In 1992 a paper was published in the journal Nature that claiemd that, by 1998, women would surpass men at track times. In 1998 Randall Woods put up this reaction, extrapolating the same data to its logical extreme. He arrived at the following predictions (among others):
- Women marathon runners outrun men 100m sprinters.
- Women marathon runners outrun women 200m sprinters
- Women marathon runners outrun the fastest land animal
- Women marathon runners reach the speed of sound
- Women marathon runners achieve low earth orbit
And yet, in 1998, women did not catch up with men. Woods suggests that perhaps linear extrapolations are not the best way of measuring athletic success, and instead offers a different explanation for the time gap:
Women’s track did not reach a mature state until the late 1970s, by which time the number of women training and competing at the top level became large enough that the likelihood of one capable athlete rising above the others simply by training harder became less likely. Improvements in performance from now on will be measured in the same small steps characteristic of men’s events.
Yeah, that seems to make a bit more sense. But the question still remains…how much more can Olympians improve, in general? When the difference between first and third is less than a second, or a tenth of a point, one has to wonder if we are reaching a plateau. While improvement has not stopped, it has certainly slowed down considerably. How much further can human beings go in their current state? And will the minute increases in performace be worth the social cost?