End of the road for this Olympic competition - blame IOC quest for gender diversity

AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

A race walking competition will no longer be included in future Olympics. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) made a decision to discontinue the competition because it violates its quest for gender diversity. There is no approximate equivalent for women so rather than add a women’s race, the IOC will replace the 50km men’s race walking competition with another event – a mixed team race walking event.

At least that’s the plan right now. Maybe the IOC will get enough pushback that it will come to its senses and reverse the decision. We may not all be interested in this Olympic sport. Let me admit that we’ve never watched it in my house before yesterday. Frankly, it’s amazing. There are 48 track and field events in the Olympic program, three of them are race walks. These are the men’s 20km, women’s 20km, and the men’s 50km. There will not be a men’s 50km race in the 2024 Paris Games. A mixed-gender event will replace it. Ugh. We watched the end of the 50km race and the physical toll taken on the competitors is noteworthy. It’s described as one of the Olympics’ toughest events and it’s easy to see why.

The athletes look odd as they race walk. Their arms swing, their hips sway, and one difference between running and race walking is that one foot must always be in contact with the ground. It’s not exciting to watch and it will never garner the attention that more exciting sports do like gymnastics or swimming but the beauty is in the simplicity. The physical stamina these men have to have, though, is off the charts.

The competition has been around since the 1932 Los Angeles Games. It’s been held in every Summer Olympics since except for the Monreal Games in 1976. It doesn’t do well in the ratings, though, as it’s a slow and tedious event. Viewers get bored.

Is there a big demand for a women’s 50km race? If so, why can’t the IOC just add such a race for women? Why do they have to punt and make some mixed-gender race all in the name of gender diversity? This looks like a solution in need of a problem.

Poland’s Dawid Tomala is the 20th and last gold medalist in 50km history, joined on the podium in Sapporo on Friday by Jonathan Hilbert of Germany who won the silver and Canada’s Evan Dunfee, who put on a burst of speed through the final kilometre to squeeze past Spain’s Marc Tur and claim a cherished bronze.

The IOC has said the 50km will be replaced by a road or track event that fits into their quest for gender diversity, as women do not contest the distance. The outspoken Dunfee has repeatedly suggested that president Thomas Bach and the IOC “want to get rid of it because they can’t sell tickets to it.”

It’s a moot point, but people still want to talk about it. So, after the podium finishers celebrated their survival and good fortune, they addressed the bittersweet denouement of their event. In a post-race media conference, Tomala tried valiantly but struggled to find the right words in English to express his confusion and sadness. Dunfee helped a brother out.

“None of us are millionaires. This isn’t a sport you do because you want to be famous and you want to make lots of money. It’s an event that has so much camaraderie. We’re all friends. We all suffer together and we do it for the love of it. We do it to see what our body is capable of doing,” said Dunfee.

“I think 50km race walkers are amazing role models. I think the 50km is a journey. It has so much that can translate to the rest of life about setting goals and having setbacks and continuing to dig deep and fight and to just endure. … One of the best thing about race walking is we do it on the streets. We’re out there in our community. They see us every day working hard, day in, day out, in the rain, in the snow. They see that and they get to be part of that journey, which is quite unique.”

Sounds pretty dumb, right? If the IOC really wants to cancel the event because of low interest in it, just say that. Why blame the woke trope that men and women are the same and both genders are capable of competing equally? Gender diversity, indeed. I’m assuming there is no 50km event for women, though there is a 20km because there aren’t enough women able to complete a 50km race. The event has been in the Olympics since 1932 and it’s only now a problem?

Some of this year’s competitors are speaking out about the decision and pointing to poor communication.

“It’s a terrible mistake by the IOC and World Athletics. I think we showcased today that this event belongs in the Olympics,” Canada’s Evan Dunfee told reporters after winning bronze in the event in Sapporo.

“The easiest solution would have been to allow women to race 50K at the Olympics,” Dunfee said.

“It’s heartbreaking,” he said, receiving applause in the press conference room.

Germany’s Jonathan Hilbert, who won silver, said there was insufficient communication from executives.

“The problem is that the people in the suits in the World Athletics and IOC, they don’t speak a lot with the athletes. We’ve heard it out of maybe the newspapers or from coaches that they will remove the 50K,” he said.

“I’m really sad.”

The IOC said its executive board made the decision in June that the 50km walk would be replaced. It doesn’t want to add an additional race to achieve gender parity. That seems like a lazy excuse. Why did they wait so long to notify the athletes? How do biological women compete with men in this race? This is 2021 and trans women are likely going to compete in whatever race the IOC comes up with to replace the 50km. Does that sound off base? The normalization of transgender activism is everywhere in today’s culture. Transgender athletes are competing in the Tokyo Olympics. Maybe this is just another example of what’s to come.