Antonia Wille

No Chance for Sexism

Fighter for Self-Determination: Sarah Voss at the Olympics

She was the first - and she might have started a movement: Sarah Voss wore a full-body suit for gymnastics for the first time at the European Gymnastics Championships in Basel. The reason: no more voyeuristic looks and sexist camera work. The 21-year-old from Germany had no idea that she would become an international pioneer. Applause, conversation, praise - all this was given for her courageous decision. Now, when she competes in Tokyo, the whole world will know the fighter for self-determination.


When Sarah Voss performed at the European Gymnastics Championships in Basel in April, the 21-year-old caused an international sensation. Not because she performed a new, complicated figure on the balance beam. No, Voss drew attention to herself with her clothing. Instead of skimpy pants and a tight top, Voss wore a full body suit. What was known from starters from other countries at international competitions from time to time due to religious motives, the Hessian made a demonstration for self-determination.

A Role Model for Younger Female Athletes

"We were mainly concerned with being a role model for younger female athletes," Voss told Stern. She said she had often been told that gymnasts did not feel comfortable doing gymnastics because of the dress code with skin-tight clothing and even quit. The slipping of the skimpy clothing and thus involuntary exposure of intimate body zones had burdened many a girl and woman. "And we especially wanted to show these girls that there is a way to wear other suits and that you definitely don't have to be ashamed of it." The German Gymnastics Federation supported the campaign, which was also joined by other gymnasts.

Greatest Successes

  • German champion in vault and balance beam 2021
  • German Champion in all-around, vault and balance beam 2019
  • German champion in vault and balance beam 2018
  • Fourth of the European Championships in vault 2018

Sexism and Sport

Athlete Sarah Voss was born on 21 October 1999 in Frankfurt am Main, today she lives in Dormagen. During her childhood and youth, a phenomenon developed around sport that she and other women on the German gymnastics team are now confronting and will possibly also confront at the Olympics in Tokyo. For at the latest when beach volleyball became an Olympic sport in 1994, open sexism entered the games. Close-ups on the buttocks of female beach volleyball players became common. The president of the world football federation Fifa, Sepp Blatter, even recommended that female footballers, following the example of beach volleyball players, should in future also kick in skimpy knickers. Plenty of fodder for scientists at the Cologne Sports University, who came up with the term "sporno" almost ten years ago and published "Sporno - where sports meets porno", a specialist article on many aspects of sexism and sport.

A Not Entirely Voluntary Pioneer

In her own words, the young student did not aspire to the role of being a pioneer of a counter-movement to this phenomenon, which is borne by voyeurism. It surprised her how many people talked about the action at the European Championship. Some people interpreted more into it than they wanted to say with the suit. "However, I have the feeling that the more positive feedback we get, the more people feel encouraged by it," Voss told "Stern".

The Second Passion: The Study of Economics

Even if the feedback was a surprise, rash actions do not really exist with her. After all, the 1.67-meter gymnast had some problems with her body, especially when she was growing, so she always had to train consciously. "Before I make a million attempts until something works out, I first think about what the solution could be." She holds a similar view in her studies of economics at the distance learning university in Riedlingen. Voss says she plans exactly which modules she has to complete and when, so that she only has to write exams that fit into her tightly timed annual schedule.

Sarah Voss Gymnastics Razor Sharp despite Visual Impairment

A self-confident, self-determined young woman who doesn't let herself get down so easily. She wears glasses in private, which of course is not possible in gymnastics - the fact that she therefore cannot see in full focus did not stand in the way of her advancement.

It is not yet clear where her sporting career will lead her.

Corona Disease Slowed Down Sarah Voss 2020

This year she was German champion on vault and balance beam, took silver on floor and bronze in the all-around. However, this is a step backwards compared to 2019, where she was the national best in all-around, vault and balance beam. Internationally, she has always lacked a bit of upside. At World Championships in 2019, seventh place on balance beam was her best placing, at European Championships in 2018, fourth place on vault. At the European Championships in Basel, she still missed the final under the after-effects of her own Corona illness last October and a quarantine break in the spring. But she might have started a movement that animates other gymnasts as well. Some clubs are already reporting that young women and girls are inquiring about the full-body suits.

Full-Body Suit or Not: The Main Thing Tokyo

What Voss will wear in Tokyo is still up in the air. "We're keeping both options open," she says. That, too, is a success - the feeling of complete self-determination. There's only one item of clothing she won't compromise on, and that's her pink slippers. A friend gave them to her for her 18th birthday. Since then, they've been at every competition, whether Voss is doing gymnastics in a skimpy costume or a full-body outfit.

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Antonia Wille
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