This is Janet Moeller. She’s eighty (8-0) years old. Yesterday she swam the 400 yard individual medley, broke ten minutes and beat the seventy-eight year old gentleman who was seeded in the same heat as her. Eighty years old swimming 100 butterfly, 100 yard back stroke, 100 yard breast stroke and 100 yard freestyle in one event (for comparison I swam the 100 yard individual medley at the same event and despite swimming the 100 yard and 200 yard butterfly in high school, I doubt I could finish a 100 yard fly today). When Janet finished the 400 yard individual medley, the entire pool stood and cheered. It was awesome. What’s even more awesome is that upon getting out of the pool Janet made the comment that “women weren’t even allowed to swim the 400 IM when I was your age.”
When I got home after the meet, I decided to look up whether Janet’s statement was correct. Looking at the 1964 Olympics there were 8 swim events for women and 10 for men. Women swam the 100 meter freestyle, 400 meter freestyle, 100 meter back stroke, 200 meter breaststroke, 100 meter butterfly, 400 meter individual medley and the 4 x 100 meter freestyle relay and the 4 x 100 meter medley relay. The men not only swam an additional relay (the 4 x 200 meter freestyle relay) and an additional individual event (the 1500 meter freestyle), they also swam double the distance of most of the women’s events (200 meters versus 100 meters). The only event the women were “allowed” to swim 200 meters was breaststroke, a traditionally less taxing stroke. So while women did swim the 400 meter individual medley in 1964, women and men were treated very differently in competition.
Fast forward to the last summer Olympics in 2012. There were 34 events. 17 events for women. 17 events for me. The only difference in the men’s and women’s swim programs was in distance freestyle; the women swam the 800 meter freestyle, the men swam the 1500 meter freestyle. Pretty close to equal although there are some rumblings to change the 800 meter freestyle to a 1500 meter freestyle for the women (I would love to see Katie Ledecky swim the 1500 free).
Looking at the difference in the swim programs from 1964 and 2012, its pretty amazing to see how far both the sport and women’s participation in the sport have come, all in the competitive life span of one very impressive athlete, Janet Moeller. Right now we’re so close to equality in so many sports (swimming and triathlon to name two near and dear to my heart). I can only hope that the last small steps towards equality take place well before I reach my eightieth birthday.