women faster than men

Woman Faster Than Men? : Will women ever outpace men?

That is a question that has obsessed many commentators in the sports science community for a number of years – and the answer is less clear-cut than it used to be. The authors of a leading article published in the prestigious British Journal of Sports Medicine point out that: ‘Although serious consideration does not indicate the slightest chance of a woman being the fastest human on the planet at distances of 100-200m, there are factors that may favour women over longer distances’.

It is not only the rapid improvement in female running, especially over the marathon distance, between 1963 and 1984 that supports this idea, they explain. Further backing comes from scientific evidence of natural female advantages, including the ability to run aerobically at a higher percentage of maximal oxygen uptake, resistance to oxidative stress and a higher pain threshold.

And, although men show no signs as yet of being beaten over Olympic distances, they are already beginning to lose the battle at ultra-distances. As the leader points out, consistent male superiority is already a matter of history in possibly the most challenging ultra-race, the ‘Badwater Ultramarathon’, a 216k race at crucifying temperatures of up to 55°C. Although men dominated this race during the 1980s and 1990s, in 2002 and 2003 a female ultra-runner outpaced the fastest man by about 4.5 and 0.5 hours respectively. Furthermore, since 2002 up to three women have been in the first five finishers, even through there were more male than female participants.

Pundits will be watching with intense interest to see whether this apparent advantage can be transferred to shorter races.

Br J Sports Med 2005; 39:410

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