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The Courage of Women in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics

By Talia Chen

Image via The Bolton News.

I’ve got to tell you, in my less than two decades of living, I don’t think I have ever witnessed an Olympic season as eventful, on and off the competition stage, as this one. Not only are the 2020 Tokyo Games controversial in timing and location amidst a global pandemic, but there have also been a number of injustices this season - perhaps more than we’ve ever seen at the Olympics. On the plus side, our progression as a society doesn’t happen until we’ve been face to face with the problems in our current society, thus making them very hard to ignore. There have been many notable athletes in the Tokyo Games this year, but there are several who should be highlighted for the resilience and statements they have made these past few months.

Simone Biles

Biles and her fellow U.S. gymnasts did an interview with TODAY to discuss their performance in Tokyo and to bring light to mental health in sports. The gymnastics GOAT explained that the reason she pulled out of a handful of events (all-around, vault, uneven bars, and floor exercise) was because of the twisties, a mental block that has been described as losing yourself in the air. Obviously, a mental state like this is extremely dangerous in gymnastics, and it would have been risky for her to compete in the events previously mentioned. Her choice to drop out was met with some backlash from disappointed fans, but as Biles has pointed out, athletes aren’t just there for other people’s entertainment; they aren’t required to put on a show for spectators. Her decision has been supported by many athletes, including Michael Phelps and Naomi Osaka. As one of two of the most decorated gymnasts in U.S. history, it’s not like she has anything to prove either. Using the attention her choice brought to her, Biles advocated against the stigma of weakness that comes with mental health issues.

Sha'Carri Richardson

Image via World Athletics.

The fastest woman in America, this fireball is a crowd favorite because she’s just awesome. Sha’Carri Richardson was going to participate in this year’s Tokyo Games, but was suspended for a month after testing positive for THC, a chemical found in weed. Consequently, her Olympic qualifying scores were disqualified and her one month of suspension was set for June 28 to July 28. Athletes who test positive for a substance usually get three months of suspension if the use of substance is outside/unrelated to sport, but Richardson’s sentence was shortened because she went through a program for cannabis use. While a great deal of people, me included, were unhappy with the ruling, Richardson has been owning up to it and apologized to the public for letting them down. Props to her for being responsible for her actions but I still uphold that the rules aren’t completely reasonable. Many, myself included, don’t think it makes sense to punish athletes for recreational use of drugs, so long as it doesn’t give an unfair edge to their performance. Richardson’s case has also drawn out sympathy from the public because she confessed that using marijuana was a reaction to the death of her biological mom, who had died the previous week. The runner was stressed because she still had to go out, run, and perform while grieving. Richardson reminded people on Twitter that she is human as well, can make mistakes, and that she will be back in the running after her suspension.

Naomi Osaka

After Osaka pulled out of the 2021 French Open and went on a mental health break, she was immediately criticized for her supposed “weakness” and fined for missing a press conference. The tennis superstar admitted to experiencing recurring depression since 2018, and explained that she wasn’t up for the pressure of press conferences and media. She publicly announced her break in order to point out the outdated rules that prevent athletes from looking after their mental health. As many are slowly concluding from this year’s games and tribulations, athletes shouldn’t be penalized for their mental health.

Brianna McNeal

Image via Eurosport.

Brianna McNeal is the current world champion in the 100 meter hurdles. In January of 2020, she had an abortion that she kept under wraps, and she had every right to. She was recently suspended for five years - yes, half a decade - because she missed a doping test two days after her abortion. McNeal was resting in bed and didn’t hear the antidoping official at her front door. She tried to argue against her suspension but the Court of Arbitration for Sport agreed with the five year ban so she’ll miss the next two summer olympics. McNeal is also now disqualified from all events she participated in from February 2020 to August 2020, and has to give up all rewards from during that time. However, it’s perfectly understandable that she would miss the doping test. It was literally two days after her abortion, she must have been so tired, and proving that she wasn’t doing drugs probably wasn’t what she was thinking about. The CAS upholds that her abortion isn’t proven because McNeal wrote down the wrong date on the documents she provided. The date on the paper was just a day off, and it’s understandable that someone who had been recovering from an abortion at home could mistake the date. The stigma around abortions is so unfair and yet the CAS can just take away a big chunk of time from McNeal’s athletic career because they don’t want to accommodate the fact that she had an abortion. The investigators looking into her abortion also criticized her going to a spiritual advisor instead of a psychiatrist, but as a Black woman, she upholds that spirituality has been a part of her life since she was young. It’s not the investigator’s place to criticize her beliefs and the people she trusts. She has previously missed tests because she didn’t update her location in the system or she mistook the time of the appointment. This has also brought up the question of how much monitoring is necessary and humane for athletes to ensure that they’re drug free. Is it worth putting all the clean ones through this just to weedle out the athletes that do use drugs? In light of McNeal’s case, the doping test system has become complicated and arguably not the most efficient.

Norway's Handball Team

Image via Good World News.

The Norwegian handball team made a move to call out the sexist dress code for women’s handball by playing in shorts instead of the required bikini bottoms. In handball, male players have to wear shorts that end about 4 inches above their knees, but female players must wear closely fitted bikini bottoms. The team was fined by the European Handball Federation over improper clothing - although singer P!nk did want to pay the fine for them. Officials said that the ideal representation of a sport is needed to promote it and that representation included uniforms, specifically women wearing bikini bottoms because that’s just so incredibly important to handball. The team said that the bikini bottoms weren’t practical when diving and only served to degrade women in the sport. They did warn officials of their choice in advance and are happy that their message got out. Norway is currently backing their players in this face off.

Germany Gymnastics Team Uniform

Germany’s gymnastics team also protested the dress code and wore unitards - leotards with full leggings - instead of the standard leotards to stand against sexualization in gymnastics. They first debuted the unitards earlier this year in another competition. The team says unitards are more comfortable than the high-cut leotards, and provide better coverage as well. One of the team members, three-time Olympian Kim Bui, confirmed that the unitard is just as good as a leotard. They wanted to protest the fact that many sports use revealing uniforms supposedly for sport appeal, so the team talked with their coaches and agreed to wear bodysuits instead.

Written by writer Talia Chen.

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