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This SHOUT FROM THE STANDS is courtesy of an anonymous college swimming coach
The Robin Williams movie Jumaji is an absolute classic (R.I.P., sweet prince). Now you may have just read that line and thought “He’s not wrong, but what on earth does this have to do with swimming?” One of the most memorable lines in the movie (thanks to the popularity of an internet meme) is when Robin Williams’ character Alan is finally released from the game and he begins asking frantically “What year is it?!”
What year is it? It’s 2015. We have things like pizza topped with mini pizzas, wristwatches that can connect to the internet and make phone calls, and cars that can drive themselves. Gay marriage is legal nation-wide. We have elected a black President…twice. So why, in a world where we seem to be progressing and evolving so profoundly in a variety of ways, are we still having our men and women compete in different lengths of distance freestyle events?
What year is it?!
It’s not 1912, when Women’s swimming was finally added to the Olympics after 18 years of only Men’s events in the Games. They were “allowed” to compete in only two freestyle races, the 100m freestyle and the 4 x 100 freestyle relay. Meanwhile, the Men’s events included the 100m, 400m, 1500m freestyle, the 100m backstroke, the 200m and 400m breaststroke and the 4 x 200m freestyle relay. I guess they didn’t want any of those gals’ dainty little arms to get tired. Yes, 1912 was a different time back then. We were still 8 years away from the 19th Amendment in the US, giving women the right to vote. But come on, two events?!
It’s not 1920, when Women’s events were expanded to include the 300m freestyle. (Oh…a third event!) Still 100m shorter than the men’s freestyle equivalent of 400m. They just can’t quite give them that extra 100m in case they started to cry. I guess after Sybil Bauer broke the men’s 440m backstroke world record in 1922 they realized they better give the women another stroke to compete in because in 1924 backstroke and breaststroke were added to the women’s lineup. Still, the event total was 6-5 in favor of the Men. Because 6 events would have gotten too difficult for those lasses.
It’s not 1956 when butterfly was included as an Olympic event. And it was so nice of them to add butterfly as an option for both men and women in the same Olympics. Except for the fact that they added it as a 200m race for the men and a 100m race for the women. Wouldn’t want them to get too tired now, would we?
It’s not 1968 when the women were finally awarded a freestyle race over 400m long in the form of the 800m. A little more than half of the length of the Men’s longest freestyle event. Still, it wasn’t until 8 years later in the 1976 Games that the number of events offered to both Men and Women was first made equal at 13 a piece. It would stay this way each until 1984 when the number of events went back in favor of the Men at 15-14 with the difference being an additional relay. By 1996, after the addition of the Women’s 4 x 200m Freestyle relay as well as the 50m Freestyle for both sexes, the number of events was even at 16.
In 2008 we adopted the 10km marathon swim and the 34-event lineup that we operate with today was finalized. And so now, in 2015 Men and Women have the same event program with only one exception: the Men swim the 1500m freestyle while the Women compete in the 800m Freestyle.
But, why? What year is it?!
In a sport that is constantly evolving and a society that is progressing before our eyes, why have we somehow managed to retain one of the most ridiculous disparities in our sport? Are we trying to protect our women from something? Is it because Women can’t physiologically handle the extra 700m? Tell that to Katie Ledecky, whose current 15:25.48 would be ranked 90th in the world for men. Let me remind you she is an 18-year old woman. I bet she was really struggling through that final 700m.
How do we fix this problem?
Just nix the 800m and open the 1500m to all competitors? Possibly. But maybe a better idea would be to keep both events and allow both Men and Women the option to swim the 800m as well as the 1500m. Because after all, it’s 2015. And let’s be honest, who wouldn’t want to see Katie Ledecky in one more Olympic event? That’s what I thought.