It’s not easy being lean

Posted on August 7, 2012


I’ve never been bothered about watching sport on the TV. When the English football team was being squeezed out of Euro 2012 by Italy earlier this summer, I could be found skipping gleefully down the middle of a traffic-free road, to make the most of a supermarket quieter than the Vatican after the sack of Rome.

But the Olympics is different. I just can’t get enough of all the live coverage and am avidly tuning into events like judo, wrestling and archery as if it’s been a life-long passion. ‘I’ve always been really into canoe slalom, alright?’ I whinge when anyone dares to change the channel. Not very convincing, I know, but this has been an Olympics like no other – and not just because it’s all taking place in my home city. It’s down to the ladies.

When Saudi Arabia announced they were to send two female athletes to compete in judo, track and field events at London 2012, this year’s Olympic Games became the first in history to include female athletes from every competing country. Gender equality has always sat at the heart of the International Olympic Committee’s values, but until now it’s been just out of reach. Back in 1996 a staggering 26 national teams had no women at the Atlanta Olympics. This number fell to three in Beijing four years ago, and now finally the playing fields, pools, tracks and rings are even. And the ladies are on fine form too. Team GB has snapped up a plethora of medals in the women’s rowing, judo, athletics, cycling and more. It’s all a bit exciting – I haven’t been this interested in women’s sport since Betty Rubble took up throwing the boomerang in The Flintstones.

This year has also seen women’s Olympic boxing make its debut which marks a long awaited turnaround in attitudes towards female fighting. Women’s boxing was banned until 1996 and the British Boxing Board of Control denied the ladies a license to fight until 1998. Why? Because taking lumps out of each other in the ring was deemed unladylike? Because the boxers might break a nail? No – it’s because apparently pre-menstrual syndrome made the girls ‘too unstable to fight’. Ah.

Ireland’s Katie Taylor (left) and Team GB’s Natasha Jonas during the Women’s Boxing 60kg Quarter Final.

Thankfully we’ve left this blend of ignorant sexism behind, right? Wrong. Upon hearing that women’s boxing had gained a place at the London games, revered Cuban coach Pedro Roque stated that ‘women should be showing off their beautiful faces, not getting punched in the face.’ Oh…Pedro. Although if his ilk is to be believed, there’s really nothing to worry about – surely the female parties would collapse in a hysterical heap of tears and hormones before any face smashing could begin.

Unfortunately it’s not a huge surprise that with more women taking part in traditionally ‘masculine’ sports, female athletes’ bodies have been put under the misogyny microscope. I’ve overheard 6ft swimmers Missy Franklin and Allison Schmitt referred to as ‘beasts’, everyone’s obsessed with the Spanish Water Polo player’s ‘nipple slip’ and Jessica Ennis now has an entire Facebook page dedicated to her arse.

However massive kudos has to go to British Olympic weightlifter, Zoe Smith, for her hilarious response to a barrage of sexist Tweets which called her manly and unattractive. ‘We don’t lift weights in order to look hot, especially for the likes of men like that,’ she wrote on her blog, observing that the kind of people who couldn’t cope with the idea of women having muscles and being able to lift 267 pounds were ‘ignorant twerps’ who had ‘never done a moment of exercise in their life, or had the intelligence of a potato’. I’d wager that a King Edward actually has more brain cells than these guys, but let’s not make it all about me.

Obviously sexism in sport is still a huge problem and it’s a crying shame that women have to face criticism for looking buff. Is it ladylike to have biceps that rival a Persian warrior or a stomach you could balance an elephant on? Thankfully most female athletes couldn’t care less.

In spite of all the problems that must be tackled, we’re still moving steadily towards gender equality at the Olympics, and that’s something that makes me proud. There’s a long way to go but if our sporting heroines continue to push athletic boundaries and swat down the idiots that insult them, then we’re on the right track. As things stand could we ask for a better selection of female role models to inspire the next generation of budding athletes? Unless Betty Rubble rides into the Olympic stadium on a yellow dinosaur, I don’t think so.

This article was originally published on the Huffington Post Blog here.


Zoe Smith weightlifting –
Boxing –