equity at the Tokyo Olympic Games brought her back into the boat.

This year, a woman's rowing event was added to make sure that there is an equal number of men's and women's sports at the Olympics. That change meant four additional spots on the U.S. team and a place for Luczak.

The rower said it was hard to make the decision to go back to the sport and leave her job for a year. She did not think it was possible until more seats were added.

"There are four more seats," Luczak said. "Four. And it's the first gender-equal Olympics. How can you not try?"

Most of the public attention goes to big sports like gymnastics, swimming and track and field. But women from smaller sports that are less popular are now being recognized and given a chance to compete in the Olympics.

The International Olympic Committee, or IOC, added 18 new events to the Tokyo Games in a push toward gender equity. There are an equal number of women and men for every sport, aside from baseball and softball because of different team sizes.

The IOC said 49 percent of athletes in Tokyo are women. That is up from 45 percent at the last Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. The IOC said that when women began competing in the 1900 Paris Olympics, there were only 22 out of 997 total athletes.

"Tokyo 2020 is predicted to be the most gender equal yet with female participation," the IOC said.

In this July 20, 2021, file photo, an athlete trains at the weightlifting training hall at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, July 20, 2021, in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek, File)
In this July 20, 2021, file photo, an athlete trains at the weightlifting training hall at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, July 20, 2021, in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek, File)

Closing the gender difference is an important issue for many women. Concerns about equity got attention at this year's NCAA college basketball championship. People on social media became upset when images showed how the women's teams had less equipment than men's teams.

The new chances for women at the Olympics come in several sports. In water polo, two additional teams were added, for a total of 10. Britain is sending more women than men to the Olympics for the first time.

Gains for women in many cases meant fewer spots for men. Boxing has 100 women competing in five weight groups. That is an increase from 36 women in three weight groups at the Games in Rio de Janeiro. Two men's groups were lost.

Weightlifting this year is equal at seven teams for both men and women. But that was possible only by dropping one men's team. Women's canoeing was added. Two men's canoeing events were dropped.

Not every addition hurt men's sports. Swimming added the 1,500-meter freestyle for women. But the men's 800 freestyle swim was brought back for the first time since 1904. This year, there will be the first mixed gender relay race.

Five new sports were added this year: baseball, softball, karate, skateboarding, sports climbing and surfing. The IOC made sure to have equal numbers of men and women.

Luczak, now 32, knows that a male teammate's sport was lost for her to be able to compete. Her four-person rowing event replaces the same event for men.

"It's never fun seeing people find out their opportunity is gone," Luczak said. "But in creating an equal number of opportunities, it shows there is a pathway for female athletes."

I'm Dan Novak.

Jenna Fryer reported this story for The Associated Press. Dan Novak adapted for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.


Words in This Story

gender –n. the state of being either female or male

equity n. fairness or justice in the way people are treated

participate – v. to be involved with others in doing something : to take part in an activity or event with others

relay –n. a race between teams in which team members run, swim or compete in different parts of the race

opportunity– n. an amount of time or a situation in which something can be done

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