The Olympics

// 11 August 2008

Olympic rings and blood splatters, protesting China's Human Rights recordOK so I’m not a sports fan but I just wanted to note – as no-one else seems to have so far – that the UK’s first two medals were both won by women. Nicole Cooke in the Cycling Road Race and Rebecca Adlington 400m swimming freestyle.

And now for the gripe – according to the Guardian Nicole Cooke’s achievement was down to the trainer and the team director, both men.

Road racing has never been an exact science and never will be, but the British cycling performance director Dave Brailsford and his team have been working on it and it showed yesterday. When Nicole Cooke sprinted across the line to claim Britain’s first medal of these Olympic Games, it not only marked the pinnacle of the Welsh woman’s eight-year international career but was also the culmination of a meticulous planning process going back more than a year.

From The Guardian

I’m sorry – is this “woman wins gold medal, but be a man’s achievement” in play or what?

Edit: For more on this kind of misogyny go see this (in which the Independent reduces Olympian Sportswomen to “pin-ups”) and this (in which apparently the best reason to watch female Olympian’s is the possibility of a “wardrobe malfunction”). And then read this from Feminist Philosophers and this from Kira Cochrane at the Guardian (although on the latter, why is this considered “Lifestyle” – is being a woman suddenly a “lifestyle choice”?).

Comments From You

A Cook // Posted 11 August 2008 at 10:08 am

Yes, my boyfriend and I definitely noticed and commented how good it was to have women enjoying such a high profile for their achievements as winners in the Olympics rather than as page three girls, given the dearth of women in the media who constitute genuine achievers and role models. And about time too!

Anne Onne // Posted 11 August 2008 at 11:04 am

That’s so true. Men and women in many disciplines have large teams behind them supporting them, and whilst I do think it important to acknowledge that there are a lot of people working together to support athletes at the olympics, that shouldn’t decrease the respect people have for the athletes, either.

When the athlete is out there competing, all the preparation and all the other people are in the background, and it is up to the athlete themselves to concentrate and put all the practice into action.

I’m not happy that the only time when all the support teams are mentioned is normally when the athletes are women.

I am glad to see female athletes gain more recognition, especially since there are relatively few things apart from looks that women are praised for in the media.

Mind you, I’m also a bit stumped why some sports have separate male and female events. Equestrian sports or archery don’t seem to require huge amounts of physical strength, so I don’t see why men and women can’t compete together.

Sabre // Posted 11 August 2008 at 11:23 am

Yes I’m loving the Olympics as it’s quite rare to see sports on TV where women are shown so much, and shown being successful. Sports on TV in this country is dominated by football (mens), rugby (mens), cricket (mens) and tennis (mixed, but so much coverage of the women is on their clothes/bodies rather than their game). Anyway I hope it inspires more young girls into sport.

On the downside, I have noticed that men tend to glaze over a bit when watching the women in the Olympics. That’s a bit sad. The Guardian article really concentrates on the men involved in the team rather than Nicole Cooke’s athletic abilities. It reminded me of this entry where someone [Jess quoting BetaCandy at The Hathor Legacy – ed] mentions that men don’t listen to women talking, unless a man’s name is mentioned.

Sarah // Posted 11 August 2008 at 11:57 am

The equestrian events are mixed-sex, aren’t they? As for archery, I think it does require considerable upper-body strength, though I have little personal experience.

I think it’s fair to give recognition to the team and trainers behind every individual athlete – because they do play a very major role in his/her success. However that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t celebrate and praise the winning individual, and you may well be right that there’s more reluctance to do that when it’s a woman. Certainly the article does seem to eclipse Nicole Cooke’s achievement a little.

Julia W // Posted 11 August 2008 at 11:59 am

The Guardian wrote a few pieces with different angles like this one. Her achievement was well celebrate and has been showered with praise.

The link you gave us was just one angle which focused on the team approach.

I must say I am a bit disapointed with this piece. British men and women are performing for their country, lets support and celebrate them all.

Kate // Posted 11 August 2008 at 1:11 pm

I’m looking forward to F Word commentary on the percentage coverage given to men and women, too – last night, the BBC highlights showed the whole of the men’s individual medley swimming, and then the last two-and-a-bit laps of the women’s, despite all the commentators agreeing that the women’s was the more exciting race.

Chris Brooke // Posted 11 August 2008 at 4:19 pm

Can I offer a partial defence of William Fotheringham here?

Just as cricket looks like a team sport, but is really an individual sport, cycling looks like an individual sport, but is really a team sport. First, there’s the co-operation between Nicole Cooke and her two British team-mates Emma Pooley and Sharon Laws (and everyone agrees that the absolutely cracking effort that Pooley put on the steep slope at the start of the second lap was a very important move in helping to set Cooke up for the win later). Second, the efforts of the behind-the-scenes people, which is what Fotheringham is writing about here: the UK team has spent a huge amount of lottery money on developing the squad. And it’s really not the case that we wouldn’t be having articles about the team’s preparation if these were male cyclists winning the race: there’s already been lots in the sports pages (at least, on those sports pages that cover cycling) about the obsessive preparations that have been going on to prepare the cyclists for the Games, and if and when Mark Cavendish, Bradley Wiggins and the other men start winning medals, we’ll be hearing plenty about what they’ve been doing with wind tunnels and with funky new bike parts and so on (though if we’re interested in the gendered nature of this coverage, there is a big element of ‘boys and their toys’ here, discussing the gadgets, etc.).

(There’s a third kind of relevant co-operation, too, which is the co-operation that takes place on the road between members of different teams — if the four women out in front with Cooke at the end had decided not to co-operate with her, then they’d have all been swept up by the chasing pack, and someone else would almost certainly have won the race.)

So given that any serious coverage of cycling will involve showing how there’s a lot more going on than just the cyclist herself, however heroic, I don’t find Fotheringham’s article especially egregious, even though, as you say, it does involve pointing to the contributions that some men made to Cooke’s victory. In good cycling coverage, to point to the contribution of the team, etc., is never really to disparage the quality or the achievement of the individual winner — it’s just a given that if you’re going to win the big races, you need to have a heck of a lot of back-up, on the road and off it, and that’s true of pretty much all the top cyclists (with the exception of Australian Cadel Evans, who got absolutely no decent support from his team in this year’s Tour de France, and is one of the big reasons he wasn”t able to win it – though people don’t say, “what a heroic individual performer!”, they say “what an idiot for turning up with such a useless team”).

I said this was only a partial defence, and here’s why. I agree that the article can be read in the objectionable way the post picks out, but I’m prepared to cut it quite a bit of slack, as I don’t think that was the intention when writing it, and I think emphasising the role of what stars’ support teams are doing is a key part of good cycling journalism. But the reason it’s a partial defence is that I do think William Fotheringham (who, in general, is a fantastic writer on cycling: his book on Tommy Simpson Put Me Back On My Bike is just marvellous) has overlooked the contribution of women cyclists in the past — see this thread, for example, from way back, when Nicole Cooke’s partisans justly take him to task for his blindspot concerning women cyclists, and so it’s probably a good thing to put the boot in from time to time.

But – yes – an absolutely terrific bike race — the last 45km were smashing stuff — and a fantastic win by Nicole Cooke, who is a great champion and an utterly deserving winner.

(The post, incidentally, says that the first two medals were won by women; Joanne Jackson took bronze in the same race that Rebecca Adlington won, so it’s even better than that.)

MD // Posted 11 August 2008 at 8:37 pm

Hi – I do archery and there is quite a difference between distances for men’s and women’s – because of the different strength of the bows. I shoot 38lb which is quite high for a woman but one of the UK men was shooting 50lb. However one way that archery is different to many other sports is that many disabled archers compete alongside able-bodied. Sorry for nerdy post but we have a lot of “it’s not really a sport” comments to contend with.

PS I cycle too. How great is Nicole Cooke!!!

Carrie // Posted 11 August 2008 at 11:21 pm

I was actually on shift at the Guardian sports desk yesterday, and thought Fotheringham’s piece was rather good! He also makes mention of how important Nicole Cooke’s team-mates were in getting her gold medal. I generally agree with Chris in that cycling’s a team sport but focus is too often on the individuals.

Mairead // Posted 14 August 2008 at 7:58 pm

I love to watch gymnastics. But I hate that the female gymnasts’ floor routines are done to music and the men’s aren’t. The tumbles from both groups are amazing, but the other elements of the routines are markedly different between the sexes. I know this is what the judges are looking for, but why the difference? The male gymnasts look like acrobats (judged on strength), and the female gymnasts look like dancers (judged on grace).

Also, is it just me or did the female Chinese gymnasts look like they had some serious face whitening powders on?

Have Your say

To comment, you must be registered with The F-Word. Not a member? Register. Already a member? Use the sign in button below

Sign in to the F-Word

Further Reading

Has The F-Word whet your appetite? Check out our Resources section, for listings of feminist blogs, campaigns, feminist networks in the UK, mailing lists, international and national websites and charities of interest.

Write for us!

Got something to say? Something to review? News to discuss? Well we want to hear from you! Click here for more info

  • The F-Word on Twitter
  • The F-Word on Facebook
  • Our XML Feeds