From the Dufour-Lapointe sisters’ success in moguls to the women’s hockey team’s nail-biting victory, Canadian female athletes are arguably outperforming men at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.
While Canadian women were tied with the men in the country’s overall medal count as of Friday, they had twice as many golds. And given the country sent fewer female athletes to Russia, they are more than pulling their own weight.
“It just shows that spending money on women’s sport is good spending. It produces lots of medals,” said Karin Lofstrom, executive director of the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport and Physical Activity.
Canada currently leads the world in the number of female Olympic champions in Sochi, with six gold medals so far. Only the United States has a higher overall medal count for women, with 13 compared with Canada’s 11. (The totals don’t include mixed-gender events.)
The solid performance is in keeping with a recent trend: Canadian women have taken home more Winter Games hardware than the men since the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City.
“I think we’re getting used to it,” said Janice Forsyth, director of the International Centre for Olympic Studies at Western University in London, Ont. “I think for us, we expect our women to do that well.”
But why are women besting the men?
One reason is simple math: The odds of female athletes winning a medal are better than they are for men, given the generally less-crowded ranks in elite athletics.
“In some cases, the men’s fields are deeper because there’s more countries. In other countries, they’ll spend their money on their men’s sports, not on their women’s, so it’s tougher competition sometimes,” said Lofstrom, who sits on the Canadian Olympic Committee’s women and sport committee. “But it doesn’t downplay the success that we’re beating whoever shows up.”
As a winter sport country, Canada also benefits from capitalizing on newer events other countries don’t have as much experience with, such as women’s hockey and freestyle skiing.
“We jump on those opportunities maybe quicker than other countries do because they don’t support their women’s programs as much,” Lofstrom said.
As well, Canadian women are encouraged to compete in the full range of Olympic events – including the newer “extreme” categories – compared with some countries that frown on women’s involvement in sports not considered “appropriately feminine,” Forsyth said.
Some countries don’t even allow women to participate in sports.
“We have a strong culture of gender equality in Canada that provides these opportunities for women and encourages women to get involved in these sports,” she said.
While Canadian female athletes’ solid medal performance may come as a surprise for casual Olympics watchers, it’s nothing new for their advocates.
“Often, people at the Games think the women just do well at the Olympics, [but] they’re doing well all year long but they just don’t get the coverage,” Lofstrom said.
Despite the growing number of women’s events – ski jumping was added for the first time for 2014 – there are still more categories for men than women.
Canadian Kaillie Humphries, who won gold in bobsleigh with Heather Moyse this week, hopes to push for a new women’s event: four-man bobsleigh (the IOC’s name for the category). Currently, women only compete in the two-man event.
“Whether it’s in a full women’s field or just me with three other dudes in a four-man race,” she said earlier this month, “it’s got to start somewhere.”