Sports Science Alert (SSA) #020
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When Are Women Better Than Men?
In a newsletter last month I questioned should women face the same fitness standards as men when joining the armed forces. Due to physical differences between the sexes, women cannot on average achieve the same standards as the men. In sports, these differences are very apparent, and men outperform women in most sporting contests.
This is not a sexist comment, it is just the facts. For example, looking at the speeds for the world records in running races from sprints to marathons, men are about 10% faster at all distances. Of course there are plenty of examples where a woman can beat a man in a contest. The best female tennis player in the world will beat most men, though in a match between the two highest ranked players today, Serena Williams would struggle to win a point against Novak Djokovic.
I remember being surprised when I first heard that women are better than men at long distance open water swimming. However when looking at the science it makes sense - higher body-fat percentage in women gives them more buoyancy, reducing effort required to keep afloat and therefore they can swim more efficiently. There may be other factors too, such as female differences in heat retention and greater determination helping the women match it with the men. I can't find an example of any other sport in which women physically outperform men.
In sports that have a high skill component, and therefore less reliance of physical attributes, the difference between men and women is less pronounced. At the Olympic Games there are two sports where men and women compete directly against each other; equestrian and in one sailing event. In both of these, performance is not limited by physical abilities - skill, tactics and the ability of the horse are also important for success. I can think of many other sports in which skill is the predominant factor of success, though you don't always find women matching it with the men in these.
Why are there not women regularly playing alongside men in golf, darts, archery, motor-sports and tenpin? It is because there are other factors at play - lack of support, other priorities, lower prize money, all resulting in smaller female pool of sporting talent. If more women were given the opportunity, we would see a lot more women competing alongside the men in these sports, which would be a good result for both men and women, and spectators too.
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