Chrissie Wellington > La comparaison homme-femme de « the sport scientists ».

Merci à Moulineur pour le lien.

Sports scientists est une lecture obligatoire pour tout sportif un minimum geek (de sport).

Pour lire l’intégralité de l’article c’est ici. Pour ceux qui sont  pressés, vous pouvez lire la conclusion ici. Cela correspond à ce que nous disons très souvent sur Trimes. Le plateau féminin en Ironman n’est pas si competitif et le sport est simplement en évolution. Il serait intéressant de regarder la différence des temps entre homme et femme en ITU, juste par curiosité. Aussi, Ross fait une erreur dans sa comparaison, puisque en natation, l’écart entre les femmes et les hommes et moins grand. Il faut aussi faire très attention dans les comparaisons exemple comme Arizona, puisqu’on a eu une course avec des gars qui étaient en post Kona. Timo avait répondu que vu les conditions, cette course aurait été sub 8 en Europe. Aussi, on peut être critique dans son analyse à cause de la nature du sport. L’écart traditionnel du 9% n’est pas vrai en natation et la course est nettement plus tactique chez les hommes.


Wellington – bringing women’s triathlon to where it should be

So let’s use the men’s course record as the benchmark. There are problems with this comparison, too, of course.  For one thing, variable weather from one year to the next can blow out the differences when you compare isolated performances with a ‘best ever’ performance, but I think the trend will be revealing when combined with what we discussed above. You could do this same exercise with the average of the men’s times, incidentally, and subtract about 3% off the difference.

So, in 1996, Luc van Lierde of Belgium won the race in 8:04:08, which still stands as the record today.  Comparing all the women’s winning times since 1995 to that performance, Wellington’s impact on the sport stands out a little more, as you can see in the graph below.

Now, you can see how women’s triathlon may actually be entering a « golden era », where the gap between the fastest ever seems to be coming down.  From 1995 to 2008, women winners were consistently 12% or more slower than the male record.  In fact, in the 1990s, women were on average 16% slower than the men’s record.  However, Wellington got closer and closer until in 2009, taking the women’s record to 10.3% slower than the men’s record with her 8:54 performance.

Note that this is still relatively « normal » – 10.3% is in fact the AVERAGE difference between men’s and women’s track records (and I don’t want to keep harping on about doping and those women’s records, but I have to point it out one last time).

The point is that Wellington’s amazing performances are not so much bringing women to the point of being able to beat the men, but rather that Wellington has begun to bring women’s performances in Ironman events to where they should be, relative to the men! I know that the magnitude of these improvements are small – 1% here and there.  But bear in mind that if the world marathon record was improved by 1% tomorrow, it would be 1 minute 15 seconds faster.  And we don’t expect to see that anytime soon!  So Wellington really has pushed the event forward.

The same comparison for her other Ironman performances is even more impressive.  In the Arizona event earlier this year, she was only 5.9% outside the men’s winning time (by Timo Bracht).  However, here again, you have what may be a misleading comparison – as good an athlete as Bracht is, he’s not the dominant athlete of his category, like Wellington.  However, it’s a special performance nevertheless, and if it continues, then Wellington will be able to stake a claim for being the best ultra-endurance athlete in the world.

Compared to the men’s overall Ironman event record of 7:50:27 (also by van Lierde in 1996), Wellington’s fastest Ironman performance of 8:36:13 this year is 9.7% slower, so that too is in the right range, compared to what we know of men vs women performances.

Certainly, given what we’ve seen from Wellington – the gradual progression – there’s plenty of reason to believe that given the right day, she has a few more minutes left in her and that means the men-women gap may be due for further closing

Conclusion – dominant female athlete, closing the gap but not unexpectedly close to the men

The conclusion I’d draw then is that Wellington has taken women’s Ironman distance triathlon and bounced it forward by virtue of her amazing performances. However, she’s not yet closed the gap beyond what would have been expected given a normal male vs female comparison.  The fact that women were regularly 14% or more behind men in the 1990s, even with Newby Fraser’s exploits suggests to me that women’s triathlon is only now beginning to grow in competitive depth and quality.

Wellington is at the forefront of that quality.  Her year in 2010 has established a new standard for women’s triathlon and I fully expect to see many more sub-9 hour performances in the coming years.  We will even begin to see competitive races at 8:50 pace or faster, within the enormous time-gaps of years gone by, and that’s a sure sign of improving competitive quality.

Wellington has therefore slotted in where she should – she’s exceptional, but thoughts of her breaking down the male-female performance divide as a little premature.  And she may yet improve more, and then we’ll revisit this topic again!

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