Mitt Romney‘s connection to the Olympic sport of dressage, with its riders in tails and top hats, its prancing horses its upper-crust legacy, has been great for late-night comedians and Democrats, who want to portray the Republican candidate — his wife is part-owner of a horse competing at the Olympics — as out of touch.
Most Americans look forward to the swimming and the gymnastics, not the piaffe.
Romney went to great pains in an interview with Brian Williams to suggest that dressage is his wife’s passion, not his.
But there’s a particular aspect to the sport, dubbed by Stephen Colbert in his deadpan parody as both “frou frou” and the “sport of the summer,” that has been overlooked.
Dressage — and all the equestrian events, along with sailing — are the only co-ed sports at the games.
Sure, there are mixed doubles events in badminton and tennis, but those are not exactly co-ed. They require a male and a female on each team. In the equestrian events a man can compete, mano a mano (plus two horses) against a woman.
That’s a remarkable thing in high-level athletics. Just ask the British men’s synchronized swimming team, which lost its quixotic bid to compete in London.
Maybe it shouldn’t be so remarkable. The Chinese female swimmer Ye Shiwen, believe it or not (and some don’t) posted a faster time in the last split of the 400 individual medley than the men’s champion, Ryan Lochte did.
There are some who don’t see how that’s possible without doping, but Ye Shiwen has been tested like all the other athletes and there is no indication that she had anything other than big hands and a really fast time in the freestyle split of her race.
Women competing against men at a high level in sports is not unprecedented. Danica Patrick races cars against men. There’s an American woman playing on the Canadian pro golf circuit.
At lower levels and in high school, while it is still relatively rare, there are girls who play alongside boys in wrestling, team sports and even, on occasion, football.
But the time when elite women can compete with elite men seems far off. Ye Shiwen matched Lochte in the final leg of that 400 individual medley. But the world record she set was about 23 seconds off Lochte’s gold-medal-winning time in the men’s event.
And while some sports ethicists advocate gender-neutral competition, there certainly does not seem to be any large movement for co-ed sports.
But there is movement for equality in other areas that rely on physical ability. And this is where things are political.
The military has moved slowly toward including more women in combat roles. They can now serve on submarines. They can fly combat missions in jets. The next step would seem to be Ranger school, something the Army’s top general recently said is under consideration.
“If we determine that we’re going to allow women to go in the infantry and be successful, they are probably at some time going to have to go through Ranger School,” Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno told reporters during a Pentagon briefing in Washington back in May.
Women, it seems, can piaffe next to men. And some day soon they may be able to fight in combat missions next to men. But will a desire to have them swimming or running next to men follow?