Sports

See 120 years of struggle for gender equality at the Olympics

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Runners compete in the Women's Marathon during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

Runners compete in the Women's Marathon during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

Credit:

Jonannes Eisele/Reuters

Female athletes were excluded from the first modern Olympic Games in 1896 because its founder, Pierre de Coubertin, felt their participation would be inappropriate.

“No matter how toughened a sportswoman may be, her organism is not cut out to sustain certain shocks,” the French educator and historian said then.

After more than 100 years, gender equality is still more goal than reality in the 2016 Rio Olympic Games where there are more men's events (161) than women's and mixed events (145).

Using the latest data from the International Olympic Committee's Olympic Studies Centre, we made an animated visual to show the 120-year struggle of women to achieve equality in 28 Olympic Summer Games.

(The Summer Olympic Games were suspended in 1916, 1940 and 1944 because of World War I and World War II.)

The two tables below illustrate events for both men and women in each of the Olympic Games. The color tone indicates the percentage of a men's or women's event in that sport relative to the opposite gender. Mixed events are counted for men and women.

When you click the play button, you will see there were fewer sports featured in earlier Olympic Games. The 1900 Games were the first to accept female athletes.

As the tables change, you will notice that women's events reached half the number of men's events only in 1992 — almost a century since the first Games.

The chart below shows the total events for both male and female athletes.

The 2016 Rio Olympic Games has both the highest ever number of women competitors and the highest percentage, with women making up about 45 percent of the total participants, according to the IOC.

Here are a few other findings from the IOC data — and the stories behind them:

  • The first woman to win an Olympic gold medal in an individual event was Charlotte Cooper of the United Kingdom, who won the tennis women's singles in 1900.
  • From 1964 to 1992, women were allowed to compete against men individually in some of the shooting events.
  • Margaret Murdock from the US won a silver in a tie in the 1976 Riffle Event, one of the events in the shooting categories. The rifle event was split into men's and women's events in 1984.
  • In the 1992 Barcelona Games, China's Zhang Shan defeated her male competitors and took a gold medal in the skeet competition, another event in the shooting category, with a new world record. In the following games in Atlanta, all shooting events were either men's or women's.
  • During the 1972 Olympics, Germany's Liselott Linsenhoff won the first individual gold medal in direct competition with men in the individual equestrian dressage event. Since 1972, women continued to dominate the event by winning gold medals from 1976 to 2012 with the exception the 1984 Games.
  • Currently the equestrian events are the only Olympic events in which women compete one-on-one against men.
  • Women were also given the chance to compete against men individually in certain sailing events such as Finn and Laser until the 2008 Beijing Games, although they were usually dominated by male sailors. After 2008, only sailing events with at least two sailors were gender independent.
  • Softball was featured as a women-only sport in Olympic Games from 1996 to 2008. The male equivalent was baseball, which was played from 1992 to 2008. Both sports were dropped from the Olympics, though are set to return in 2020.
  • In the 2016 Rio Olympics there are two women-only events: Synchronized Swimming and Rhythmic Gymnastics.

In Lifestyle & BeliefSportsAcross Women's Lives.

Tagged: South AmericaBrazilRio Olympicsgender equalitygender gapOlympic Gameswomen's rights.