Gina Kolata writes in the NYT:
BEIJING — No matter what happens in the men’s marathon here Sunday, one thing is all but certain. The winner will run the 26.2-mile course faster than the winner of the women’s marathon last Sunday.
The woman who won, Constantina Tomescu of Romania, was fast, of course, finishing the race in 2 hours 26 minutes 44 seconds — more than a minute ahead of the second-place finisher. But for a variety of intrinsic biological reasons, the best women can never run as fast as the best men, exercise researchers say.
Women are slower than men in running, in swimming, in cycling. Whether it is a 100-meter race on the track or a marathon, a 200-meter butterfly swim or a 10-kilometer marathon swim, the pattern holds.
And even though some scientists once predicted that women would eventually close the gender gap in elite performances — it was proposed that all they needed was more experience, better training and stronger coaching — that idea is now largely discredited, at least for Olympic events. Researchers say there is no one physiological reason for the gap, although there is a common biological thread.
“To a large extent, it’s a matter of testosterone,” said Dr. Benjamin Levine, director of the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine at Presbyterian Hospital and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. “That’s why systematic doping of women is even more effective than systematic doping of men. That’s why the East German women were so much more successful than the East German men.”
This line of analysis was put forward by sports physiologist Stephen Seiler and myself in the 12/31/97 issue of National Review in our article Track & Battlefield:
Everybody knows that the "gender gap" in physical performance between male and female athletes is rapidly narrowing. Moreover, in an opinion poll just before the 1996 Olympics, 66% claimed "the day is coming when top female athletes will beat top males at the highest competitive levels." The most publicized scientific study supporting this belief appeared in Nature in 1992: "Will Women Soon Outrun Men?" Physiologists Susan Ward and Brian Whipp pointed out that since the Twenties women's world records in running had been falling faster than men's. Assuming these trends continued, men's and women's marathon records would equalize by 1998, and during the early 21st Century for the shorter races.
This is not sports trivia. Whether the gender gap in athletic performance stems from biological differences between men and women, or is simply a social construct imposed by the Male Power Structure, is highly relevant both to fundamental debates about the malleability of human nature, as well as to current political controversies such as the role of women in the military.
... Despite all the hype about 1996 being the "Women's Olympics," in the Atlanta Games' central events -- the footraces -- female medalists performed worse relative to male medalists than in any Olympics since 1972. In the 1988 Games the gender gap for medalists was 10.9%, but it grew to 12.2% in 1996. Even stranger is the trend in absolute times. Track fans expect slow but steady progress; thus, nobody is surprised that male medalists became 0.5% faster from the 1988 to the 1996 Olympics. Remarkably, though, women medalists became 0.6% slower over the same period. ...
From 1970-1989, white women from communist countries accounted for 71 of the 84 records set at 100m-1500m. In contrast, white men from communist countries accounted for exactly zero of the 23 male records. Those memorable East German frauleins alone set records 49 times in just the sprints and relays (100m-400m). This was especially bizarre because men of West African descent have utterly dominated white men in sprinting. Another oddity of that era is that communist women set only seven (and East Germans none) of the 48 female records in the 5k, 10k, and the marathon.
The crash of women's running was brought about by two seemingly irrelevant events in the late Eighties: Ben Johnson got caught, and the Berlin Wall fell. ...
The communists were almost completely stumped at producing male champions because the benefits of a given amount of steroids are much greater for women than men. Since men average 10 times more natural testosterone than women, they need dangerously large, Ben Johnson-sized doses to make huge improvements, while women can bulk-up significantly on smaller, less-easily detected amounts.
The primitive testing at the 1988 Olympics did succeed in catching Benoid; yet the female star of those Games, America's Florence Griffith-Joyner, passed every urinalysis she ever faced. The naturally lissome Flo-Jo may have been the world's fastest clean 200 meter woman from 1984-1987, but she kept finishing second in big races to suspiciously brawny women. She then asked Ben Johnson for training advice, and emerged from a winter in the weight room looking like a Saturday morning cartoon superheroine. She made a magnificent joke out of women's track in 1988, setting records in the 100m and 200m that few had expected to see before the middle of the 21st Century. Then, she retired before random drug testing began in 1989, having passed every drug test she ever took.
Kolata has to remind NY Times readers that there is this thing called an "average" and you can't disprove that averages differ by citing exceptions:
"It is not that every man is inherently better than every woman"
Do you think we'll ever reach the level of intellectual sophistication where New York Times' subscribers understand words like "average" and "tendency" without being reminded?