Battle of the sexes

22 December, 2015   Sport Singapore

While the world has advanced to such a stage today where the social gender gap in first world countries has been largely minimised, there still exists a significant gap between men and women in the world of sport that cannot seem to be overcome.

Looking at the world’s 100m sprint record - the current record held by Usain Bolt at 9.58s is almost 10 per cent faster than Florence Griffith’s record of 10.49s - a fairly unsurmountable gap still exists between the sexes. 

Usain Bolt

Will Usain Bolt's 100m world record ever be matched by a female counterpart? Photo: Reuters

Throughout the running events in athletics, from 100m to 10,000m, the gap between top athletes remains at about 11 per cent. In field events such as jumping where more explosive power is required, the gap widens to about 19 per cent.

Men have always been known to be stronger and faster than women due to a variety of reasons. However, in 2004, the journal Nature published an article that challenged what was thought to be common knowledge and theorised that women will soon outrun men.

The paper’s two authors graphed men’s and women’s records throughout history and judging from the steeper improvement in women’s performance, they concluded that by the first half of the 21st century, women should beat men in all running events.

Another two papers followed that seemed to support this hypothesis, but when they looked at the progression of women’s performance from the 1950s to 1980s, they considered it as part of a linear growth. It was, however, in fact a temporary explosion in growth that soon reached its plateau in the 1980s - not in small part due to the crackdown on drug fuelled female athletes from the Eastern bloc.

It is clear now that women are not about to catch up with men in sporting performance any time soon due to the inherent differences in biological makeup. Due in large part to the hormone testosterone that is present in males in abundance, men are generally stronger, larger and faster than women.

Males have longer limbs relative to height, larger heart and lungs, more muscle and less fat, more red blood cells which give men an aerobic advantage as well as denser bones which support more muscle.

Putting together all these advantages that testosterone brings, it may be that women will never be able to perform on par with men in sports which require speed and strength to excel.