zondag, augustus 01, 2004


When Paula Radcliffe ran the London Marathon last year in just under
minutes, shaving almost two minutes off her 2002 record, the whispers
started again: are women improving their performance so quickly that
day they may compete with men?

Expert opinion suggests that day will remain elusive - as long as women
retain female bodies. The gap between the sexes appears to have
plateaued, with women performing at about 90 per cent of male levels.

In the absence of unforeseen genetic or hormonal interventions, it
that men will maintain an advantage, due largely to their supply of a
performance drug that will never be banned: endogenous testosterone,
which boosts muscle power and oxygen capacity.

The typical young man has a maximum oxygen use capacity of about 3.5
litres per minute, compared with two litres for a woman, says
physiologist Stephen Seiler of the Institute of Health and Sport at
Agder College in Kristiansand, Norway. Testosterone - males have 10
times as much of the stuff as women - stimulates the creation of red
blood cells, which means men's blood holds more oxygen.

Men also have more muscle and larger hearts in relation to body size,
says Dirk Christensen, an exercise physiologist at the University of
Copenhagen. This affects aerobic capacity: he says a trained woman's
heart can pump out the same volume of blood as a man's can, but it has
to work much harder to do so.

Recent records support the persistence of the gender gap and suggest
that it is even increasing slightly. Dr Seiler and writer Steve Sailor
analysed results from Olympic Games and International Association of
Athletics Federations world championships between 1952 and 1996,
selecting events in which men and women ran under the same conditions.
They found that if the marathon, which was not an Olympic event for
women until 1984, was excluded, the mean performance gap for running
increased from 11 per cent in the mid-1980s to 12 per cent in the

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