The Winter Olympics is inconsistent with the way it refers to female athletes — here’s why

  • The naming of events at the Winter Olympics offers an odd inconsistency in which female athletes are sometimes referred to as "women" and others are "ladies."
  • It turns out the IOC does not have an editorial stance on which term to use and defers to the individual sports.
  • A new program aimed at eliminating the portrayal of gender bias could lead to more consistency in how events are named.


At the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, 2,952 athletes are expected to compete and 43% of them are female, an all-time high.

Despite the record numbers, the games still seemingly can't agree on one small detail — should the female athletes be referred to as "women" or "ladies"?

The answer, for now, is "both."

If you have been paying close attention to the Olympics, you might have noticed that some of the event names refer the female athletes as "women" and some refer to them as "ladies." For example, on the first full day of events at the Olympics, some athletes competed in the ladies' cross-country skiathlon and the ladies' normal hill ski jumping. On the same day, other athletes competed in the women's singles luge and women's 7.5km biathlon sprint.

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PYEONGCHANG-GUN, SOUTH KOREA - FEBRUARY 14: Yuto Totsuka of Japan crashes during the Snowboard Men's Halfpipe Final on day five of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics at Phoenix Snow Park on February 14, 2018 in Pyeongchang-gun, South Korea. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
PYEONGCHANG-GUN, SOUTH KOREA - FEBRUARY 14: Yuto Totsuka of Japan crashes during the Snowboard Men's Halfpipe Final on day five of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics at Phoenix Snow Park on February 14, 2018 in Pyeongchang-gun, South Korea. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
Short Track Speed Skating Events ? Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics ? Men?s 1000m Competition ? Gangneung Ice Arena - Gangneung, South Korea ? February 13, 2018 - Roberto Pukitis of Latvia, J.R. Celski of the U.S. and Pavel Sitnikov, Olympic athlete from Russia, react after crashing. REUTERS/John Sibley
Alpine Skiing ? Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics ? Men?s Alpine Combined ? Jeongseon Alpine Centre - Pyeongchang, South Korea ? February 13, 2018 - Matthias Mayer of Austria crashes during the Men's Slalom part of the Men's Alpine Combined. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini SEARCH "OLYMPICS BEST" FOR ALL PICTURES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY.
Alpine Skiing ? Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics ? Men?s Alpine Combined ? Jeongseon Alpine Centre - Pyeongchang, South Korea ? February 13, 2018 - Pavel Trikichev, an Olympic Athlete from Russia, is seen in the net after crashing during the Men's Downhill part of the Men's Alpine Combined. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini
Figure Skating ? Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics ? Team Event Pair Free Skating ? Gangneung Ice Arena - Gangneung, South Korea ? February 11, 2018 - Miu Suzaki falls as she and her partner Ryuichi Kihara of Japan compete. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
Snowboarding - Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics - Women's Halfpipe Finals - Phoenix Snow Park - Pyeongchang, South Korea - February 13, 2018 - Emily Arthur of Australia crashes while competing. REUTERS/Issei Kato
Snowboarding - Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics - Women's Slopestyle Finals - Phoenix Snow Park - Pyeongchang, South Korea - February 12, 2018 - Yuka Fujimori of Japan crashes. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Snowboarding - Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics - Men's Slopestyle Finals - Phoenix Snow Park - Pyeongchang, South Korea - February 11, 2018 - Sebastien Toutant of Canada crashes. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez
Luge ? Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics ? Women?s Singles training ? Olympic Sliding Centre - Pyeongchang, South Korea ? February 11, 2018 - Emily Sweeney of the U.S. crashes. REUTERS/Edgar Su
Cross-Country Skiing ? Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics ? Men?s 15km + 15km Skiathlon ? Alpensia Cross-Country Skiing Centre ? Pyeongchang, South Korea ? February 11, 2018 - Denis Spitsov, an Olympic athlete from Russia, Andrey Larkov, an Olympic athlete from Russia, and Simen Hegstad Krueger of Norway crash. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
GANGNEUNG, SOUTH KOREA - FEBRUARY 10: Charlotte Gilmartin of Great Britain and Petra Jaszapati of Hungary crash during the Ladies� 500m Short Track Speed Skating qualifying on day one of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at Gangneung Ice Arena on February 10, 2018 in Gangneung, South Korea. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Figure Skating ? Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics ? Team Event Men's Single Skating Free Skating competition final ? Gangneung Ice Arena - Gangneung, South Korea ? February 12, 2018 - Mikhail Kolyada, an Olympic athlete from Russia, falls. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
GANGNEUNG, SOUTH KOREA - FEBRUARY 10: Tianyu Han of China and Yuri Confortola of Italy crash during the Men's 1500m Short Track Speed Skating qualifying on day one of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at Gangneung Ice Arena on February 10, 2018 in Gangneung, South Korea. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
PYEONGCHANG, SOUTH KOREA - FEBRUARY 09: Jussi Penttala of Finland crash lands during the Freestyle Skiing Men's Moguls Qualification at Phoenix Snow Park on February 9, 2018 in PyeongChang, South Korea. (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)
GANGNEUNG, SOUTH KOREA - FEBRUARY 13: Elise Christie of Great Britain crashes during the Ladies' 500m Short Track Speed Skating final on day four of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at Gangneung Ice Arena on February 13, 2018 in Gangneung, South Korea. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Canada's Patrick Chan falls while competing in the figure skating team event men's single skating free skating during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at the Gangneung Ice Arena in Gangneung on February 12, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Mladen ANTONOV (Photo credit should read MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)
Snowboarding - Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics - Women's Halfpipe Finals - Phoenix Snow Park - Pyeongchang, South Korea - February 13, 2018 - Emily Arthur of Australia after falling in her final run. REUTERS/Mike Blake TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Freestyle Skiing ? Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics ? Men?s Moguls Final ? Phoenix Snow Park ? Pyeongchang, South Korea ? February 12, 2018 - Choi Jae Woo of South Korea falls during the race competes. REUTERS/Mike Blake
PYEONGCHANG-GUN, SOUTH KOREA - FEBRUARY 12: Sho Endo of Japan crashes in the Freestyle Skiing Men's Moguls Final on day three of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at Phoenix Snow Park on February 12, 2018 in Pyeongchang-gun, South Korea. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
PYEONGCHANG, SOUTH KOREA - FEBRUARY 12: 't Klaudia Medlova #26 of Slovakia crash lands during the Women's Slopestyle Snowboard competition at Phoenix Snow Park on February 12, 2018 in PyeongChang, South Korea. (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)
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In a sporting world that obsesses over every small detail, on the surface this looks like an odd inconsistency. It turns out there is a simple explanation — when it comes to naming the events, the International Olympic Committee defers to the governing body of each individual sport.

"International Sports Federations are responsible for the official denomination of their events," an IOC spokesperson told Business Insider. "The IOC as it stands does not have an official editorial stance on ladies vs. women when referring to both athletes and events."

Lizzy YarnoldClive Mason/Getty Images

So in the examples above, all events in cross-country skiing and ski jumping use "ladies" while all the events in luge and biathlon use "women." That is consistent with how those sports name their events outside of the Olympics.

Interestingly, that quirk in the naming may also soon be history.

As part of the "Gender Equity Review Project," the IOC has instituted a pilot program in Pyeongchang that includes a set of principles and guidelines centered around avoiding the portrayal of gender bias and stereotypes. The project will then be used to create a "wider set" of guidelines and gender portrayal protocol in the near future.

Presumably, those guidelines would include an editorial "style guide" of sorts that would offer more consistency in the naming of events.

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