Against that limited backdrop, the women’s 1,500 has very little support from FINA, the sport’s governing body. President Julio Maglione told the Washington Post that, given the opportunity, he would rather add 50-meter sprints in butterfly, backstroke, and breaststroke. (The 50 free was added in 1988.)
But the biggest problem here isn’t sexism. It’s bullheadedness. The IOC implemented a completely arbitrary limit of 10,500 athletes and 310 events per Olympic Games (after dropping an equally arbitrary limit of 28 sports per Games). This was done nominally in order to reduce the cost of hosting the Olympics, which the organization says is scaring off potential bidders.
The Olympics, more so than other international sporting competitions, have held on to antiquated notions about what sports and events are “appropriate” for women. The women’s marathon wasn’t added until 1984. There is still no women’s decathlon, just a heptathlon. In swimming, the Olympic distance events are the 400 and 1,500 for men, and the 400 and 800 for women. Never mind that women’s world records have been kept for the 1,500 since 1922.
That should be a pretty compelling storyline a year out from the 2016 Olympics, right? It could be. Problem is, Ledecky won’t be swimming the 1,500 at Rio. Nor will any other world-class female swimmers.
At the just-completed FINA World Championships in Kazan, Russia, Ledecky turned in the most impressive performance in a pool since #Michael Phelps won eight gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. She became the first women to win four individual gold medals at a world championship, and the first swimmer ever to sweep the 200, 400, 800, and 1,500 meters, owning the distance freestyle events. She won the 800 by 10 seconds and the 1,500 by nearly 15 seconds.