Paula Radcliffe’s world-record marathon time of 2:15:25, set at the 2003 London Marathon, is 30 minutes faster than the women’s record from the mid-1970s. (The men’s time dropped by only five minutes over the same period.) Women triathletes cut two and a half hours from the fastest female time in 1980, while men have shortened theirs by an hour and a half.
There are many macro-trends around sports that have surely gone unnoticed by me over the years, but this one I found quite interesting. Humans are always pushing to improve, but the amount that women athletes have improved in tons of sports over the past 50 decades or so is massive. Men have also improved, but not by as much.
According to the article, women still tend to perform around 10% worse than men at the same activities, but there are some where things have completely leveled out or women have taken a lead. But why is this?
Most of the progress was the natural result of women getting a fair chance to compete. Fewer than 300,000 girls played high school sports before 1972; today more than 3.3 million participate. In 1972, eight women completed the Boston Marathon; in 2016, more than 12,000 women finished.
This lesson applies to far more than sports, of course. Opportunity and money can massively change outcomes.