The Athens Olympic Games could be viewed as another giant experiment in human athletic achievement. Are women narrowing the gap with men, or falling further behind? Some argue that the gains made by women in running events between the 1930s and the 1980s are decreasing as the women's achievements plateau1. Others contend that there is no evidence that athletes, male or female, are reaching the limits of their potential1, 2.
In a limited test, we plot the winning times of the men's and women's Olympic finals over the past 100 years (ref. 3; for data set, see supplementary information) against the competition date (Fig. 1). A range of curve-fitting procedures were tested (for methods, see supplementary information), but there was no evidence that the addition of extra parameters improved the model fit significantly from the simple linear relationships shown here. The remarkably strong linear trends that were first highlighted over ten years ago2 persist for the Olympic 100-metre sprints. There is no indication that a plateau has been reached by either male or female athletes in the Olympic 100-metre sprint record.