February 7, 2018

Women and the Winter Olympics

Let’s look back at the 94-year journey of women at the Winter Olympics.

At the first winter Olympic games in 1924, only 11 women competed out of the 258 athletes who attended the games. The only sport women were allowed to compete in was figure skating. We have come a long way since the first games in the 1920s but women have still yet to reach 50% participation in the games.

At the last games in 2014, there were 1,120 female athletes, which meant 40.3% of the athletes were women. This year at the 2018 games the percentage is higher, 45%, but we have still haven’t crossed the finished line for equal participation of women and men athletes.

In the first Winter Olympics in 1924 Herma Szabo of Austria became the first woman to win gold at the Winter Olympics. In second place was American skater Beatrix Loughran, Loughran continues to be the only American to win three Olympic medals in figure skating.

Sonja Henie also competed in the 1924 games at only 11 years old. While she lost the first games she went on to medal in the next three games.

It wasn’t until the 1936 games that women were allowed to compete in another sport besides figure skating. It was at those games Alpine Skiing was introduced to both men and women athletes.

In 1960 women reached 20% participation as more Olympic sports were open for them to compete in. The biathlon and speed skating were then added to the list of women’s sports.

1991  was a landmark year for women and the Olympics. The IOC (International Olympic Committee) finally made the decision that any new sport seeking to be included on the Olympic program had to include women’s events. Women were no longer limited to what they could compete in, automatically skewing the percentage of men and women athletes at the games. With all new sports open to women only two barriers now stand in the way, voting to let already existing sports in the Olympics be open to women and to encourage women around the world to participate in sports and give the resources to stay involved in those sports.

One of the reasons U.S. women dominate in international competition compared to other countries is Title IX. While sports wasn’t the focus of Title IX it resulted in more funding for female college athletic programs.  As gold medalist, Nancy Hogshead-Makar explains, “What the history of Title IX shows us is that if you provide women with quality sports opportunities, they’ll come and they’ll excel”.

As for the IOC, they have made boosting women’s participation in sports a priority. Every four years they host an international conference to plan out actions that will improve women’s sports participation and promote gender equality in sport.

In 1992 the IOC voted to include women’s ice hockey in the Olympics. The sport made its debut at the Olympics in the 1998 games in Nagano. At the 2014 games, Canadian hockey players Hayley Wickenheiser, Jayna Hefford and Caroline Ouellette became the first athletes to win four ice hockey gold medals.

Although it was featured in the very first winter games in 1924, it wasn’t until 2002 bobsleigh became open to women’s participation. Kallie Humphries of Canada leads the medal count for women and she is the first female bobsledder to defend her Olympic title.

For the 2018 Olympics, which starts on February 9th in Pyeongchang, South Korea, women are competing in every sport.

Let’s continue to push forward, promote women in sports, and by the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing, we will see 50% participation of men and women at the games.

What is your favorite sport to watch during the Winter Olympics? Let’s us know about the women athletes you’ll be rooting for by tweeting us @WomensMuseum.

All contributions and bequests are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by federal and state law. The Women’s Museum of California is a 501(c)(3) non-profit charitable corporation. Tax ID is 95-3893212.

This Page is Coming Soon

We are in the process of re-designing our website.
Thank you for your patience.