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In Praise of Female Athletes Who Were Told No

By Brad Cran
For the fif­teen female ski jumpers peti­tion­ing to be included in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver

Despite the glory of colour it’s easy to be the butterfly;
It’s hard to be the dog or to remain like the river stone.
For Christ sake little lady, sit down you’ve been told.

Because he thought that a woman short of breath was an affront to good manners,
Baron Pierre de Coubertin founded the modern Olympics with only the strength
of men in mind. The heft and depth of sport surely could not be good for the reproductive organs of a lady—
In 1896 at the first modern Olympics,
Stamata Revithi watched the men’s marathon and the next day started out
on her own forty-kilometre run. She could not enter the stadium to finish,
as the men had done the previous day, so with one lap around the entire stadium
she finished the run that was thought impossible for a woman to complete.

The most unaesthetic sight the human eye could contemplate, de Coubertin said,
was women’s sport. In 1922 Alice Milliat held a women’s Olympics
in Paris where eighteen women broke world records in sport.
De Coubertin demanded that Milliat drop the Olympic moniker from her games.
She refused until he agreed to integrate ten women’s events into the Olympics.
Milliat dropped the Olympic moniker from her games but de Coubertin
only added five female track-and-field events to the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam.

For the 1928 games the Canadian women’s Olympic team practiced for the Olympic relay by passing the baton on the deck of the ship
that sailed them to Europe. At the same time a contingent of Canadian men
travelled to Amsterdam to petition the ioc to do the right thing
and drop female sport from the Olympics. The media called
the Canadian women’s team the Matchless Six for their athletic ability.

The New York Times called one of them, Ethel Catherwood, “the prettiest girl
of the games.” She became known as the Saskatoon Lily, for her “flower-like face.”
Surely, it was said, the Saskatoon Lily would become a movie star,
but Catherwood was an athlete. She said she would rather gulp poison
than try her hand at motion pictures. She won gold in the high jump
and remains the only Canadian woman to win a solo gold in track and field.

The rest of the peom can be found on the Geist web site:

Brad Cran, Poet Laureate of Vancouver, is the author of The Good Life (Nightwood Editions)

Geist is a magazine of ideas and culture made in Canada with a strong literary focus and a sense of humour.

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