The First American Women’s Boston Marathon Winner in 33 Years — What Does It Mean for the Future of Endurance Sports?
Following up on this article about gender diversity in athletics, we’ve just witnessed history being made as Desiree Linden, 34, became the first American woman to win the Boston Marathon in 33 years. The conditions were monumentally against her — chilling temperatures, freezing rain, countering wind, and 33 years of male dominance in her endurance discipline. None of this stopped her as she crossed the finish line with an impressive 2 hours, 39 minute, and 54 second finish. Since 2009, she is the first women’s winner to finish with a time over 2:30:00 and Since 1957, no male winner has received a time over 2:25:54. The records are disparaging: the women’s course record is 2:19:59 and the men’s is 2:03:02 — a huge difference in finishing times overall between the genders.
But does is the difference in gender specific course records indicative of a difference in gender? It’s important to view the topic with a wider inference of statistics. As far as the Boston Marathon goes, women have been only competing for 46 years, with their first sanctioned race taking place in 1972, six years after Bobbi Gibb ran the marathon (and subsequently became the women’s winner) in 1966. Prior to that, men had been competing against each other in the marathon for 69 years, with the first race being 15 men, who set the original course records and spent the next 121 years championing themselves. What we are seeing is a closing of the gap: as women’s records continue to improve with women from all over the world increasingly performing in the highest percentile of men, the records are becoming dangerously close to showing striking similarities.
Seven Female Americans dominated the top 10 this year. It’s hard to overlook the commonality between them. Since 1920, when women earned their right to vote, women have been demanding personal individuality beyond what was typically viewed as the norm. In recent times, we’re noticing huge movements in women’s rights, with discussions like #MeToo, Hollywood’s Fight for Equal Pay, a huge increase in women in political power, and genuinely building on activities started by The Black Feminist Movement, Women’s Liberation Movement and The Sex Wars of the 1970’s. The women’s movements of history contrasted to women in athletics shows similarities more noticeable than ever before. With American/Women of The West holding men accountable for their actions over time, that number of liberated women topping athletics charts has simultaneously increased.
Desiree Linden is a two time marathon Olympian. Her hard work and outstanding results are the direct product of training, ambition, hard work, and goal-setting. She placed second in the 2011 Boston Marathon, making a fool of her previous personal records for the course by four minutes. The result of her training paid off in the unfavorable conditions of this year’s marathon, which gave her a time ten minutes slower than her previous personal best. Desi is quoted after this marathon saying, “It’s on the up and up. We’ve had great role models. There’s a big future ahead. I think today there was a lot of camaraderie on the course. It was who was going to breakthrough. It could have been anyone’s day, I was just very, very lucky to get it done.”
Role models, new course records, and an infinite amount of possibilities lead to the question: What does it mean for women in endurance sports? For some, it means that the gap in performance of gender divisions is diminishing. Recently, The Boston Athletic Association made waves in the news for their inclusion of transgender women in the Boston Marathon, though overall it was never a new thing to begin with. BAA admitted that they do not require an athlete’s gender history to participate with a gender, and transgender people have been competing for years. The most famous example of BAA’s difficulty with gender inclusion started with Bobbi Gibb, who ran unsanctioned, registering to race under a male moniker. To surmise, her participation in the Boston Marathon was a byproduct of the women’s movements that empowered females to break through those gender divisions.
So what makes a woman? A question of such astronomical proportions seems to be answered by dubious rules instated by organizations that govern sports. A transgender woman who wants to compete in the Olympics must meet the following criteria: testosterone levels must stay below a certain limit for at least 12 months prior to competition, the competitor must be publicly and outward self-identified as female for at least four years, and the documents submitted to register for a competition must match the government-issued identification. The most important thing to understand about female-identifying transgender competitors is that their hormone levels, medically altered by hormone replacement therapy (HRT), are the result of self identity and decrease all of the advantages they’re said to have as men. Effectively in a discussion about whether a transgender woman (male at birth), the subject is their male advantage. That “male advantage” is erased with HRT, which gives the illusion of a level playing field — even though the playing field was never disparaged anyways.
Women have always been just as good and often times better than men — they simply haven’t had the role models, the records, or the opportunities to prove it. Now, we’re learning that women can, and will outrank men. With the apparent evidence of women who live their lives without accepting the common rhetoric that men are faster, stronger, and better than them, we’re in the midst of witnessing a revolution, where the gap in records between the genders is diminishing, and the separation of genders is becoming a moot point. This is especially evident in sports that don’t directly rely on physical prowess, but skill, to be the best. Sports like downhill skateboarding, surfing, snowboarding, golf, shooting, sailing and so on. As time continues to alter the face of the planet, it is altering the history books: women are coming out on top.
Transgender women are faced with the uphill battle of social outcasting — upon a win they are given the speeches on their “male bodies” being the catalyst that resulted in their dominance. We know this to be untrue. In early 2018 Calleigh Little won the 24 Hour Ultraskate, an event that has participants skateboarding around a NASCAR speedway for 24 hours consecutively, with the winners in each division racking up the highest mileage. Calleigh is a transgender woman, and regardless of hormones or self identity, performed as well as the other women on the course, and didn’t come near the current women’s record of 262 miles held by Saskia Tromp. The discussion on transgender advantage is eliminated when all of the competitors give their best efforts in competition. Also important to note: no transgender woman has set a record in an endurance event in either the male or female divisions.
The demise of gender divisions is starting here in America and sweeping records across the world. With Desiree and the six other Americans leading the women of the Boston Marathon, we’re seeing women’s rights being a direct catalyst in athletic performance. As the records continue to be made, it is without a doubt obvious that in the near future we will see women beating men’s records.