Can Women Sprint or Run Faster than Men? Yes!

>> January 23, 2016

In early 1990's, scientists (Whip & Ward) said women will perform better than men in all running events by 2050.

Another scientist claimed that in 150 years (around 2150), a woman will run just slower than 8 seconds at 100m and it would be quick enough to beat the winning time of men's 100m at the Olympics.

So these are the two examples of extreme conclusion derived from the results of the model that they used, linear regression. By using the same model, you can predict that humans will eventually run the 200m in 2 seconds. Historical trends are important but they are not guaranteed to continue into the future.

World record holders at 100m, Usain Bolt and Florence Griffith-Joyner

One possible reason to see such data that women will do better than men could be because of the "performance revolution" or higher rate of improvement seen in women's sports performances in 1980's and 1990's after women's sports have grown in popularity and participation in 1960's and 1970's. They did not get the same opportunity as men in the past. In other words, women "started late."

But current opinion suggests that the world records have reached 99% of the human performance limits that can be reached within one generation.

It has also been reported that gender gap in the Olympic sports performance has been stable or unchanged since early 1980's.

Sprinting velocity is a product stride "length" and "frequency". But in maximal velocity sprint, the "frequency" (foots contact per second) is more relevant than the "length". Ben Johnson would produce similar steps (46.5) (stride length) to run 10.44 (1983) and 9.79 (1988) at 100m. The "frequency" can be influenced by the ground contact time that is determined by the speed of contraction (of muscle fibres contractile properties).

To run 8 seconds in 100m would require a huge (double?) change of muscle fibres (the contractile properties) that will influence the force generating capacity, which will then determine the production of the required (huge) amount of power. This increment (double!) is only possible with a significant increase of muscle mass. If Usain Bolt weighs 94kg, this 8-second sprinter (a woman) would sprint with a body mass of 115kg. The average body mass of the women's 100m Olympic finalists is 56kg.

In elite level, even with the most systematic training provided to athletes, the muscle fibres are nearly unaltered or altered very very little.

Men are apparently more powerful than women because of muscle mass (greater). This is because men have ~10 times higher testosterone concentration than women.

Because we are probably near to "upper end" of human performance limits, for sprint and running (to limit the scope of this discussion), women can surely run faster than men athletes, but the fastest men athletes will always superior than the fastest women athletes. Women performance at high level will not match those of men.

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