2022 Beijing Olympics – Bobsleigh – Women’s Monobob Heat 2 – National Sliding Centre, Beijing, China – February 13, 2022. Ying Qing of China in action. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
YANQING, China — One by one, the monobobs thundered down the track, each sled driving home the importance of gender equity.
As the discipline made its Winter Olympic Games debut Sunday at Beijing 2022 — giving women two medal opportunities, the same as men — the lone pilot in each of the 20 sleds also underscored how far women’s bobsledding still needs to go.
“We wanted greater participation,” said Kaillie Humphries, the Team USA pilot who leads the competition at the Yanqing National Sliding Center after two runs, “but it’s not quite what we were looking for. We’ll keep fighting. Women before me have gotten us here, and I will keep fighting for the future.”
Humphries and some of her fellow bobsledders believe true gender equity means a four-woman sled.
Men compete in the four-man event instead of monobob and have more than twice as many competitors at the Beijing Games. There were 124 quota spots allocated for men, but just 46 for women.
2022 Beijing Olympics – Bobsleigh – Women’s Monobob Official Training – National Sliding Centre, Beijing, China – February 11, 2022. Kaillie Humphries of the United States in action during training. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
“Four-man doubles our numbers,” Humphries said. “I’ll continue to advocate that men and women are equal in numbers. I don’t believe that women are weaker or can’t drive or deserve less. We deserve every opportunity in order to be the best, and the number of participants should be equal.”
The number disparity is magnified because there are 30 sleds in both the four-man and two-man events, but the women’s events have only 20 sleds a piece.
The spotlight will be on monobob with the final two runs scheduled for Monday morning in Yanqing, which is Sunday night in the United States after the Super Bowl.
Bobsled has been part of the Winter Games since they began in 1924 in Chamonix (with the only exception 1960 when Squaw Valley refused to build a track). Women finally slid into the sport for the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, where driver Jill Bakken and brakewoman Vonetta Flowers of the United States took the gold.
Humphries, who won two Olympic gold medals and a bronze for Canada before switching her allegiance to the United States, and American Elana Meyers Taylor, who won two silver medals and a bronze, teamed up to lobby for another event for women.
“Just being here is just such a privilege because we really worked for it,” said Meyers Taylor, who is in fourth place. “We really worked to try to push the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation (IBSF) to give us two events.”
However, they wanted four-women sleds and settled for monobob.
2022 Beijing Olympics – Bobsleigh – Women’s Monobob Official Training – National Sliding Centre, Beijing, China – February 11, 2022. Christine de Bruin of Canada in action during training. REUTERS/Edgar Su
Both Humphries and Meyers Taylor had competed against men in four-person sleds to prove they were capable, with Meyers Taylor the first woman to win a medal in an international four-man competition (her husband Nic was her brakeman). However, because most of the nations do not have the same resources or depth as the US, Canada, Australia, China and European countries, the international bobsled federation thought monobob was a better fit. Unlike other bobsled events, competitors use identical sleds, which places an emphasis on driving skills.
In July 2018, the discipline was added to the program.
“I think the more we continue to fight for more events, more equity, it’s just going to make the Olympics better,” said Cynthia Appiah of Canada, who is in 10th place. “It’s going to make sports for women better. It’s a win for everyone.”
Appiah said she was 12 when she saw women compete in Salt Lake City. “Women’s bobsled is still in its infancy,” she said. “You’re still kind of dealing with a lot of old school mentality, but you have to learn to brush that aside. There’s always going to be people that say it’s too dangerous, and funny enough, it’s never the women that are saying that.”
Appiah hopes that monobob in Beijing will be a steppingstone toward four-woman being an event. “If it takes one more Olympic cycle, I’ll keep fighting for it,” she said.
The program has been set for Milano-Cortina 2026 with no four-woman bobsled.
2022 Beijing Olympics – Bobsleigh – Women’s Monobob Heat 2 – National Sliding Centre, Beijing, China – February 13, 2022. Jazmine Fenlator-victorian of Jamaica in action. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
Jazmine Fenlator-Victorian is the sole Jamaican bobsled women’s entrant. Her appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport to get her two-woman sled entered due to what she called an unfair qualification system was denied.
“This is a step in the right direction,” said Fenlator-Victorian. “To have another another event, another opportunity is amazing.”
However, she said that 75 percent of the monobob pilots are also driving in a two-woman race, “so that really didn’t open up more participation. I’d love to see qualifications open up to allow some of the smaller nations who aren’t doing two-women, or can’t afford it or are just starting in the sport be able to have more opportunities.
“We have 20 sleds. The men get 30. Hopefully we can look at this as a learning experience and continue to grow.”
And Fenlator-Victorian believes that the female bobsledders are a sisterhood who are advocating for themselves and for future generations.
“I’m so proud and honored to be amongst these strong, courageous, powerful women,” she said. “I hope our voices are continually heard. I hope we continue to raise voices and even inspire the younger generation to do the same.”
Meyers Taylor said that she feels she has done her part to bring women two medal opportunities. “Now if the younger drivers want four-person, I’m going to support it whole-heartedly,” he said. “If they want to stick with monobob, I’ll support that.”
Humphries wants all three events for both men and women.
“I would love to see true equality across the board,” she said, “just greater participation in the sport I love so much for all genders.”
Bobsleigh – Bobsleigh & Skeleton World Championships – DKB Eiskanal Altenberg, Altenberg, Germany – February 13, 2021 Australia`s Breeana Walker in action during the heat 1 in women`s monobob REUTERS/Matthias Rietschel
Breeana Walker of Australia, who is in seventh place, said World Cup fields were dwindling before the addition of monobob.
“It’s brought countries back into the sport,” she said. “It’s brought more countries into the sport and they’ve gone on and done two-man, so our fields are growing, our sport is growing and it’s just really exciting.”
“I hope it inspires a whole generation of kids.”
Hoewver, Walker is not in favor of adding monobob for men and four-woman for women.
“No no no. Don’t be silly,” she said. “Two events is a great start and here with doing monobob for the first time, women have a chance at two medals. I think that’s fantastic, so let’s just start here.”
No runnings: Jamaican bobsledder appeal for two-woman sled rejected