The Almost Constant Ratio of Record Speeds for Women vs. Men Elite Athletes:  A Comparison over Distances and Multiple Sports

Ira Hammerman
-, Revava, Israel




The record performances of elite athletes over different distances provide an envelope for what the human body is capable of performing, even though records change with time.  A comparison of record average speeds ( total distance over time) for women vs. men elite athletes provides a good approximation to a measure of the ultimate speed capabilities  of women vs. men.

This study used as input current (2010) official world record times for men and women in multiple sports:  running, swimming (various forms), rowing,  kayaking,   speed skating  and track cycling (for those events for which there is data for both men and women elite athletes).The comparison includes  a wide  range of distances and competitive forms. In particular the study examines running speeds for the wide range of distances, running styles and physiological challenges,  from the 60m dash to the  42.195km  marathon (almost 3 orders of magnitude difference). Swimming records are compared  for distances of 50m to 1500m freestyle and 50m to 200m backstroke. Rowing is compared for single rower sculls to eight rower sculls. Kayaking is studied for crews of one to four. Speed skating records are analyzed for distances from 500m to 10,000m. While track cycling (indoor bicycle racing) is studied both for a 200m distance and for the largest distance cycled within one hour (the UCI-hour event) approximately 46 to 50km.

The surprising result of the analysis is the consistency of the speed ratios for men and women over all these sports and distance. The record breaking speeds of the women athletes are very close to 90% of the speed of  the men athletes. This constancy is intriguing considering the variation of the individuals, the different  physiological challenges in the different  sports and at the different distances.

The near universality of the gender difference ratio, serves as a pointer to the few competitions which deviate from this constancy, for which the ratio does differ significantly from the 90% value, and indicates that perhaps better emphasis and training in these events could lead to improved record performances.    


Summary Of Women's Record Speed/Men's Record Speed:   Mean and Standard Deviation

Sport                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Mean +/- SD

Running            Indoors (60m to 3km; 9 distances)                            0.90 +/-  0.01

                          Outdoors (100m to Marathon;  21 distances)            0.89 +/- 0.02

                               All  Running (60m to Marathon;  30 categories)      0.89 +/- 0.02

Swimming      Freestyle Long Course(50m to 1500m; 6 distances)     0.91 +/-  0.02

                       Freestyle Short Course (50m to 1500m; 6 distances)   0.90 +/- 0.02

                       Backstroke Long Course (50m to 200m; 3 distances)    0.89 +/- 0.003

                       Backstroke Short Course (50m to 200m; 3 distances)   0.87 +/- 0.02

                       Breaststroke Long Course (50m to 200m; 3 distances) 0.90 +/- 0.01

Breaststroke Short Course (50m to 200m; 3 distances)                       0.88 +/- 0.01

                All Swimming (50m to 1500m; 24 categories)                       0.89 +/- 0.02

Speed Skating    (500m to 10km; 7 categories)                                   0.91 +/- 0.01

Rowing                 (2km, 10 categories of  crew (senior) and rowing types)                

                                                                                                              0.90 +/- 0.01

Kayaking              (200m to 1km; 1 to 4 in crew; 9 categories)            0.88 +/- 0.01


                                Track Cycling     (200m, 500m and 1 hour for distance; 3 categories)                          0.88 +/-  0.04