I bet that there are male chauvinists who will look at the headline on this blog and say “this is going to be a really short article.” Here’s the good news for men who are concerned that women are infringing on a male-dominated realm — men are better at most sports because they have physiological advantages.
I have a question for those men — why are many men afraid of losing to a woman? In 1976, men and women competed against each other in an Olympics riflery event. American Margaret Thompson Murdock won a silver medal. So many men were upset that a woman beat them that many nations pressured the International Olympic Committee into segregating future shooting events. Fencing events are also segregated — and have been since 1938 when Helene Mayer beat the U.S. champion, The Wall Street Journal reported in “Taking Aim at an Old Debate.”
When Do Women Have a Sports Advantage?
Today, men and women compete against each other in only two Olympics events — equestrian and sailing. There are also mixed events in badminton, luge, and tennis. Most of the time, the segregation is justified. For a long time, many people believed that men’s superiority over women was largely cultural. They thought women would narrow the gap and, perhaps, catch up in some sports when they were encouraged to play at a young age and their participation rates surged. This belief was wrong.
In fact, men are better than women in most sports because of biology. Their advantages include:
- Muscle mass: Men have 40 percent more in their upper body and 33 percent more in their lower body, reports the article “Amount of Muscle Mass in Men Versus Women.”
- Body fat: Women have about 10 percent more body fat. The female hormone estrogen is the reason.
- Testosterone: This male hormone enables men to have larger muscles and hearts.
- Oxygen: Women’s maximum oxygen consumption per minute is about 89 percent of men’s.
- Blood: Women’s hemoglobin per deciliter in their blood is about 89 percent of men’s. Hemoglobin is a protein in the blood that delivers oxygen.
Thanks to these advantages, men are bigger, stronger and faster. That’s true among average men and women and among elite athletes. “Across dozens of sports, women’s world speed records consistently fall 10 percent short of men’s records,” reported The Atlantic magazine in “We Thought Female Athletes Were Catching Up to Men, but They’re Not.” The article detailed how men’s world record times are about 10 percent faster in short-, middle-, and long-distance races in six sports. Those sports are cycling, kayaking, rowing, running, skating, and swimming.
Women, though, have biological advantages too. One sports advantage helps women consistently beat men in ultradistance events, including running and swimming races. Simply put, women are better at saving glycogen, a form of glucose that is the main source of energy stored in our bodies. Women have more body fat than men so they are able to use more fat as fuel than men. Thus, men have to tap into their glycogen much earlier than men. The results of this advantage include:
- Women swam about 13 percent faster in the approximately 30-mile Manhattan Island Marathon swimming event from 1983 through 2013, reported the International Journal of Physiology and Performance.
- Women beat men by about one mile in swimming across the English Channel, reported Open Water Swimming magazine. The channel is from 21 to 150 miles wide. Most people swim about 21 miles when crossing it. Women are about 32 minutes faster. Women become faster than men in swimming at about the 10-kilometer or 6.2-mile mark.
- Women often beat men in ultradistance running events. Pam Reed won the 146-mile Badwater Ultramarathon in 2002 and 2003. Elite men fare better than elite women overall in ultradistance running, but they’re very competitive.
- There is scientific evidence that women fare better as races get longer. In a study of 91,929 runners in 14 marathons (26.2-mile races), men were three times as likely to have “a major slowdown” in the second half of marathon, reported the article “Women Runners Way Better Than Men at Pacing Themselves.” The reason? “Men will burn a greater percentage of carbohydrates for fuel than women,” the article said.
- Women are arguably better than men in other sports too. How many people are impressed by the grace of a male gymnast? Whether female gymnasts are better is subjective, but there is a biological reason why they could be, according to the article “How Do Men and Women Differ Athletically?” “Their joints are more flexible, which gives them greater range of motion – an advantage in sports such as gymnastics,” the article reports. Ice skating and diving are two other sports where women are arguably superior because of their more flexible joints.
The Livestrong.com article also reports that women are just as good as men in shooting and equestrian events because the primary skills needed in those sports are physical balance and mental concentration. Other sports where elite women have beaten elite men and should be able to compete with them despite biological differences include:
- Racecar driving
It’s also interesting to note that it’s fairly common for high school girls to beat boys in wrestling events. That sounds absurd, but remember that both competitors are in the same weight class. Boys are stronger because of their muscle mass advantage, but there have been girls who have won state wrestling titles against boys.
As for the segregation in shooting events, the Olympics still has separate men’s and women’s events. The NCAA, though, doesn’t. In 2010, an all-women’s team from TCU won the NCAA rifle title. TCU has contended for other titles. “I think my girls have settled the argument about women competing against men,” TCU coach Karen Monez told The Wall Street Journal.