The Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games will see a significant milestone – Australia’s 100th female Winter Olympian – but exactly who that will be is not that simple.
Australia’s first Winter Olympic representative, speed skater Ken Kennedy, took part in the 1936 Games in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, but it wasn’t until 16 years later in Oslo that we sent our first female competitors – figure skaters Nancy Burley and Gwen Molony. Since then, a further 94 have competed – bringing the total to 96. Another nine women will make their debut in Beijing.
Our women have competed at every Games since 1952 except Grenoble 1968 and Sapporo 1972, and in every sport/discipline except ski jumping, ice hockey and curling. Tahli Gill will make her debut in curling’s mixed doubles event in Beijing, while women do not take part in Nordic Combined.
Here are some summaries of Australian women at the Winter Olympics.
Australia’s participants by gender
|1948||St Moritz, Switzerland||No participants|
|1956||Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy||3||8||2||10|
|1960||Squaw Valley, USA||6||26||4||30|
|1980||Lake Placid, USA||4||6||4||10|
|2002||Salt Lake City, USA||5||14||13||27|
|2018||PyeongChang, South Korea||10||28||23||51|
Australia’s participants by sport
|Cross country skiing||14||7||21|
|Short track speed skating||14||5||19|
Note: Jenny Owens represented Australia in both Alpine skiing and Freestyle skiing
And despite comprising well under half of our Winter Olympic participants (37 per cent), our women have punched well above their weight compared to the men. They have produced 7 of our 15 medals (including 3 of 5 gold) and provided our best results in 7 of the 13 disciplines in which Australia has competed: Alpine skiing, biathlon, bobsleigh, skeleton, luge, cross-country skiing and snowboarding.
|14 years, 281 days||Aileen Shaw||Figure skating||Ladies’ singles||1960|
|15 years, 137 days||Britt Cox||Freestyle skiing||Ladies’ moguls||2010|
|16 years, 227 days||Tracy Brook||Figure skating||Ladies’ singles||1988|
|37 years, 49 days||Jacqui Cooper||Freestyle skiing||Aerials||2010|
|35 years, 161 days||Kerryn Pethybridge-Rim||Cross country skiing||7.5km||1998|
|34 years, 282 days||Maria Despas||Freestyle skiing||Moguls||2002|
So back to the original question. Who will be Australia’s 100th female Winter Olympian?
Well, it’s not that simple.
As Bill Mallon wrote in an Olympstats blog last year https://olympstats.com/2021/07/22/who-is-an-olympian/ somewhat surprisingly, the International Olympic Committee has no strict definition for an Olympian. Furthermore, the World Olympians Association has changed its definition a number of times and National Olympic Committees (including Australia’s) often have different policies about who is an Olympian.
The definition all depends on at which moment an athlete “becomes” an Olympian. Is it when they are selected, sometimes months before the Games? Should it be when they receive their accreditation or enter the Olympic Village? Do they become an Olympian if they march at the opening ceremony? When their name appears on the entry list or the start list for an event? What if they participate in official training at the Olympic venue – compulsory in sports such as bobsleigh, luge and skiing – but withdraw (say, due to injury) and don’t make it to the start line? Should competitors who took part in demonstration events or sports be counted?
In my opinion, only athletes who have competed in sports on the official program should be counted as Olympians. Furthermore, an athlete becomes an Olympian the moment an official fires the starter’s pistol or blows the whistle to start the game (or they are substituted onto the field of play in a team sport) for the event proper. Athletes who do not start an event or only take part in training should not be counted.
So, with apologies to Alpine skier Ondine McGlashan who went to Sarajevo in 1984 but withdrew before competition began, Tarsha Ebbern (ski ballet 1988) and Kylie Gill (aerials 1992) who competed in demonstration (non-medal) events, and Tess Coady who withdrew from the Big Air after an injury sustained in a training run in PyeongChang in 2018, a total of 96 women have competed for Australia at the Winter Olympics.
Here’s how the 100th is set to unfold in Beijing, bar any mishaps or late schedule changes:
- #97: Tahli Gill will be the first Australian woman in action with curling’s mixed doubles getting underway three days before the opening ceremony (Wednesday, February 2)
- #98: Qualification for the women’s moguls takes place the day before the opening ceremony (Thursday, February 3), with Sophie Ash the only one of four Australians in the event set to make her Olympic debut
- #99: Tess Coady is set to make her Olympic debut in women’s snowboard slopestyle qualifying on the morning of day 1 (Saturday, February 5). Note that the Australian Olympic Committee recognises Tess as having competed at PyeongChang 2018 despite withdrawing due to injury before the event began. She does not appear in the official results.
- #100: The first qualification run of the women’s freestyle Big Air gets underway at 9.30am Beijing time on day 3 (Monday, February 7) with Abi Harrigan set to claim a unique place in Australian Olympic history.
- #101: Abi will be followed shortly after (from 10.15am on day 3) by Alpine skier Katie Parker in the women’s Giant Slalom.
And a big shout out to Australia’s first female Winter Olympian Gwen Molony, who who is still going strong at 89.