Kimberley Woods, the winner of the women’s canoe singles, said she was “overwhelmed” after hearing that her event had gained Olympic status.
“It just gives more range and more opportunities for the young girls to reach their Olympic dreams,” said Woods, 21, of Britain. “To have equal opportunity for our sport is important, but it’s also quite sad that they had to get rid of C2 men.”
Fifty-three women raced in the new Olympic event here, a staggering number for a discipline that debuted at the 2009 world championships.
Jessica Fox, 23, a two-time Olympic medalist from Australia, said the I.O.C. decision “will make a massive difference for girls from some countries because they’ve struggled to get funding, coaching and support because C1 hasn’t been Olympic.”
The British canoeist David Florence has paddled to silver medals in canoe doubles at the last two Olympics. Achieving a third with his partner, Richard Hounslow, is no longer possible.
“It’s a real shame, especially seeing other sports get medals added,” Florence said. “Unfortunately, in the U.K., if a sport is not in the Olympics, it doesn’t get heavily supported, so Richard and I decided to call it quits.”
The French duo of Gauthier Klauss and Matthieu Péché have been a team for 15 years, while also working together at the French national railway company. They have won two overall World Cup titles and a bronze medal at the Rio Games. They were distraught at their event’s elimination.
“It’s a big shame that the politicians decided to take C2 out, because it is an event that is fun for the canoeing family and federation,” Klauss said. “The Olympics are now mired in marketing and politics.”
Péché added: “It’s hard to live with this, but they’ve just cut the entire canoe family. We are alone, and no one wants to help us.”
Changes made by the I.O.C. increase the percentage of women among total athletes at Tokyo 2020 to a record 48.8 percent. At the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, 45.6 percent of the participants were women.
The move is in line with reforms developed by the I.O.C. president, Thomas Bach, in the Olympic Agenda 2020, which was unanimously passed in December 2014. Recommendation No. 11 of 40 was to achieve 50 percent female participation, while creating more mixed-gender team events.
“We’ve really seen the impact of new women’s events and increased quotas in women’s sport really having an impact of women’s participation throughout the world,” said Kit McConnell, the I.O.C. sports director. “That’s why it is so important to us.”
Some athletes criticized the canoe federation’s handling of the situation, but its president, José Perurena, said he wanted his sport to be a leader in gender balance.
“We understand this is a difficult decision for those athletes who have had their events changed, but as a sport we need to show leadership,” Perurena said. “Gender equality is extremely important in all levels of society and canoeing is determined to be a leader in this field.”
The World Cup organizer Jiri Rohan, a two-time Olympic silver medalist in canoe doubles, said part of the sport’s history will be lost in the restructuring.
“The C2 category is dynamic and spectators really enjoyed this event, but now gender equality is very important for the Olympic Committee, and maybe everybody, and we must respect that,” Rohan said.
The American canoeist Joe Jacobi, whose doubles team edged Rohan’s for gold at the Barcelona Games in 1992, questioned the I.O.C.’s strategy.
“Beyond the tactical changes to the program, the larger framework and strategy guiding the health of the Olympic Games feels off course,” Jacobi said. “The world is responding to the Olympic Games very differently today compared to just a few years ago. There is a lot of course correction to go. I truly hope the athletes are well served in the course-correction process.”
The women competing in canoe slalom, at least, were ecstatic. Their athletic careers had veered onto an entirely new course.
“Now that canoe singles is officially on the Olympic program, there’s a lot to work on, but I’m really excited and hungry to get going,” Woods said.
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