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Why the Olympic monobob event is only for women

What the monobob does and doesn’t do for gender equality.

Kimberly Mas is a senior producer at Vox video focused on science explainers.

Bobsledding (or bobsleighing) is one of the oldest Olympic sports, dating back to the very first Winter Games in 1924. Back then, women were barred from competing in nearly every event except figure skating. Of the 250 athletes that arrived for the first Winter Olympics, only 11 were women.

Times have changed. The 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing is considered the most gender-balanced to date, with female athletes making up 45 percent of the roster. But sexist regulations and outdated “science” still creep in. Who could forget the 2021 European Beach Handball Tournament, when the Norwegian handball team was fined for refusing to wear bikinis? Or questionable testosterone tests that barred female sprinters from competing in an event?

As recently as 2008, the Winter Olympics was riddled with controversy over gender inclusion issues; female aerial skiers sued the Vancouver Organizing Committee, alleging discrimination. In 2005, the president of the International Ski Federation stated that ski jumping “seems not to be appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view.”

Uteruses, am I right?

As for bobsledding, it wasn’t until 2002 that female athletes were invited to participate in the Games, but only in a single event: the two-woman bob. Since 1932, men have had two events (the two-man and four-man bob). In 2022, a new all-women bobsledding event was introduced: the monobob, a single-woman sled. But is it actually leveling the playing field? Maybe, but not entirely in the way you might think.

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Correction, February 10, 11 am: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the event for which the Norwegian women’s handball team was fined for a uniform infraction. It was the 2021 European Beach Handball Tournament.