Babe Didrikson Zaharias,  Olympics

Can Female Athletes Compete in the Olympics Against Men?

My Great Aunt Mildred “Babe” Didrikson Zaharias
breaking the world and Olympic record in the 80 meter hurdles at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics

Well, it is an Olympic year and the age old debate rears its head again: Can female athletes compete against men?

As a member of the Texas Christian University rifle team, junior Sarah Scherer competes against some of the best female—and male—shooters in the country. But when she competes in the second round of the Olympic trials at Camp Perry, Ohio, this weekend, she’ll only be competing against other women.

Why is that? Is it still unfair for men and women to compete against one another—even in sports where size and strength matter little? Or is it just latent sexism?

Shooting is a sport that certainly requires more brain than brawn. Keen sight, breathing control and trigger squeeze are among the qualities that make an Olympic-caliber shooter. Yet, most shooting competitions remain segregated.

It wasn’t always this way. For decades men and women regularly shot against one another in international competitions. But in 1976, American Margaret Thompson Murdock tied for the gold at the Montreal Olympics in the small-bore rifle against teammate Lanny Bassham. When the judges examined the targets more closely, Bassham was awarded the gold, but Thompson’s performance was enough to put pressure on the International Olympic Committee—primarily from Eastern European teams—to segregate the sport.

Currently, male and female Olympians only compete head-to-head in equestrian and sailing. There are also mixed events in badminton, luge and tennis. But there are clearly other sports where it is apparent that female athletes could compete with the men if they had the opportunity.

Read the entire excellent post.

In my Great Aunt’s day, Babe was restricted even to the number events in which she could compete. Most sports pundits at the time and subsequently have speculated that she could have won more than the three Olympic medals in the mere three events in which she competed.

Representing her company in the 1932 AAU Championships, she competed in eight out of ten events, winning five outright, and tying for first in a sixth. In the process, she set five world records in the javelin throw, 80-meter hurdles, high jump and baseball throw in a single afternoon. Didrikson’s performances were enough to win the team championship, despite her being the only member of her team.

It really is time to open up competition in the Olympics and within reason. I don’t suppose we will be seeing men and women competing against each other in the shot put, boxing or wrestling.

But, in other sports, why not?


  • Rizza Gamutan

    hi, my viewpoint here is it is never right to have women compete with men. They have different qualities that do not jive with each other. If they do compete, then that would be unfair for women. Generally, men have more strength than women. If they do win, then that would create an impact for the females.