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From Olympiad to World Games - The Development of the Women's Olympic Movement

Following on from last week’s blog that was all about the path to the 1921 women’s Olympiad, I thought I should provide an overview of what the Women’s Olympiad actually was.

To re-cap: the 1921 Women’s Olympiad, originally known as International dÉducation Physique Feminine de Sports Athletiques was NOT an official International Olympic Committee (IOC) event. It was created by Alice Milliat and supported by Camille Blanc in response to the lack of sports offered to women at the Olympics. To read more about this see my last blog: The path to the women’s 1921 Olympiad

The Women’s Olympiad would be held twice more after this event; 1922 and 1923, each time taking place in Monte Carlo, Monaco. These events are not to be confused with the Women’s World Games that were held four times between 1922-1934 and I’ll get to them shortly so keep reading!

Let’s start back in 1921 and the Women’s Olympiad.

1921 Women's Olympiad

Women's Olympiad Program, 1921 (Unknown Source)

The Women’s 1921 Olympiad was held between 24-31 March and took place in the gardens of the Monte Carlo Casino. Around 100 women represented four different nations France, Italy, Switzerland, and the UK. Despite being remembered as an Olympic type event the majority of sports were only athletics; being track and field. The events competed were:

· 60m

· 250m

· 800m

· 4 x 75m relay

· 4 x 175m relay (final was 4 x 200m)

· Hurdles

· High Jump

· Long Jump

· Javelin

· Shot Put

What made the shot put and javelin different to modern competition was that athletes had to throw by use of each hand in turn with the two results combined to determine the winner.

There were four demonstration sports also contested: basketball, pushball (stay tuned for more on this), gymnastics, and rhythmic gymnastics.

1922 and 1923 Women's Olympiad's

At the next games in 1922 the number of participants rose to approximately 300 women with two more nations joining in; Belgium and Czechoslovakia. Some new events were added, the athletics pentathlon and swimming (100m, 200m, 400m, relays and water polo). Basketball, gymnastics, and rhythmic gymnastics made their return as demonstration sports. Cycling was also added as a demonstration event. Pushball was now gone.

At the third and final incarnation of the Women’s Olympiad (4-7 April 1923), Denmark and the host nation, Monaco now had athletes in attendance. The swimming events were gone with basketball, gymnastic and rhythmic gymnastics again demonstration sports alongside the usual track and field main events.

Across all three years most medals were taken home by French and British athletes. The Women’s Olympiad ceased following this third event and was replaced by the Women’s World Games. The IOC objected to the use of the term “Olympiad” which was one of the reasons for the name change.

Women's Olympiad medals (Museum of World Athletics)

The Women's World Games

Four versions of the Women’s World Games would be held 1922 (Paris, France); 1926 (Gothenburg, Sweden); 1930 (Prague, Czechoslovakia) and 1934 (London, UK).

The 1922 event was held on one day, 20 August and was attended by 77 women who represented five nations – UK, USA, France, Czechoslovakia and Switzerland. This was the first time that American women took part in a female Olympic meet. The only sports contested were track and field with the UK leaving as the most successful nation by 20 points.

In 1926 around 100 women participated from nine nations. The USA were not represented but Sweden, Poland, Latvia, Japan and Belgium made their Women’s World Games debut. To be fair Japan was represented by one woman, Kinue Hitomi but what a remarkable woman!

Kinue Hitomi, 1928 (

Kinue Hitomi would go on to become the first Japanese woman to win an Olympic medal. She excelled at long jump, triple jump, shot put and 100m hurdles. To get to the 1926 games in Sweden she travelled by the Trans Siberian Railway and it was well worth the trip! She took home 2 gold, 1 silver and bronze medal seeing Japan finish fifth on the points table. This meant that she accumulated the most individual points for a competitor and was awarded a special prize for this feat by Alice Milliat.

These games were conducted more along the lines of an Olympic event with an opening ceremony and approximately 20,000 spectators attending across the three days of the event, 27-29 August. The UK won the games by over 20 points again.

Over 200 athletes participated in the 1930 event that was held in Prague, Czechoslovakia and a record number of nations were represented! These games saw the introduction of representatives from Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Austria, and Sweden. Also debuting was Canada, while once again the USA were absent. For the first time in the history of the Women’s World Games the UK did not finish at the top of the table with Germany claiming the title by 30 points over Poland. The UK finished in third place, 7 points behind Poland.

In regard to sports basketball was again a demonstration sport while Triathlon was competed as a main event for the first time.

The fourth and final incarnation of the Women’s World Games was held between 9-11 August 1934 in London. Over 200 women participated with athletes from Holland, Hungary, Palestine, Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), South Africa and Yugoslavia debuting. The USA made a return to the event and the demonstration sports on offer were basketball, handball, and football. Women’s pentathlon was also competed for the first time.

Once again Germany creamed the competition, winning by a massive 60 points!

The Legacy of the Women's World Games

The Women’s World Games were no longer held after this 1934 event as the IOC agreed to incorporate more women’s events. In 1928 athletics for women was incorporated in the main games and following the war years more sports were progressively introduced

Alice Milliat (Alice Milliat Foundation)

The founder of the modern Olympics, Pierre de Coubertin was of the opinion that women were the “weaker sex” and not made for athletic competition. Without someone like Alice Miliiat to champion the place of women and to provide a forum for women to participate we would not see women involved today.

The main legacy of these Olympiad and world games was that women’s sporting events began to be included more in Olympic competition. This was not a fast process and in the mid-1980s just 23% of athletes were women. By 2016 this had risen to 45%, which shows that a lot of progress has been made in the last thirty years.

Note: Camille Blanc was not a woman as many English-speakers would think based off his name! Mayor Blanc was heavily involved in the administration of the Monte Carlo Casino and was a keen supporter of Alice Milliat’s concept for the Women’s Olympiad.



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