Last night, American athlete Simone Biles made history by becoming the first American gymnast to win four golds at a single Olympics – an incredible accomplishment. Watching her do it with such incredible joy and brilliance has also been one of the delights of the Olympics.
The Games offer a rare moment where women are not depicted as being “body conscious,” instead, we see women – of all shape, size and colour – use their bodies for a distinct purpose; unselfconsciously pulling off incredible feats to reach the top of their field. Their bodies are things of power and potential, giving us an all-too-fleeting opportunity to see women on a global scale being admired for their physical strength, never mind the mental discipline that it takes all athletes to compete at such a level. Yet what Rio 2016 has also highlighted is the residual sexism still purveying global sports.
Two-time Olympic champion Corey Cogdell-Unrein received a bronze medal for trap shooting, but the Chicago Tribune saw it fitting to refer to her as merely ‘the wife of Chicago Bears lineman Mitch Unrein.’ In response to the controversy, this article went viral. Other examples include, the men “storm through” to the semi-finals, whereas the women, are just “through” despite the fact that they also placed third. And oh yes, according to former Olympic boatman Adam Kreek, tennis player Eugenie Bouchard “doesn’t want to be a competitor,” she just wants to take selfies on social media. Even the most jaw-dropping displays of athleticism have led to “like a guy” comparisons, where star-gymnast Biles insisted she wasn’t like any man who came before, she was simply herself. Hell, yes.
But thankfully, male athletes – specifically Andy Murray and Adam van Koeverden – have called out what they see as unfair treatment of their equal competitors, and we love them for it. Canadian kayak medallist, Adam van Koeverden, wrote a blog addressing Kreek, saying in no uncertain terms what he thought of his behaviour:
“If men don’t call out men when we are being sexist, then we are not a part of the solution, and the problem persists. So here I am, calling out my friend Adam Kreek. Adam, you were sexist on television last night.”
Following this, tennis champion and Olympic medalist Andy Murray was given credit for a record that had already been set by tennis legends, Venus and Serena Williams, but he was having none of it. BBC reporter John Inverdale said Murray was the first person to win two Olympic gold medals in tennis, completely erasing the fact that Venus and Serena Williams both achieved the goal well before he had. “You’re the first person ever to win two Olympic tennis gold medals,” Inverdale said. “That’s an extraordinary feat, isn’t it?” “I think Venus and Serena have won about four each,” Murray replied.
As JK Rowling quickly tweeted, he reminded Inverdale that “women are people too.” Depressing to think that this was necessary, the positive being that it is not just women who are trying to set the record straight. A turning point perhaps and certainly something everyone could champion.