Will no-one think of the male ultrarunners?!
August 22, 2019 7:05 AM   Subscribe

Earlier this month, Ellie Pell won the Green Lakes Endurance Run 50K, finishing in 3:58:37. Pell took both the 1st Place Overall and 1st Place Female trophies, but because the overall winner was wrongly predicted to be a man, there was no 1st Place Male trophy available for Richard Ellsworth, the second place finisher. posted by adrianhon (68 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
 
Do women reduce the gap to men in ultra-marathon running?

This isn't very surprising given that pregnancy is the peak of endurance athleticism
posted by saturday_morning at 7:12 AM on August 22, 2019 [17 favorites]


Shame on those race organizers. Even if the overall winner had been a man, he wouldn't have gotten two trophies. Good for Ellie!
posted by grumpybear69 at 7:23 AM on August 22, 2019 [16 favorites]


I'm in a bit of a rush, but I keep seeing questions like "are women better at ultra-distance endurance events than men?" but very little in the way of data to support this idea generally. This list of records shows a large gap in records for ultra events, for example.

The times on this particular race -- the man was at 4:06 -- are well both off the 50k record (which is 2:43:38 for men, and 3:08:39 for women). Course record is apparently 3:22:16 (by a man in 2017); women's record is 3:46, but Pell's run is good for 2nd best on that list.

Obviously, though, there's a huge gap between elite runners of either gender and regular people, so if an elite woman shows up to a race and no elite men show up, she's going to win because she's insanely faster than most people regardless of gender.
posted by uberchet at 7:40 AM on August 22, 2019 [4 favorites]


There are other sports in which, at least below the very top levels, women and men are competitive for other reasons besides endurance. In a veteran sabre competition I was in some years back, they separated the medals by male and female even though the event itself was fenced mixed. A woman was in the gold medal bout with a guy, and the referee told them the bout didn't matter, because they had both already won their events.

Having separate "consolation" trophies can be problematic for reasons other than gender. In an international master's fencing championships, and they did up some nice trophies for the women's sabre one year: a first place trophy and a highest over-50 trophy. The woman who won the event gave the over-50 one to the third place finisher, who was the highest over-50 finisher after her.
posted by Peach at 8:13 AM on August 22, 2019 [6 favorites]


"Uh, here's your award, Richard. No, it doesn't say "FEMALE", that's Fe Male, as in the symbol for iron. Like, you're an iron man, y'know."
posted by Rock Steady at 8:15 AM on August 22, 2019 [58 favorites]


Go Ellie!

Men being naturally better at a sport is presented as reality. Female superiority is presented as a threat.
posted by q*ben at 8:15 AM on August 22, 2019 [18 favorites]


Background: Across various sports and various distances, the fastest men are consistently just about 10 percent faster than the fastest women. In ultramarathons, the gap has been somewhat greater - generally between 10 and 20 percent - but it's a relatively new sport with many fewer competitors.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 8:24 AM on August 22, 2019 [3 favorites]


Pell's offer to cover the fe and give it to the guy was just perfect, seriously, why was that a problem? That would just be the best. I hope she auctions the fe one off the one for charity, because that seems like the perfect use for it, and would further serve to highlight the ridiculousness still so prevalent.

Me, I would keep it and display the fe one with pride. Front and center. Much like how my academic baubles on my bookshelf all proudly still contain the placeholder texts that where put in my hand with such pomp and circumstance.
posted by zenon at 8:26 AM on August 22, 2019 [3 favorites]


"If a guy is having a bad day in an ultra, and a girl is having a really good day, she can win.”

Patronize much?

ಠ_ಠ
posted by SonInLawOfSam at 8:40 AM on August 22, 2019 [10 favorites]


One of the interesting things with newish sports is watching the gap between men and women narrow as the sport does more to support/encourage women to actually compete. I've been watching American Ninja Warrior the past five years or so, and it's gone from three competitive women at all (in mixed competition with no gender distinctions) to consistently a couple of women winning spots in the finals on their own merits, with the intermediate steps involving advancing the top few women to the next stage whether or not they cleared the official bar. This annoyed me a little bit when it was introduced - it seemed patronizing - but it has *vastly* increased participation and gotten competitive female climbers, pole vaulters, and gymnasts to pick up the sport and start to have a much more proportional showing. The very best woman is top ten in the sport, I'd say, although it's a little unclear since she missed the finals last year because she was too busy being Wonder Woman's stunt double. The top women will probably never beat the top men, on average, because it's an incredibly upper-body-focused sport, but increasing the participation has absolutely narrowed that gap. (I also have a theory that the current domination of US soccer by women is that in the 80s/90s, soccer was the less-gender-biased option for athletic little girls and so athletes who might have (and probably also) played softball or volleyball got the opportunity to play a sport that turned out to have a taller professional ladder.)
posted by restless_nomad at 9:04 AM on August 22, 2019 [16 favorites]


There was a really good comic in The Nib recently about the gender split in sports. One of the things that blew my mind was that some sports competitions were coed until women began to win--one example was olympic skeet shooting.
posted by sleeping bear at 9:11 AM on August 22, 2019 [33 favorites]


uberchet - That gap between elites and sub elites can be giant and events like this. In ultra endurance running, there can be an hour+ of difference between local talent, vs. a sub elite. And another hour+ of difference between the sub elites and the elites.

To add even more variation, just because an elite is running at a race, it doesn't mean that they're racing it. And yes, an elite or sub elite can lose at their B or C level effort to local talent giving a solid A effort and running a great race. Just the same, that B or C level of effort from the elite/sub elite will likely get them on the podium.

And at the smaller events, that's sometimes a bit of a disappointment (I say as a complete non-elite who enjoys watching someone well more competant on the field). There just happens to be 3 nationally elite women ultra runners semi-locally, so they are at a lot of the local events, but generally they're not doing an A level of effort. As there aren't any male elite ultra runners within about 90 minutes of most of my local-ish events, it's not surprising at our local smaller runs that a woman will take the overall (OA) win.

Last year, at a 12 hour run, not only was a woman the OA winner, but she ran ~6km in just socks because her shoes were bothering her in a bad way. She didn't let it throw her off; just took off the shoes and kept running as the bad ass tough runner she was. However for the rest of us on the field, coming across a pair of shoes neatly set aside on the trail was a bit of a conversation piece, before and especially after we got the full story.

While there's some recognition for the OA winner, most events don't have actual awards for the OA; just the top 3 of both women and men. Maybe a master's (age 40+) sub category for each gender if there's more than 60-ish competitors. To give an example of size, I'm talking about between 30-100 people might be in each category, and it's quite unusual to find someone who's traveled more than ~4 hours to get there; the majority likely traveled less than 90 minutes. Meanwhile, a large competitve ultra event will seem to have 250-350 competitors, and having athletes from around the country (and some international) is expected.
posted by nobeagle at 9:24 AM on August 22, 2019 [7 favorites]


Another ultramarathoner named Laura Perry posted this in the comments on the article: "Um, except I won the 100k overall the year before and the same thing happened."
posted by a fiendish thingy at 9:33 AM on August 22, 2019 [55 favorites]


"...relatively new sport with many fewer competitors..."

And gaps in participation can play a huge role in outlier statistics between groups.

In particular, extreme values are not normally distributed, even if they're drawn from a normal distribution to begin with! Thanks to selection pressure, when you watch a race, your watching extreme values, not individual draws. As a result, the quality of the participants depends massively on the size of the population they're initially drawn from. So I want to see roughly equal amateur participation in ultra marathons between genders before accepting raw claims that men are faster based on comparisons of the best times.
posted by kaibutsu at 9:36 AM on August 22, 2019 [6 favorites]


Patronize much?
Why is that patronizing? I mean, this isn't a place where there's a dearth of data. This whole story exists because it IS unusual for women to take the overall win in running, right?
some sports competitions were coed until women began to win--one example was olympic skeet shooting.
I remain legit confused why there are gender divisions in sports where the male advantage isn't pronounced. Like, why is there a women's division for bowling? Or shooting sports? There's nothing physiological that should lead to gender imbalances there, right? It's not weightlifting.
just because an elite is running at a race, it doesn't mean that they're racing it
I'd hope my comment implied not just an elite *present*, but actually making an elite effort. I mean, I've ridden with world tour cyclists, but finishing the club ride in the same group as Lawson Craddock doesn't make me his peer.

You touch on something else, which is how elites or pros behave in local events. Craddock raced in the Houston Grand Crit a few years ago, but on the final lap faded back, because it's a local race and him throwing world-tour power at the final sprint would've ruined everyone else's day, and he didn't need the win in any sense. He was just in town.

I suspect that's common.
And gaps in participation can play a huge role in outlier statistics between groups.
This is definitely true in my local cycling world. There are way fewer women riding in the A-level groups, even though (in our capacity as hobby riders) the "A" speed is by no means close to "only dudes can play" levels. There's a lot of outreach now because of this, and it looks like it's making a difference, which is pretty cool.
posted by uberchet at 9:49 AM on August 22, 2019 [4 favorites]


/nelson laugh
posted by supermedusa at 9:56 AM on August 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


I remain legit confused why there are gender divisions in sports where the male advantage isn't pronounced.
In competitions between people at the top of their sport, people who have maxed out their abilities, even a minor advantage can result in one group dominating the other.
posted by LarsC at 10:01 AM on August 22, 2019


Like, why is there a women's division for bowling? Or shooting sports?

I don't know about bowling but the Nib comment posted above explains that shooting split divisions in the Olympics immediately after a woman (Shan Zhang from China) won gold in a mixed event.
posted by jeather at 10:06 AM on August 22, 2019 [9 favorites]


Related:
A German cancer researcher has become the first woman to win one of the world’s toughest cycling races in her first ultra-distance event.
Fiona Kolbinger, 24, from Dresden, said she was “so surprised to win” the Transcontinental, which traverses 2,485 miles (4,000km) from Burgas in Bulgaria to Brest in France.
She took 10 days, two hours and 48 minutes to complete the challenge, which included about 40,000 metres (131,000ft) of climbing.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 10:09 AM on August 22, 2019 [6 favorites]


For what it's worth, here's something from USA Shooting on why there are gender-specific divisions. They seem to be saying that since it's a male dominated sport (in terms of the number of participants), having a women's division encourages women and balances the number of competitors.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 10:12 AM on August 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


Yes, surely the timing of the split to mixed divisions was coincidental, aimed solely at appealing to more women.
posted by jeather at 10:15 AM on August 22, 2019 [13 favorites]


In dog shows, there's usually a "best in breed" for whichever dog of either sex is determined the best -- and then there's a "best of opposite sex" for the best dog of the opposite sex. You could do that for this sort of race, I suppose...
posted by suelac at 10:15 AM on August 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


a fiendish thingy - Ugh, then that's a strike against the race directors there.

I'm lucky to have run (twice) on the same field as Laura Perry before. The first time was during a hundred miler. There was a drenching thunderstorm that started in the first hour of the race turning at least a quarter of the rolling hills that make up the course to thick mud. This quickly killed my hips and keeping a running posture became harder to maintain which was also killing my spirits. It was a 12.5 mile course, so we were doing 8 laps.

At the first aid station on my 5th lap, she passed me doing her 6th lap. High spirits, smiling and looking fresh (despite being almost 80 miles into the race) as she ran off with the day's 2nd thunderstorm starting to drench us. I'd been at a bad low point, and coming in to this aid station had been the first time I'd considered dropping out, but seeing someone enjoying the run so much helped get me through to continue on. She's an amazingly tough runner who I've only seen running happy. She won the overall at the 2nd race I ran with her.
posted by nobeagle at 10:16 AM on August 22, 2019 [13 favorites]


"If a guy is having a bad day in an ultra, and a girl is having a really good day, she can win.”
Why is that patronizing?

If an athlete is having a bad day in an ultra, and another athlete is having a really good day, the second athlete can win.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 10:18 AM on August 22, 2019 [13 favorites]


suelac - I think for things like running, there doesn't need to be an overall award. And in the small events I've won, I've fine with it just being noted when doing the awards at the end: e.g. "And women's first place finisher, and also the Overall finisher, being X!"

Uberchet - yeah, I assumed that you meant for that level of effort. But also, I was pointing out how even their B or C level effort can nab them a top 3 finish. Such is their level.

At my last ultra (a 24 hour timed event), the 2nd place finisher was one of the national level elites that I mentioned. 2 weeks before the race, she'd done a giant training block of over 500 km, doing 7 days of 80-90km per day. So after this huge chunk of volume that most people simply couldn't accomplish, with a mere 2 weeks after that she was able to give a B/C level of effort in a 24 hour event, and win the women's division and finish a mere 4km behind the first place OA finisher (who was local talent, running the best race of his life). That is the power of elites vs. the rest of us.
posted by nobeagle at 10:33 AM on August 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


the Nib comment posted above explains that shooting split divisions in the Olympics immediately after a woman (Shan Zhang from China) won gold in a mixed event.
Yeah, I meant to be clearer. My question was rhetorical, because it seems to me the answer is transparently sexism.
since it's a male dominated sport (in terms of the number of participants), having a women's division encourages women and balances the number of competitors.
I could be sympathetic to that idea, I guess? But wouldn't a tiered competition structure work just as well, or do there need to be gendered leagues?
If an athlete is having a bad day in an ultra, and another athlete is having a really good day, the second athlete can win.
Which, of course, is an entirely different sentence, and skips the whole point of the original one.

Are you arguing that women are generally as fast as men in competition, and that no pattern exists of men almost always winning the overall ranking?
posted by uberchet at 10:34 AM on August 22, 2019


I should also probably say more clearly that I think a lot of the gender gaps in sports would significantly shrink if the social pressure against women athletes was eliminated. It's encouraged for boys to discover what sports they're good at - it's actively discouraged for women to be good at sports and to explore and train in them.
posted by restless_nomad at 10:37 AM on August 22, 2019 [19 favorites]


Like, I was an above-average high-school athlete not because I was particularly skilled or gifted (I am very much not) but because I was stubbornly gender-nonconforming and bloody-minded about not getting discouraged.
posted by restless_nomad at 10:38 AM on August 22, 2019 [6 favorites]


I can get behind participation bias narrowing the gap, but it doesn't seem likely given current data that the gap we see in world-class running times would change a lot. I mean, I'm prepared to be wrong, but there's a lot of data there.

(And like I said, I know there's a participation gap in cycling in Houston -- there are way more strong men than strong women on my rides. But there's also a pronounced gap in power there, too.)
posted by uberchet at 10:52 AM on August 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


I think a lot of the gender gaps in sports would significantly shrink if the social pressure against women athletes was eliminated.

This is so transparently obvious that I am somewhat flabbergasted at the people coming into the thread to be all "but but but but look at this list of historical times, MEN STILL DOMINATE."

like, you really need that to be true, huh?
posted by schadenfrau at 10:53 AM on August 22, 2019 [17 favorites]


I'm prepared to be wrong, but there's a lot of data there.

...

the entire point is that the data is bad, because women are actively discouraged from athletics, so there is a vast difference in participation pools. the data we have is biased. it is bad data. that is literally the entire point.
posted by schadenfrau at 10:54 AM on August 22, 2019 [21 favorites]


Like, if you think hot femme women who wouldn't dare play sports because it's unfeminine but have the metabolism and drive to keep looking like society tells them they have to look well into their old age wouldn't be above-average athletes at least if they decided they wanted to, you are badly mistaken about the way the human body works.
posted by restless_nomad at 10:57 AM on August 22, 2019 [19 favorites]


restless_nomad: I should also probably say more clearly that I think a lot of the gender gaps in sports would significantly shrink if the social pressure against women athletes was eliminated.

I'm in absolute agreement with this. Worse for my sport (ultra running), is that so few women feel safe running at night, or on the trails. Not living in bear country myself, I'm privileged enough that not only is "safety" not a concern if I want to hit the local trails for an hour or two, but it still doesn't enter into my head if I'm doing a bigger training day of a 6-8 hour trail run starting while I need a headlamp around 6am after having driven an hour to get there.

For me, asking if anyone wants to join me on a trail run, it's just about making it a social event. When I see a woman in my running group asking if anyone wants to join them for a trail run experience shows the trail run won't happen if there aren't some people who join in, and will put in more effort to join if I don't see at least 2 others have already said they will.
posted by nobeagle at 10:59 AM on August 22, 2019 [7 favorites]


And we're yet to even touch on the sports that would exist if men hadn't dictated the inception of the majority of them.
posted by avalonian at 11:17 AM on August 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


wouldn't be above-average athletes at least if they decided they wanted to

true story: about ten years ago, when I was boxing/conditioning pretty intensely, so in extremely good shape, I took a Very Trendy Expensive Fitness class on the recommendation of a friend. It was the middle of the day, and the people in middle of the day fancy fitness classes in very expensive NYC neighborhoods tend to be exactly who you think they'll be. I walked in there in my usual workout clothes, looked disdainfully at all the sexily clad hot femme women, and assumed the class was going to be easy. As it happened, Kelly Ripa happened to be in that class.

I got my ass HANDED to me. like those women fucked me up. and I was regularly doing 9-12 round workouts + conditioning and had found that that fitness transferred to everything else I tried. (Boxing is actually still the only thing to ever do that, and when I was a kid I used to train 13x per week for my sport (swimming).)

Kelly Ripa barely broke a sweat.

If you ever see an army of those women coming at you, you should fucking hide.
posted by schadenfrau at 11:20 AM on August 22, 2019 [31 favorites]


the data we have is biased. it is bad data. that is literally the entire point.
Yeah, ok. Sure. ALL the data is bad. This completely explains why, at no point in the last 50 years, women have taken a world record in a running event.
like, you really need that to be true, huh?
That sort of argument strongly suggests to me that we're done here, Schadenfrau.
posted by uberchet at 11:40 AM on August 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


"If a guy is having a bad day in an ultra, and a girl is having a really good day, she can win.”

This quote isn't the best, but I also think it is worth remembering that in an article about Ellie Pell winning an ultramarathon, this is a quote from Ellie Pell. Women who dominate men in athletics and can tell that men are feeling sore about it often end up reflexively diminishing their own accomplishments for a multitude of reasons-- feeling unsafe, wanting to keep getting invited to events, not wanting to burn professional bridges, maintaining an image for sponsorships, etc.

I think it is more telling that the man who came in 2nd refused the trophy that she offered him, Fe or not, and also was not interviewed for this article. I bet he was asked!

Also, Ellie Pell has been RT-ing twitter posts from people who disagree with the decision to start only rewarding the top six runners-- an interesting way to disagree with the organizers' decisions in a subtle way, rather than calling them out directly in the context of the interview.

Women who excel are often navigating a minefield of pressures that are not always visible to others. That quote reads like pre-emptive defense to me, rather than a sincere expression of belief.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 11:48 AM on August 22, 2019 [14 favorites]


I LOVE HOW EVERY THREAD ABOUT A WOMAN'S SPORTS VICTORY TURNS INTO A THREAD ABOUT WHETHER OR NOT WOMEN ARE PHYSICALLY INFERIOR

LOVE IT

SO FUCKIN MUCH

MAKES ME FEEL REAL GOOD
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 12:09 PM on August 22, 2019 [48 favorites]


Like seriously I almost didn't click on this thread and probably shouldn't have because I knew we can't just like, have this, we have to have another debate about it

When what should be a pretty happy piece of news about womens' progress in sports becomes so demoralizing to read about because every single fuckin time we gotta remind women that men are still better at sports than them, maybe it's time to consider how you're participating
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 12:15 PM on August 22, 2019 [17 favorites]


Uh, the title of the thread is Will no one think of the male ultrarunners?. Seems like this is the conversation the OP was looking for.
posted by Mitheral at 12:21 PM on August 22, 2019 [4 favorites]


Not really, I was being facetious, but I think that backfired.
posted by adrianhon at 12:25 PM on August 22, 2019 [11 favorites]


This list of records shows a large gap in records for ultra events, for example.

Considering the men's top 10 date back to 1979, and the women's date all the way back to (checks notes) 2012, I'm gonna have to say your data does not lead to your conclusion. Are you aware that women have been treated differently these past several millenia?

The fact that women are breaking into the top 10 all time is fucking cool. The fact that women are beating men in these competitions is inspiring.
posted by avalonian at 12:34 PM on August 22, 2019 [13 favorites]


Let’s talk, too, about definitions of “better endurance.” Yes, men usually win ultras, but the ratio of male quitters to male finishers is generally higher. More men than women enter these races overall, but the women who sign up are much less likely to have grossly overestimated their fitness for the course.

This might be, at least in part, because women are generally less likely than men to overestimate their overall athletic prowess, having not had a lifetime of stereotypes reassuring them that they were born all-stars. It’s a bit like IQ; men brag about filling out the top tail of the distribution but they dominate the bottom tail as well. You can’t cherry-pick your outliers.

We saw the same thing at improv comedy auditions. Way more men than women turned out, but more of the men were just wasting everybody’s time, because Dunning-Kruger effect.
posted by armeowda at 12:34 PM on August 22, 2019 [10 favorites]


It's encouraged for boys to discover what sports they're good at - it's actively discouraged for women to be good at sports and to explore and train in them.

Is that still true? That doesn’t seem to the reflect what I see happening with my friends kids. I guess I’ll find out in a few year when my daughter is old enough to do sports.

No question that professional women sports are underfunded (except tennis?)though and that doesn’t incite you to aim for a professional career.
posted by WaterAndPixels at 12:35 PM on August 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


The title is facetious and the linked articles are positive, acknowledging differences in performance but discussing participation and narrowing performance gaps in an neutral-to-optimistic way.

But even if it was the conversation the OP was looking for it doesn't need to be the conversation we need to have. I'm one hundred percent serious: I dread opening these threads because of how some commenters feel like they just have to "well actually" it with arguments about how women are still worse at it than men and will never close the gap and so on.

I do not even fucking care at this point whether it is a sport for which I think this true or not. I would just like to enjoy without being reminded of how important it is we have a realistic view of women's abilities, which is of course that women are worse at it (whatever it is) than men.

BY THE WAY.

This attitude, that women are not as good at sports as men, is one of the reasons many girls do not take sports more seriously. Because no matter how good a female athlete is, it is impossible for her to escape negative comparisons to men. If she beats them, she's an anomaly, she had a good day and he had a bad one; she's never actually top-tier and it's important we know that no woman will ever be. Not only is it personally demoralizing, it limits her professional opportunities, making the investment vs. reward calculation for girls different than for boys.

So not only am I opening these threads to be reminded of how men are still outperforming women, I'm opening it to be reminded of one of the reasons why the gaps are as wide as they are.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 12:49 PM on August 22, 2019 [35 favorites]


Is that still true? That doesn’t seem to the reflect what I see happening with my friends kids. I guess I’ll find out in a few year when my daughter is old enough to do sports.

I've been out of high school less than 15 years. I was a varsity track athlete every single year. Our team won conference my freshman year. I made states senior year in two events. Pretty much zero fanfare or recognition from the school. I won a student athlete award and was completely unaware of that fact because nobody told me. I found out because I noticed it was listed in the graduation bulletin.

We couldn't wear our track jerseys to school on meet days (football team wore their jerseys the day before games) because they broke dress code. One of the (female!) track coaches told us, on a weight training day, that the boys were to try to bulk up; girls should just tone.

It wasn't all bad. My guidance counselor, who was also a track coach, did encourage me; likewise, the distance coach my last couple of years. My boyfriend came to meets. So did my mom. My parents also encouraged me to reach out to cross country coaches for some of the smaller D1 schools I was applying to for college. But, there was still definitely some background radiation of "Eh, you don't matter".
posted by damayanti at 12:52 PM on August 22, 2019 [13 favorites]


Is that still true? That doesn’t seem to the reflect what I see happening with my friends kids.

I mean, it is literally happening in this very thread, so YMMV.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 12:53 PM on August 22, 2019 [17 favorites]


avalonian, that's an intriguing idea that there would be some different sports if women had more to do with inventing sports. Do you have specific ideas?
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 12:53 PM on August 22, 2019 [5 favorites]


because women are generally less likely than men to overestimate their overall athletic prowess
I absolutely saw this rock climbing. Over and over and over, novice couples would come into the gym, and the woman would outpace the man QUICKLY because he had to be all he-man upper-body about it, but she hadn't been taught/poisoned in that way and thought about climbing the way a good climber does: how do I do this with the least amount of effort? What's my body position, and how is that helping? And how can I leverage body tension and especially my legs, and de-emphasize my upper body?

Some men would eventually get the memo, and change their approach. Most didn't.
posted by uberchet at 1:01 PM on August 22, 2019 [5 favorites]


adrianhon: I read the title as clearly being facetious.

armeowda: that's an excellent point. In marathons, while I'm not sure if it carries over to completions, women as an aggregate are much more consistent at their running. Watch the area about 2k from the finish of a marathon, and you'll see lots of men death-marching to the finish (I was one several times) while lots of women who were a bit behind pass them, continuing on at their chosen, sustainable, pace. Yeah, past the 4:30 or 5:00 point everyone's death marching, but if watching runners who are finishing between 3:20 and 3:50 there's a higher percentage of women who are still running vs. men.

It could be men attempting to overachieve (whether it's because they believed against evidence they could do this, or they were taking a legit gamble on target pace that failed (I say legit in that they knew that they were pushing against their limits)). It also could be small moments - someone beside or behind you starts to pull ahead and you have to either keep your own pace, or listen to instinct and try to chase.

Despite us men usually claiming we're the rational ones, I think it's instinctive emotional behavior like that that leads to men being more likely to burn out in a race or having a lower completion rate in ultras. I know that my best race was the one after I realized I was being too emotional and my main goal of that race was to run smart.

WaterAndPixels - I think that in school/home girls are still not encouraged to find the sport they're good at. While perhaps there might be a slow shifting at the tail where more outliers are encouraging their daughters at sports and offering opportunity, the middle seems to be solidly set in their ways. Go to the local highschool, and see how much the school pushes participation and cheering for the men's vs. women's basketball teams. Same with baseball and softball. I'd say consider soccer too, but the average family still hopes their kids don't play soccer past grade 5 (that's a bit tongue in cheek).

Heck, the schools still have cheerleading teams, and usually the only required events are for the boys' teams.

I really like to think that the tide might be slowly righting itself, but it still has a long way to go.

Tying this back to my earlier comments - I was commenting on just how much difference there is between the "local best" vs. the sub elites, vs. the elites. If we know that a large amount of women who might have talent aren't encouraged, we know that we're potentially missing a large number of elites - perhaps enough to reclassify some current elites as "only" sub elite. And perhaps some of the women who are "just" in a fitness class/yoga, or instead is working 3 jobs with no time for recreational sports(!) are the women "Jim Walmsley" or "Killian Jornet"'s.

And hot damn, a sub 4 hour trail 50k is really fucking impressive. That's a big accomplishment for Ellie Pell (and the twitter handle gazzellie is awesome)!
posted by nobeagle at 1:07 PM on August 22, 2019 [3 favorites]


Heck, the schools still have cheerleading teams, and usually the only required events are for the boys' teams.

I raised a huge stink in junior high over the girls' basketball team not ever getting the cheerleading squad, and got them to change the policy (for a year or two at least.) Everyone seemed sort of startled to consider that people might, you know, cheer for girls' sports.
posted by restless_nomad at 1:11 PM on August 22, 2019 [25 favorites]


As a side point, I know women in martial arts who prefer women only competitions to mixed because some guys are just dangerous when sparring with women. This isn't all guys - most fight the same, a small number underperform - but if you don't know them, you just don't know who are fine and who aren't. Some go straight in dangerous, others only become dangerous when they see the woman is outperforming them. Sometimes this is obvious from the outside, such as very blatant illegal moves - but that needs an alert referee, and sometimes it's not obvious. It's not minor - one instance I am aware of, no injuries to the guys this dude sparred with (including those he easily won against), the one woman he sparred with ended up with a significant concussion.

It's nothing to do with differing abilities and everything to do with some people being assholes.
posted by Vortisaur at 1:27 PM on August 22, 2019 [11 favorites]


Vortisaur: Related previously Why co-ed sports leages are never really co-ed.
posted by nobeagle at 2:18 PM on August 22, 2019 [3 favorites]


Here to say that I really enjoyed the bit of the Colorado Classic bike race I watched during lunch today (and there are three more days to go, so if you're interested, tune in tomorrow!)

A big pro women's bicycle race with no men's race attached is awesome to see, and I'm really looking forward to watching some of the race in person this weekend. Colorado Sun background articles here. I am definitely going to remember which companies I see ads for in the coverage. Supporting women's sports as more than an afterthought is meaningful.
posted by asperity at 2:27 PM on August 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


Like, why is there a women's division for bowling? Or shooting sports?

The justification that I've been given, and it's not completely devoid of merit, is that having a womens division or womens-specific award category promotes and rewards participation by women, making the sport a bit less daunting to enter.

However, what seems to happen is that justification is used at the beginning to create a separate class for women, and then the distinction is never removed, or is even strengthened as women become more competitive.

I've come around to the belief that there are better ways to encourage participant diversity than creating gendered awards, and that they create more problems than they really solve. (In particular, I think womens-only training opportunities, particularly in traditionally male-dominated sports like shooting, can be very positive and I know quite a few people who wouldn't be involved otherwise.) So if you are involved in an amateur athletic program or organize races / competitions / whatevers, I'd do some digging and see if those awards are really valued by participants, and consider doing away with them if not. You can always do age-group or years-of-practice (i.e. less-than-5-years at a certain level of competition, etc.) awards if you just want to have a bigger slate of winners and encourage new participants.

And TBH, if a sport doesn't have a physiological reason why women would be less competitive, and women are consistently just winning the "womens" awards and not overall titles, something is wrong with the sport's athlete/participant development process. Having womens awards may just hide the seriousness of it.

And that's without even getting into the obvious unwelcome mat you're rolling out to gender-nonbinary/nonconforming people, by force-fitting everyone into a binary choice of category.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:32 PM on August 22, 2019 [11 favorites]


Like, I was an above-average high-school athlete not because I was particularly skilled or gifted (I am very much not) but because I was stubbornly gender-nonconforming and bloody-minded about not getting discouraged.

same but it's bc i liked to hit stuff with big sticks
posted by poffin boffin at 2:39 PM on August 22, 2019 [4 favorites]


Heh, I preferred to just taunt people into trying to hit me directly. Or wrap my legs around their head and try to drown them. (While they were doing the same to me, of course!) This fondness for legs-wrapped-around-heads was not in any way foreshadowing for my subsequent social life, of course.

(Goalie in soccer and water polo, very very bad basketball player but man, could I ever set a pick. I also swam and played volleyball, both rather poorly. I am a meat shield and content in it.)
posted by restless_nomad at 2:44 PM on August 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


However, what seems to happen is that justification is used at the beginning to create a separate class for women, and then the distinction is never removed, or is even strengthened as women become more competitive.
Definitely this. Plus, inevitable backlash when women move into the general standings, like when Annika Sörenstam teed up with the PGA.

(About which: I've had lots of people tell me lots of conflicting things about why women aren't as good at golf, and most of it sounds like bullshit to me. Is it REALLY upper body strength? I mean, didn't Sörenstam drive distance rank in the middle of the PGA or something? And isn't the game more about control than raw power? I just looked, and Wikipedia tells me her relatively poor showing at the PGA tour was down more to bad putting than anything else, which seems to suggest she was more than capable of "keeping up" in the distance game.)
And TBH, if a sport doesn't have a physiological reason why women would be less competitive, and women are consistently just winning the "womens" awards and not overall titles, something is wrong with the sport's athlete/participant development process.
I absolutely agree with this.
posted by uberchet at 3:36 PM on August 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


The thing about "men are better than women at sports" is that it's not even true. It's completely ridiculous to compare world records and say they mean anything about an overall comparison between genders - even if the data weren't biased. If we get to make ridiculous and meaningless comparisons, then I say that 99.999% of men will get their ass handed to them when competing against an elite woman runner, therefore women are better at sports than men. Or 99.9% of men can't handle the important athletic event of childbirth, therefore women are better at sports than men. Or 90% of men can't handle the important athletic event of housework, therefore women are better at sports than men. Selecting a handful of men that can do one particular thing better than a handful of women tells you absolutely fucking nothing about the relative sports performance of entire genders.
posted by medusa at 4:01 PM on August 22, 2019 [6 favorites]


I like women’s only events. Not because it’s easier (it’s not) but because it’s different. In my sport, guys gravitate toward flashy actions and speed. The woman tend toward timing and distance setups. And as others have a commented, when some guys are getting beaten by a woman they start hitting harder and going faster. They still lose, but I get bruised.
posted by Peach at 4:44 PM on August 22, 2019 [3 favorites]


Heck, the schools still have cheerleading teams, and usually the only required events are for the boys' teams. - posted by nobeagle at 4:07 PM

I raised a huge stink in junior high over the girls' basketball team not ever getting the cheerleading squad, and got them to change the policy (for a year or two at least.) Everyone seemed sort of startled to consider that people might, you know, cheer for girls' sports. - posted by restless_nomad at 4:11 PM

Damn it, I played girls' basketball in junior high, and I don't think this consideration ever occurred to me. Too often, it's coming from inside the house.

My own school did not have enough interested students to fill a girls' team, but we shared facilities with another school that did. Their boys' team was the Knights, which is how Sharon Osbourne (not that one) & I wound up playing for the Lady Knights. (I did not play basketball in high school.)
posted by Iris Gambol at 5:57 PM on August 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


Anyone who thinks men are inherently more athletic than women has clearly never seen an elite female gymnast perform.
(Btw I hate this derail and hate that I feel compelled to chime in)
posted by emd3737 at 9:14 PM on August 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


I think the "can women compete with them men at elite levels in all/some/none sports?" misses the point entirely. The misogynistic social pressures which prevent women from pursuing sports should be removed not because they would or would not then be able to break world records but because misogynistic social pressures are bad and playing sports is mostly healthy and fun. (For, you know, other people... not me... I mostly just sit around and eat stuff.)

Let's do it because it's the right thing to do.

(though there's some interesting stuff I've seen about how women playing sports designed by and for men can lead to increased injury rates for things like achilles tendons so we should look in to how to prevent that but that's a different subject entirely).
posted by Justinian at 9:17 PM on August 22, 2019 [4 favorites]


emd3737: Anybody arguing that women are "less athletic" is stupid but note that men and women's gymnastic have radically different events, supposedly designed to emphasize those parts of athleticism at which men and women are best. There's a bunch of crossover, sure, but the rings are almost entirely reliant on upper body strength while, say, the balance beam... I'm sure everyone is familiar with the different apparatuses.
posted by Justinian at 9:20 PM on August 22, 2019


I'm not saying that female gymnasts are better than male gymnasts (as you note, the sports are very different). The point that I'm trying to make is that in terms of pure athleticism (in terms of strength, speed, and agility per size) I think elite female gymnasts are arguably #1. Sure, most men are faster than most women. But change the metric and there are certainly aspects where female athleticism is better than men. Also, I 100% agree with restless_nomad and others pointing out the disparities in athletic opportunity by sex. Which are much smaller in the US than in the rest of the world (thank you title IX!) But still exist
posted by emd3737 at 9:50 PM on August 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


There's a bunch of crossover, sure, but the rings are almost entirely reliant on upper body strength while, say, the balance beam...

That is a really strange statement to me if only because of the sheer number of accomplished male tightrope walkers and female trapeze/ribbon artists. Also, apparently, women used to compete on rings.
posted by skye.dancer at 9:52 PM on August 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


Gymnastics has it's own weird sexist issues with dance moves and music and bedazzled costuming.
posted by fluttering hellfire at 10:56 PM on August 22, 2019


I'm not saying that female gymnasts are better than male gymnasts

oh i definitely am
posted by poffin boffin at 9:41 AM on August 23, 2019 [11 favorites]


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