Women’s World Records Compared Against Men’s World Records in Track & Field

Men’s world records are the pinnacle of what humans are capable of at any given point in time at a certain event or discipline, and I’ve always wondered about which of the women’s world records is the best when compared to men’s results.
For example, women’s 100m and 200m world records are 10.49 and 21.34 seconds, respectively. The question I would pose is which of these two results comes closer to their male counterparts of 9.58 and 19.19 seconds? In other words, is 10.49 closer to 9.58, or is 21.34 closer to 19.19?

You can jump straight to chapter 2 if you want to avoid all the nasty math behind it.

1) Methodology

I’ve thought about how one would go about comparing all the results from all the different events and I came up with the following method: Every men’s WR is given a percentage value of 100% because it represents the ceiling of what is currently humanly possible. If the women’s WR is, say, 10% lower, it is given a value of 90%.

The problem arises when we try to compare running and jumping events (*) because:

Running -> less is better,
i.e., a faster time and a lower numerical value is a better result,

Jumping -> more is better,
i.e., a higher/longer jump and a larger numerical value is a better result.

So, let’s say that I want to jump half (or 50%) the distance of the men’s long jump WR which stands at 8.95 meters. This means that we have to multiply the WR by 0.5:

8.95 meters * 0.5 = 4.48 meters

So I have to jump 4.48 meters if I want to jump 50% as far as 8.95 m of Mike Powell. Below is a complete table with increments of 10% to give you a better understanding of the underlying principle for the jumping events.

long-jump-example

Full formula for jumping events:
[World Record Distance\Height] * [Percentage of WR] = Result

The higher the percentage, the closer the result is to the world record. We see that the lower (or the worse) the result, the closer we get to zero.

The same isn’t true for running events because it’s obvious that a lower result indicates a better time. This means that if I want to run half (or 50%) as fast as Usain Bolt’s 100m WR of 9.58 seconds, I have to divide his WR with 0.5 in order to get a proper result. If I’d multiply his WR, I’d get a faster time. Example:

9.58 seconds * 0.5 = 4.79 seconds WRONG (I’m not a cheetah)
9.58 seconds / 0.5 = 19.16 seconds CORRECT  

This means that if my average speed was 50% as fast as Usain Bolt’s, I’d run the 100m in 19.16 seconds. Below is another complete table with increments of 10% to give you a better understanding of the underlying principle for the running events.

100m-example

Full formula for running events:
( [Distance] / [Percentage of WR] ) / ( [Distance] / [World Record Time] ) =
= [World Record Time] / [Percentage of WR] = Result

The lower (or the worse) the result, the longer/slower the time. The closer we get to 0%, the closer we get to infinite time. This means that it would take you about 16 minutes to cover the 100m if you’d run 1% as fast as Bolt, 2 hr 40 min if you’d run 0.01% as fast and so on. I think you get the idea. Slower speed => longer time.

Example for Long jump world records:

Men’s WR: 8.95 meters
Women’s WR: 7.52 meters

Calculation:
7.52 meters / 8.95 meters = 0.8402 => 84.02%

This means that women’s long jump world record is 84.02% as long as the men’s WR. In other words, it is 15.98% shorter/inferior.

Example for 100m world records:

Men’s WR: 9.58 seconds
Women’s WR: 10.49 seconds

Calculation:
(100m/10.49s) / (100m/9.58s) = 9.58 / 10.49 = 0.91325 => 91.33%

This means that women’s 100m WR is 91.33% as fast as the men’s WR or 8.67% lower/inferior.

*We cannot directly compare results in the following events:

  • All the throwing events: men use heavier apparatuses,
  • Sprint hurdles: women run 100m and men run 110m with higher hurdles,
  • 400m hurdles: men have higher hurdles,
  • 3000m steeplechase: men have higher hurdles.
  • Multi-events: Men have Decathlon and women have Heptathlon with a different scoring system.

2) Comparing the World Records

Okay, this is what we’re here for. I chose to include only the most often contested Olympic events and not the special ones like the 300m or 600m which are very rarely seen in the senior ranks.

main-table

men-vs-women-1

In running events women’s world records are on average 89.94% as fast as the men’s world records and 84.05% as long/high in the jumping events.
A fairly big difference of 5.89%, especially if we consider that all the running events are in the range of 2.3% from best to worst.

men-vs-women-2

We can see that the women’s 100m world record comes the closest to the men’s WR. This doesn’t surprise me one bit as I’ve already written about the high probability of 10.49 being a strongly wind-assisted run and I still firmly believe that women’s WR should stand at 10.61 seconds, which would equate to being 90.29% as fast as the men’s WR of 9.58. Alternatively, 10.49 was 94.7% (!) as fast as the men’s world record from that period (9.93), which is absolutely insane.

The next best result is the often controversial marathon mark of Great Britain’s Paula Radcliffe. This WR was achieved in a mixed gender race, which means that Paula was effectively running with male pacemakers and this isn’t allowed anymore. All the major marathons now begin with professional female athletes starting about an hour before the main start which also includes the male professionals.

Anyway, you can interpret the results in many different ways, but one thing is still obvious: women seem to be much weaker jumpers than what we’d expect from their running world records. All the running events are very close to each other when compared to the men’s results and within a range of just 2.3% from best to worst. Jumping events are a totally different thing. The results are (relatively speaking) vastly inferior and I can’t really come up with any logical reasons as to why. If you have any ideas or explanations of your own, feel free to comment below.

Žiga P. Škraba

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3 thoughts on “Women’s World Records Compared Against Men’s World Records in Track & Field

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