Winter Olympics Kick Off with 109 Women Athletes Representing Team USA

The Winter Olympics kicked off last week in Pyeongchang, South Korea and women athletes comprise a record 43 percent of the competitors; 45 percent of Team USA’s diverse group of 242 athletes are women.

Team USA ranges in ages from 17 to 39 and includes 10 African Americans, 11 Asian Americans and the first two openly gay American Olympic athletes. There is a major gender gap with regards to parent athletes: there are 20 fathers and only one mother competing—cross country skier Kikkan Randall.

A standout star from the beginning has been 17-year-old Chloe Kim, who on Tuesday won her first Olympic gold medal in the women’s snowboard halfpipe with a final score of 98.25. Even four years ago Kim was considered one of the best snowboarders in the world, but at 13 was too young to compete in the Olympics. She is now the youngest female medalist in Olympic snowboarding history.

“I need to go home and process everything and I’ll probably bawl my eyes out some more,” Kim said, “but this has been a dream of mine since I was a little girl, so just to be here and to be able to do it when it mattered feels amazing.”

When the Winter Games were held 94 years ago women made up only 4 percent of the 258 athletes, and they were only allowed to compete in figure skating. While many winter sports opened up to women in the 1950s and 1960s, it would be decades before most of them offered an equal number of events as the men, and ski jumping and Nordic combined still have yet to reach gender parity in events. The sharpest increase in female participants came in the 1990s as social acceptance rose around women participating in “traditionally male sports” like the biathlon and ice hockey. This year all but two disciplines are open to women.

Since 1988 China has consistently been the only country with a majority-women team at the Winter Olympics. The country began providing women with equal funding, facilities and coaching in the 1950s, two decades before Title IX advocated for equal opportunity in sports for women and girls in the United States.

Title IX mandates that schools ensure an equal number of resources goes to fund sports for both men and women. Although Title IX has prompted many educational equity victories for women and girls over the last 45 years, there is still a long way to go. Advocates have been urging Members of Congress to pass the Patsy T. Mink Gender Equity in Education Act, which would allocate greater federal funding to help schools uphold Title IX.

Two weeks ago, Congress passed the Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization Act, which makes it mandatory for sports organizations to report alleged sexual abuse of athletes to law enforcement or social services within 24 hours. The bill was passed as former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar was sentenced to a combined total of over 200 years in prison for possessing child pornography and sexually abusing over 200 women and girls who sought medical treatment.

Media Resources: The Guardian 2/8/18; National Public Radio 2/9/18; NBC 2/12/18; Feminist Newswire 2/6/18;

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