It’s a Girl Thing

The Olympics are here, and what a weekend it’s been. On Saturday around a gazillion people gathered on some narrow Surrey lanes and various parts of London to watch the men’s cycling road race. Despite Team GB not being able to deliver Mark Cavendish to The Mall for his trademark sprint finish the day out was fantastic. As you can see from the picture above it was a huge party and everyone seemed pleased to be a part of The Olympics and British cycling. Road racing can be great fun to watch and you get right up close to the action. The rush of air as the peloton flies by is really invigorating.

Bradley Wiggins tows Mark Cavendish around the Box Hill loop

On Sunday we went back to the Surrey lanes to watch the women’s race. When I say we, I don’t mean the gazillion people who took to the roads on Saturday, I mean….well by comparison, hardly anyone.

Where is everybody? Much smaller crowds for the Women's Olympic Cycling Road Race

Even the cycling club I belong to which encourages cycling for all and had done a super job building a huge gantry to house around 250 people on Saturday, could barely fill a tiny gazebo on Sunday. It wasn’t just Surrey where there was a big difference. Courtesy of Mervyn Dinnen, here are two views of the men’s race and women’s race going through Fulham which show pretty clearly the difference in crowd sizes. Some might argue that the women’s race was shorter which meant they came past our vantage point twice compared to nine passes by the men on Saturday, but the racing was just as exciting and of course GB went on to secure its first 2012 Olympic medal courtesy of the women’s cycling team and Lizzie Armitstead. The pic below shows Lizzie on the left of the picture looking cool and calm as the peloton rushes past us.

Lizzie Armitstead racing through the Surrey Lanes, Women's Olympic Cycling Road Race - London 2012

OK so this year we have our first ever British winner of the Tour de France in Bradley Wiggins, and Mark Cavendish is the current cycling world champion, but my heart sinks when I hear men saying stuff like ‘Nah, I’m not going to the women’s race tomorrow, it’s not as important as the men’s’. Doesn’t say much for inclusion and diversity, does it? That reaction and the lack of interest in the women’s race felt misogynistic, and it is certainly misguided. After the race, Armitstead said ‘The sexism I have encountered in my career can get quite overwhelming and very frustrating’.

Lest we forget, Nicole Cooke first won the women’s Tour de France back in 2006 and has a list of cycling achievements most professional men can only dream about. Emma Pooley is an outstanding climber who can also count world time trial champion among her many successes, and Lucy Martin is a bright future prospect. Oh yeah, I nearly forgot. Lizzie Armistead, silver medal winning Team GB cyclist.

Those of us who turned out to support the cycling team yesterday witnessed the British riders on their way to Team GB’s first medal of the London 2012 Olympic Games. That felt pretty important to me, here come the girls.

Author: Doug Shaw

Artist and Consultant. Embracing uncertainty, sketching myself into existence. Helping people do things differently, through an artistic lens.

7 thoughts on “It’s a Girl Thing”

  1. Well said Doug. Voss is a machine and Armistead did an incredible job to be so close to her – it just shows what great form she, and the rest of the team, are on. I feel guilty of it myself – I’ve watched the men’s Tour de France for years but I haven’t followed the girls closely enough. Having said that, coverage of cycling in the UK is sparse enough without even adding women into the mix – kudos to ITV4 for showing the Halfords Tour which had male and female racing.

    I was out on the Mall and it did seem packed on both days, but I managed to get much closer to the finish yesterday, presumably because there were fewer people. And more rain. We saw the three leaders pass just before the sprint really got going. It was, in my opinion, a more exciting race than that of the day before.

    Triathlon, you would assume, is the same – and I’ll have to do some research here and see what happens next week – but so far all the triathletes I know tell me the women’s race is better. For what reason, I’m not sure, but with the women’s race taking place next Saturday and the men’s a week tomorrow I suspect the women’s will be better attended.

    The other thing about triathlon is that the women’s and men’s races are the same distance. I defy anyone who thinks women’s racing is less spectacular than the men’s and tell them to watch Chrissie Wellington compete. She’s not an olympian, because she is the best female Iron distance athlete ever, and the Olympics don’t do iron-distance. And yes, she’s a Brit. The GB girls are leading the way.

  2. Great post Doug, this is a source of great frustration to both me and the OH, who is a much better athlete than I (i.e. she’s an athlete I’m not) and gets really peeved that the only sport on telly is played by men. With the exception of Wimbledon, where they squeeze a few quick girls matches in between the real action the media serves us a diet of men only sport which only goes to reinforce the perception that girls sport is un interesting and unimportant. If this limited menu continues how can we expect anything other than antipathy towards women’s sport and where can girls see the role models that will inspire them in the future. Well done for giving both events equal support, I watched them both on tv.

  3. I broadly agree, however it’s the same for pretty much all sports unfortunately.

    How often do you see ladies sport televised? Outside the Olympics it’s practically non-existent. Think women’s football…. you won’t see it anywhere.

    This means that the majority of the population (both male and female) don’t “know” the athletes taking part so don’t give it a go. Lots of people wanted to cheer the cyclists on because they had recently been in the news a lot.

    If organisations such as the ASO started really pushing dedicated ladies cycling events (jury is out on whether this should be “piggy-backing” on existing events or their own unique events – I can see the merits for each) then this would go a long way.

    1. Edit… for “cheer the cyclists on” I meant “cheer the male cyclists on”.

      And I spent so long writing my reply (got distracted) that Kev made pretty much the same point as me 🙂

  4. Thanks all for your kind feedback and great comments. I’m certainly motivated to go and see more women’s sports based on my recent experiences, maybe you are too?

    Cheers – Doug

    PS – We have tickets for the women’s hockey on Thursday – very excited!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *