Le Pays De France - Beijing Olympics mixed team events showcase greater gender balance

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Beijing Olympics mixed team events showcase greater gender balance
Beijing Olympics mixed team events showcase greater gender balance

Beijing Olympics mixed team events showcase greater gender balance

The Beijing Olympics are the most gender-balanced Winter Games ever, with competitors saying the expansion of mixed team events "means a lot" and helps drive up standards in women's sport.

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More than half of all events at the Beijing Games feature women, thanks to the addition of two more women's events and four new mixed team ones -- in ski jumping, aerials, snowboard cross and short track speed skating.

Marion Thenault, who competed for Canada in the freestyle skiing mixed aerials event on Thursday, told AFP that it was "really great" to have athletes of different genders competing against each other.

"It means that your team has to be strong on the men's side and the women's side, and it just pushes the sport for both genders," she said after helping her team win the inaugural bronze medal.

"I think that's really good because it's a male-dominated sport but here tonight we showed we have strong teams with great females in them."

Competitor Ashley Caldwell, part of the winning US team, said there was "always room to develop" when it comes to representation in sport but hoped the event could "showcase" women athletes.

"I've always pushed myself to do harder tricks to show the world that women can do it," she said.

"To have more women in sport at a high level is great for the world -- empowering people around the world to respect women and to be in sport."

- Record number of women -

The two new women's events which have been added to the Beijing Olympics programme are monobob in bobsleigh and Big Air, which was won by California-born Chinese freestyle skiing star Eileen Gu.

Women account for a record 45 percent of athletes at the Beijing Games, up from 41 percent in Pyeongchang four years ago.

Three countries -- Ecuador, Kosovo and Malaysia -- have a female athlete at the Winter Olympics for the first time.

International Olympic Committee sports director Kit McConnell said greater female representation "is not just a statistic".

"We have record levels of female participation, record numbers of female athletes, record numbers of both female and mixed events at these Games," he said.

"Every female athlete that's here has a ripple effect" in terms of investment, he added.

For the first time at a Winter Games, there is also an openly non-binary Olympian -- pairs figure skater Timothy LeDuc.

"Ashley (Cain-Gribble, their skating partner) and I represent an alternative in pairs skating, a different narrative," LeDuc, who uses the pronouns they/their but whose gender is classed as male on their athlete page, said.

- 'Women's level being pushed' -

The mixed team events do not always feature an equal number of men and women.

The mixed team aerials event, in which the United States edged out China to win gold after a hard-fought contest at Genting Snow Park, featured six teams of three.

The rules stipulated that each team must have at least one male and one female athlete competing -- but in practice, all six competing teams selected two male and one female.

Switzerland's Alexandra Baer said it was "understandable because people want to push for the podium".

"That's just a bit easier if you have two men doing three flips and five twists instead of another girl," she said.

"We're at the moment where the women's level is being pushed, and if that keeps going I think we can also have teams with two women and one guy. I think that's possible."

American Caldwell also believes things are moving in the right direction.

"The US is incredible because we have so much access for women's sport and that's been a benefit to me," she said.

"To increase that around the world is incredible and I hope this showcases that."