‘Can Jamaica’s Sprinters Fight Crime?” That’s the tongue-in-cheek headline of a recent Time magazine article celebrating the remarkable Olympics performances of track stars from that Caribbean nation. In the space of a few days, Usain Bolt smashed world records in the men’s 100 and 200 meters, while three Jamaican sprinters swept the medals in the women’s 100 meters.
Time’s question is amusing, but for me, the incredible accomplishments of the Jamaican track team call to mind another question that isn’t so funny to a lot of people — as I learned the hard way.
You see, I wrote a book in which I worked with professional athletes and Olympic medalists to settle a series of long-running sports debates. The questions I heard most often had to do with gender: How big is the gap between the top male and female athletes?
One of my initial findings was jarring: the women’s Olympic record in the 100 meters, set in 1988 by superstar Florence Griffith-Joyner, is virtually identical to the U.S. record for 14-year-old boys
— also set in 1988, by the less heralded Curtis Johnson. The winning time of 2008 women’s gold medalist Shelly-Ann Fraser? Well over a tenth of a second slower than Johnson’s.
Nor is the 100 meters an aberration. In sport after sport, evidence shows that the top female professional athletes in the world are on par with the best American 14- and 15-year-old boys. Nearly every female Olympic record in speed, strength, and endurance events falls between the records set by the best American 14- and 15-year-old boys:
| Speed/Endurance Record Times:|
|Distance||Men’s||Boys’ 14||Women’s||Boys’ 15|
| Leaping Records (in meters):|
|Event||Men’s||Boys’ 14||Women’s||Boys’ 15|
|Long Jump||8.90||7.21||7.40 ||7.49|
Direct competition between women and boys tends to confirm the gap: the women’s Olympic hockey team has lost to boys’ high school junior-varsity teams; the women’s Olympic soccer team has lost to club teams of 15-year-old boys, the Colorado Silver Bullets professional baseball team has lost to American Legion
squads — the list goes on and on.