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Sports Med. 2005;35(12):1017-24.

Running performance differences between men and women:an update.

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US Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, Natick, MA 01760-5007, USA.


More than a decade ago it was reported in the journal Nature that the slope of improvement in the men's and women's running records, extrapolated from mean running velocity plotted against historical time, would eventually result in a performance intersection of the sexes across a variety of running distances. The first of these intersections was to occur for 42 000 m before the 21st century. Most of the error in this prediction is probably explained by the linear mathematical treatment and extrapolation of limited performance data, since including world record-setting running performances for women before and after 1985 results in a non-linear data fit. The reality of early, disproportionate improvements in women's running that gave the appearance of an impending convergence with men is best explained by an historical social sports bias. Women's times have now reached a plateau similar to that observed for men at comparative performance milestones in the marathon. Sex differences at distances from 100 to 10 000 m show similar trends. The remaining sex gaps in performance appear biological in origin. Success in distance running and sprinting is determined largely by aerobic capacity and muscular strength, respectively. Because men possess a larger aerobic capacity and greater muscular strength, the gap in running performances between men and women is unlikely to narrow naturally.

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