Ford Ironman Championship 2010 Coverage: “You’ve been Chicked”, the Competition between Resistive and Dominant Gendered Discourses – by Oliver Rick

“You’ve been chicked” Craig Walsh joked with Matt Lieto as I watched the Ironman World Championship this weekend. This phrase was a comment that was repeated on a regular basis during the beginning of the show by many of the sports most recognizable names. Indeed these comments were being broadcasted on the biggest platform for this sport for the whole year; in Ironman it does not very often make sense financially to broadcast the coverage of a whole race. So during the world championships, where there is full coverage all day long, the sport gets its biggest viewership on a worldwide platform. One of the sports biggest claims is that it is one of the only sports where you can compete on the same playing field as the worlds best male and female endurance athletes. Often you hear phrase’s like “your never going to get to play soccer with David Beckham” but you can race with world champions at Ironman. However despite this claim to this being one of the great aspects of the sport there has been a stigma developed that comes with being beaten by a woman of the same age group or professionals if you are a man.

For the first time in many years the gap between the top professional women and men has dropped, especially with the recent successes of the world champion pro female Chrissie Wellington. She has brought what was typically and often seen as an inevitable fifty-minute gap between the male and female winner down to around thirty minutes in last years event. This has meant that for the first time a female athlete was beating many professional men, rather than just age group athletes. This can be seen as a great development in the discourse that is developed around the equality of performance of women in sport and more general equality that rivals the traditionally hegemonic dominance of males in sport. However as this moment in sport that could potentially mean a change in discourse around the male dominance that has existed in Ironman triathlon, the understandings of this moment have been hijacked by the phrase “you’ve been chicked”. The phrase makes the moment that you are bephotoaten by a woman one of emasculation. It turns the focus of this moment from a celebration of the development of females’ abilities in this sport into a moment of emasculation for men but also takes the focus off of the women and places it back on the men.

Pringle (2001) in his analysis of the effect of competing discourses in the development of subject positions in New Zealand rugby states that many bonds of male athletes are formed over homophobic or sexist practices. These aspects therefore show that the male athletic identity is theorized to be closely connected to an embodiment of hegemonic masculinity. Pringle (2001) states that this culturally “exalted” form of masculinity is assumed to be linked to a greater subjugation of alternative forms of masculinity and women.

Firstly this is an interesting point in analyzing the world of Ironman triathlon due to the feminine nature of the sport. In Pringle’s (2001) analysis the sporting site was one of hypermasculinity that intrinsically as a contact sport offered the hegemonic male discourse in the formation of a subject position, however in Ironman this intrinsic masculinity is missing. In fact I would suggest that many aspects of the sport are extremely feminine. There is an embodiment of a slim toned feminine body for most athletes coupled with the performance of wearing skin-tight lycra and Speedos that mimic the women’s attire and the practices of shaving one’s legs. This means that often there is a celebration of other masculine aspects and individuals in the sport, with larger athletes being respected ‘big men’ despite their often relatively poor performances and a constant positioning of the sport as a ‘hard mans game’. Another role in this is the disparaging discourse of female’s relatively weaker performances in the sport when compared to men. This I would suggest this is where “you’ve been chicked” fits into the discourse surrounding gender at the Ironman World Championships in 2010.

Pringle (2001) uses Foucauldian theory to show that power, social reality and subject positions create and are created through discourse. However due to competing discourses subject positions are not stable. Therefore the self or the subject as a product of competing discourses is always in flux depending on the context. Resultantly where there was the potential of creating a discourse through the success of Chrissie Wellington of female equality in the sport there was development of a hegemonically masculine discourse that removed the potential of this resistive moment. The “you’ve been chicked” phrase was a key phrase in re-establishing the hegemonic dominance in Ironman by creating a separation of men that were and were not “chicked” and therefore still keeping Wellingtons achievements sub-par as merely to dominance of effeminate poorly performing men in the pro field and moving the focus back on to the male athlete and belittling the achievements of a world champion.

In an interesting twist of fate on the day Wellington was unable to compete in the race removing the potential “you’ve been chicked” discourse that surrounded her usual success however all was not lost in the space for this discourse to be recounted during the coverage. With the breakout success of Julie Dibens on the bike leg of the race many pro athletes were being “chicked” as this line from the live ticker at competitor.com (2010) shows:

“Lots of guys getting chicked by Julie Dibens out there right now!”

References:

Competitor.com. (2010). Live Ironman World Championship ticker. Retrieved from http://triathlon.competitor.com/2010/10/news/2010-ironman-world-championships-live-commentary_14472 on 10/09/2010

Pringle, R. 2001. COMPETING DISCOURSES: Narratives of a Fragmented Self, Manliness and Rugby Union. International Review for the Sociology of Sport; 36; 425

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