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Monday, June 18, 2007

Gender Differences, World Records

In the wake of Meseret Defar's new 5k world record, the Finish Line Pundit took a look at gender differences in world records. As with most things, the issue is far more complex than it appears.

First off, we have to define what a world record is. You might think I'm loony for even bringing this up, but keep with me and you'll understand. At the forming of the IAAF in 1912, its most important job was ratifying world records and sorting out what marks were legit and what weren't.

Early on, there are instances where their standards may have been too restrictive. These days, the accusations are that they aren't restrictive enough. For example, the IAAF now keeps records for road racing, but its standards for approval have been heavily criticized for their laxity. Many believe that FloJo's famous 100-meter world record never should have been ratified due to strong doubts about wind conditions. There are many more examples, but the basic point is the IAAF has strong financial incentives to keep the world records coming. So if some official IAAF records should be rejected, which ones and why?

The IAAF itself rewrites the record book when it's obvious that it should be done. For example, the men's javelin record used to be 104.80 meters by Uwe Hohn. This was taken off the books when the javelin specifications were rewritten in the late 80s, because the new javelin couldn't be thrown as far. There were new records because the rules of competition had changed. This has actually occurred in all events, with the results more obvious in some than others.

In the early 90s, the IAAF began year-round random out-of-competition drug testing. At the same time, the east European Communist regimes fell and their state-sponsored doping programs went with them. The combined effect was that if became much more difficult to use anabolic steroids and get away with it. In essence, today's athletes are competing under different rules andthe results show it. In the men's throws and just about all women's events, the ones where steroids have the greatest effect, have had next to no world records set since 1992. The new records are all in events that were still fairly new in the 80s (women's 5k, marathon, 400H, PV, TJ, and the walks) or whose rules were re-written (men's & women's javelin).

Actually, there are a few glaring exceptions: three women's distance records that were all set in an out-of-the-way Chinese domestic competition and with no international observers present. This, combined with the exceptionality of the marks, makes them highly suspicious and are generally treated as such.

There are some other marks the IAAF probably should not have ratified but did. The tracks used for the 1991 World Championships and 1996 Olympic Games were exceptionally hard and (at least according to some) did not meet IAAF specs for "track compliance". The sprint/hurdle marks made on them were very fast.

If we throw all these out (along with marks made by those who have taken a "doping vacation"), here are the new world records that result:

200 meters: 19.63, Xavier Carter, 2007
Shot Put: 22.54, Christian Cantwell, 2004
Discus Throw: 73.88, Virgilius Alekna, 2000
Hammer Throw: 86.73, Ivan Tsikhan, 2003

100 meters: 10.70, Marion Jones, 1999 (but I feel better about 10.73, Christine Arron, 1998)
200 meters: 21.72, Gwen Torrance, 1992
400 meters: 48.70, Sanya Richards, 2006
800 meters: 1:54.82, Ana Quirot, 1997
1500 meters: 3:55.30, Hassiba Boulmerka, 1992
3000 meters: 8:21.42, Gabriella Szabo, 2002
10,000 meters: 30:01.09, Paula Radcliffe, 2002
100m Hurdles: 12.33, Gail Devers, 2000
High Jump: 2.08, Kajsa Bergqvist, 2006
Long Jump: 7.49, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, 1994
Shot Put: 21.22, Astrid Kumbernuss, 1995
Discus Throw: 71.68, Yanling Xiao, 1992
Heptathlon: 7044, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, 1992

It would make sense to compare the above marks with that of the opposite gender, because they were set under similar conditions. Anything else is ignoring the painful but obvious truth.

1 comment:

Jimmie R. Markham said...


I took your suggestions and recalculated the variances. You can read my conclusions here.

Good stuff – keep it up!