Trends of Increased Female Participation at the Winter Olympic Games

Russia's Aliya Mustafina (left), USA's Simone Biles (centre), and USA's Aly Raisman (right) during the Women's All-Round Gymnastics medal ceremony at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Editorial credit: Leonard Zhukovsky /

The XXIII Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea recorded the highest number of female participation in the history of the Winter Olympics. Forty-three percent of the participants were women. The first Winter Olympics held in Chamonix, France registered the lowest number of female participation. Of the 258 athletes in attendance, only eleven were women, and all took part in the figure skating. Every female participant was required to wear a skirt that was a palm-width below her knee. Since then, the number of female participants has been growing, not only in the winter Olympics but also in the summer Olympics and the management of the games. As of 2017, fifteen women sat on the International Olympic Committee. Of the 26 IOC commissions, seven were chaired by women.

History of Gender Inequality at the Winter Olympics

Although the participation of women in both the Summer and Winter Olympics shows a positive trend, the journey towards gender equality has not been smooth. In 1896, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the person behind the Olympic movement, personally stated that the organisms of women were not meant to sustain shocks. His words fueled the belief that the uteruses of women would fall if the engaged in vigorous sports. Some sports at the Winter Olympics could not field female participant because they were considered either not fit or too dangerous.

The IOC targets an equal representation of women and men at the Olympics in both the Summer and Winter Olympics. The XXIII Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang prides itself on having the largest number of female participants (43%). The Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014 went into the history books for being the first Winter Olympics where women took part in every event that men took part in. Of the participants who took part 40.12% were women. In the 2014 Sochi Games, women were allowed to participate in ski jumping for the first time. The Russian coach was quoted saying he wasn’t a fan of women’s ski jumping because women were more likely to suffer from fatal injuries than men. During the Sochi Winter Olympics, the performance of women in the ski jumping was exemplary that some men claimed that women had an aerodynamic advantage.

The Vancouver Winter Olympics in 2010 was attended by 2,566 participants 40.73% of whom were women. The Lillehammer 1994, Nagano 1998, Salt Lake City 2002, and the Turin 2006 Winter Olympics all recorded women participation of over 30%. The first three Olympics; Chamonix 1924, St. Moritz 1928, and Lake Placid 1932 all had less than 10% female participants.

Women in the 2018 Winter Olympics

The 2018 Winter Olympics recorded the highest number of female participation (43%). More countries are sending women to Winter Olympics, but some are still holding on to the idea that women are unfit to engage in some games. It was not until 2010 Summer Olympics that Women from Brunei, Qatar and Saudi Arabia were allowed to participate in the Olympics. No woman from these countries has participated in the Winter Olympics. China remains the only country to have more female participants than men in the winter Olympics. Of the 2,922 participants in the 2018 Winter Olympics, 1,242 were women.

Trends of Increased Female Participation at the Winter Olympic Games

RankGamesCountryPercentage of Women
1Sochi 2014Russia40.12%
2Vancouver 2010Canada40.73%
3Turin 2006Italy38.29%
4Salt Lake City 2002United States36.93%
5Nagano 1998Japan36.19%
6Lillehammer 1994Norway30.03%
7Albertville 1992France27.10%
8Calgary 1988Canada22.07%
9Sarajevo 1984Yugoslavia21.76%
10Lake Placid 1980United States21.92%
11Innsbruck 1976Austria20.46%
12Sapporo 1972Japan20.44%
13Grenoble 1968France18.19%
14Innsbruck 1964Austria18.28%
15Squaw Valley 1960United States21.65%
16Cortina 1956Italy16.08%
17Oslo 1952Norway15.71%
18St. Moritz 1948Switzerland11.53%
19Garmisch-Partenkirchen 1936Germany11.98%
20Lake Placid 1932United States8.30%
21St. Moritz 1928Switzerland6.07%
22Chamonix 1924France4.15%

More in World Facts