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Will women ever be able to compete against men in Olympic events?

If experience teaches us anything, making predictions is a fool’s game. But that does not prevent regular predictions that the best women athletes will soon be competing with the best men, and can even overcome some day.

Is there any truth to this idea, and how do intersex athletes such as Caster Semenya, complicate the discussion?

In 1992, two eminent physiologists published an article in the journal Nature with the provocative title Will women soon have run faster than men? They concluded that if the operating performance of women continued to improve as quickly as it had done since the 1920s, the best women athletes soon to run as fast as the best men and could even be faster in the future.

The public agreed; A 1996 survey reported that two-thirds of Americans believe that “the day is coming when the best female athletes will beat the best men.”

is coming that day and, if not, why not?

Flawed science

Let’s start with the original 1992 predictions. The authors of the Nature paper placed a straight line on the previous behavior of men and women, extended these lines in the future lines, and it is estimated that the “projected intersection (between male and female records) for the marathon is 1998 “.

How did your passage projection?

The gap between the world record for the marathon women and men is now more than 12 minutes.
In late 1998, the world record for the marathon woman was still more than 10 minutes behind the men. In 2016, this gap has increased. The record marathon time for men (2:02:57) is now more than 12 minutes faster than the women (2:15:25).

So what went wrong?

The error comes mainly from the assumption that the linear improvements in the past will continue in the future. It is a common mistake.

Using the same flawed method, another group of scientists wrote in 2004 that if current trends of female winner of the 100m final at the 2156 Olympics would win in a faster time than the men’s event .

they neglected to calculate that in the same year linear trends predicted women would-jump pole vault heights about 17 meters!

A simple example may help to illustrate the dangers of assuming linear changes will continue in the future. Below is a graph showing changes in height during the teen years (when growth is faster) is shown. then I have extended this more or less linear improvement in height 50 years in the future. This projection would average more than four meters tall man – and growing – by age 70.

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Rapid improvements in athletic performance of the woman we saw in the 1980s not they have continued for two big reasons.

The first is that discrimination had kept women to compete in many sports; It was entirely predictable that, once opened sports, there would be great improvements.

The second reason is based on the suspicion that many of the records of the 1980s were achieved by doped athletes. We know that the artificial addition of male hormones such as testosterone, have very powerful effects on female athletic performance.

This could help explain why nearly all records of women in the Olympic sprints and power are from the 1980s

Much more participation of women in the sport, and improving detection of doping with testosterone, there is now quite stable difference of 10% to 12% among world records of men and women from the 100 meters to the ultramarathon. This difference tends to be higher in the most explosive events (launch, for example, and jumping) and less in distance swimming races.

Is there a biological explanation for this persistent difference in performance between men and women? Most scientists believe that testosterone is the most important – but not only -. distinguishing factor male and female athletes

The role of Testrosterone

Probably the best illustration of the powerful effects of testosterone is a study comparing race times of transgender women before and after undertook testosterone suppression to change to normal levels normal male female levels (or even below average).

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The eight women in the study were much slower after the change of its former self high testosterone.

High levels of testosterone have been used to explain the performance of intersex athlete Caster Semenya.

High levels of testosterone have also been used to explain the performance of intersex athlete Caster Semenya. However, it is important to note that even with high levels of testosterone, Semenya the best time for the 800 m ( 1:55:33 ) is far behind the record world men (1: 40:91). It is also slower than the 800m world record set the first men officially recognized in 1912.

seems little hope of women, regardless of testosterone levels never be able to compete with men in the most, but perhaps not all, of the Olympic events.

Therefore, what events can women be able to compete with men?

Men and women now compete head to head in the Olympic Games equestrian events only (there are also some mixed events). Before 1992, the shooting was also an “open” event, and two women have won Olympic medals in shooting competing against men – Margaret Murdoch in 1976 and Zhang Shan in 1992.

In the United States sports university, women and men still competing in events and women pulling often win. And although it was not an Olympic event, women can compete with men in swimming in open water.

register women for swimming Catalina Island to the California peninsula ( 7:15:55 ) is more than 30 minutes faster than the men’s record. But these are rare exceptions to the profound genetic advantage that men have over women in most sports.

If you’re in the game prediction is much safer to say that there are very few Olympic events where women will never be able to compete against men.

Author: David Bishop, head of research, Sport, Institute of Sport, Exercise and active life, the Victoria


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