Sex and performance anxiety -

Sex and performance anxiety

ANDREW COYNE: Why are our women Olympians doing so much better than the men?


As absolutely everyone has noted, 80% of the medals for Canada thus far in the games have been won by women – a pattern seen in previous games as well. How to explain this? Canadian Olympic Committee chief Chris Rudge, no fool he, gives the safe, media-friendly answer:

Chris Rudge, chief executive officer of the Canadian Olympic Committee, said there was no simple answer to the question of why women do better at the Games – although he suggested that women could have an inherent advantage in dealing with high-pressure elite athletics.

He said the organization plans to study the issue of the gender split in medals after the Vancouver Olympics.

“The best explanation is that women did better,” he said. “We haven’t sort of done the post-game analysis yet. So when we do, maybe we’ll have an explanation as to were the women better prepared? Were they genetically better-wired to handle pressure? I don’t have those answers, but we’ll do that after the Games.”

I am trying to imagine the fate of the official who speculated that men were “genetically better-wired to handle pressure,” or anything else for that matter. More to the point, it’s a completely idiotic explanation. The Canadian women who “handled pressure” better weren’t competing with men: they beat other women from other countries, who presumably weren’t so well-wired, pressure-handlingwise.

For a contrasting view, we go to Clara Hughes, multiple medal-winner in both Summer and Winter Games, perhaps Canada’s greatest Olympian ever. Also a woman, and therefore not so inclined to dive into the nearest politically-correct foxhole when the subject of gender comes up:

Clara Hughes, Canada’s best-known female athlete, said Thursday that the success of Canadian women should be celebrated, but that direct comparisons between men and women’s events are problematic.

“Sport at this level is unfathomably hard, but it’s different,” said Ms. Hughes, who won her sixth Olympic medal, a bronze, on Wednesday.

She said the field of play is typically more crowded for men, making it tougher for them to get enough resources to compete properly. “It takes a lot more resources to be able to develop men to the level as women in many sports.”

Ms. Hughes, who has won medals in the Winter and Summer Olympics, said men’s fields are often deeper in sports like cycling, speed skating and cross-country skiing.

“When you get a top 10 result as a male, it’s unbelievable. It’s out of this world,” she said. “I’m not saying it’s easier to win as a female. But in terms of depth, it’s different.”

… Hughes said religion, culture and custom in many countries limit opportunities for women in sports.

“There are countries in this world that do not allow their females to even participate in sports let alone be supported,” she said. “I’ve never been in a country and felt the support that I’ve felt in Canada. It’s just unconditional and I’ve always felt that Canadians celebrate success whether it’s a guy or a girl.”

We should note that although female athletes made up 43% of the Olympic team, they received fully half the funding. In other words, although it costs less, according to Hughes, to produce a world-class female athlete than a male, we give them more funding per capita.

Which poses a conundrum. If winning medals is the sole objective, then perhaps we should give even more of the funding to women: that would be the most efficient allocation, after all, in terms of dollars per medal. But if gender parity is the goal, that would argue in favour of giving a greater share of the funding to the men, since it costs more to produce a male athlete of comparable competitiveness: men have, as it were, special needs.

Cat, meet pigeons.

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Sex and performance anxiety

  1. It's probably safer – though less exciting – to use the word "gender" rather than "sex".

    • Apart from the incompetence of the comment site …

      Kinda nice to see that the participants are seeing a wish to respond based on the gender of origin, and aren't swayed by the incompetence of Macleans idiots, who seem to feel that comments should be balanced based on which province one is from, or some such moronic form of balance.

    • Am I the only one failing to see the subtle distinction?

    • Gender is a social construct. Sex is the accurate term in this case.

  2. I suspect that was intentional.

  3. Is it not possible that women actually need more Olympic funding because of a (relative of course) lack of non-Olympic athletic opportunities? I mean, after all, presumably we give virtually no money at all to the Men's hockey team, because, why would we? There's an entire junior system, the AHL, and the NHL all set up to get the best out of male athletes in their sport that has nothing to do with the Olympics. That's the extreme example of course, but I do think it's likely not difficult to argue that even in egalitarian Canada there's a huge infrastructure devoted to promoting male athleticism (separate and apart from Olympic funding and other government funding) that simply doesn't exist for women and CERTAINLY doesn't exist to the same extent. Haley Wickenheiser likely need more funding in a "government funding for international competition" sense to become an elite hockey player because she couldn't join the London Knights or the Brandon Wheat Kings in high school, or get promoted to the AHL and work her way on to an NHL team. Again, I realize it's the extreme example, but if you track Haley Wickenheiser's assent to Captain of team Canada to Scott Niedermayer's, I think it's pretty obvious why she'd have needed more government funding. Maybe figure skating actually tilts a bit the other way, for another example, but I'd be SHOCKED if the general institutional/societal support for male athletes isn't SUBSTANTIALLY more robust for men than it is for women, even in Canada.

    Some research would be very interesting to see, but I'd imagine women still need more funding because they still have nowhere near the level of institutional and societal support for their athletic endeavors that male athletes can often take for granted.

  4. "In other words, although it costs less, according to Hughes, to produce a world-class female athlete than a male, we give them more funding per capita."

    I would also be interesting to know how much money other countries provide to sports. Men compete in sports around the world – seems to be accepted everywhere – but women might be more controversial. So men compete against other men from around the world while women compete only against other countries that put significant funding into female sports participation.

    I will be glad when Olympics are over and my missus stops telling me that men are going to need an affirmative action program soon because males are getting kicked from pillar to post by females.

    "fate of the official who speculated that men were “genetically better-wired to handle pressure,” or anything else for that matter"

    It is ok to talk about genetics as long as you are saying positive things about women or minorities. It is only unacceptable to talk about genetics if it's something that white males do well.

  5. Find the countries that produce more male medals than female. There lies your answer.

    • Well that certainly put the pigeon among the cats.

    • They must be government cats. Why work for you food if it will be handed right to you?
      (nothing against government birds though)

  6. Oh SURE….post something like this and then skedaddle off for the weekend! LOL

  7. one thing that might skew the athlete total (ever so slightly) is the fact that we have non-funded male ski jumpers, but of course, no female ski jumpers

    • What about the fact that the mens team doesn't play against young children sent by various YMCAs from around the world?

  8. I, for one, am disappointed by the misleading headline. For a split second, I dared to hope that Coyne was about to transform my sex life with practical Sue Johanson-style advice. Alas, it turned out to be about the Olympics.

  9. Indeed…bedroom…mini luge track….

  10. The US. Britain. Russia.

  11. I love these types of issues and the sound of ideologues on both the right and on the left explode as they each try to sort out diametrically opposing principles in their respective dogmas without throwing out their backs.

  12. I suspect we give them more per capita because their pre-Olympic performances were better and the results of these Olympics largely although not entirely mirror previous success. (My recollection is that truly surprise medal winners were more common back in the day.)

    Rudge's comments are bone-headed. An inherent difference between the sexes could be the explanation if the events were mixed. (If Canadian women consistently do better than the men, then there must be some countries with the men doing better than their women {or some women are sneaking into male competitions}}

    Hughes is no doubt right, although she stopped short of saying it directly. If you want to buy medals with cash, spend it on women. For example, if any country wanted a lock on bronze in womens ice hockey, they could likely do it by creating a strong program.

    • China's actually trying pretty much exactly with that. Their women's curling team is a good example: they paid huge bank to get a prestigious Canadian coach and top facilities and have trained the bejeezus out of that team for about five years now. They took bronze yesterday against quite a good Swiss rink and earned it, but their job was made by easier that only a half-dozen countries take women's curling anything like seriously and the upper echelon is restricted to Sweden and Canada.

  13. Wait a damn minute. The bold portion of Hughes' statement suffers from the exact same "idiotic" explanation as Chris Rudge's statement above. Hughes is comparing men to women, not Canada to other countries.

    Hughes statement could make sense if Canada is spending dramatically more money on development than other countries in general–i.e. the extra money makes little difference in men's sports where there the marginal impact of each dollar spent is low, but it makes a big diffference in women's sports. But is Canada spending dramatically more money in general? I have no idea.

    I think a much better place to start looking would be whether we're distributing our money more equal between men's and women's sports to begin with.

    • Hughes statement makes perfect sense without any connection to money or spending. In fact, money and spending have very little to do with any of this, in my opinion.

      • How so? The bolded part of Hughes statement reads "It takes a lot more resources to be able to develop men to the level as women in many sports."

        That's true for all countries, so why would that result in Canadian women's athletes being better relative to their relative to their fellow female athletes than Canadian men's athletes?

        It makes no sense.

  14. Yeah, I agree that Rudge's arguments are dubious at best.

  15. Lol, that was a fast answer!!!

  16. Obviously the COC has spent a great deal of time ensuring that all of the female athletes are synchronized with regards to "that time of the month" and used it to it's fullest effect.

  17. And there supports my thesis – not statistically significant. For every country that is above average in female medals, there should be a corresponding country above average in male medals.

    • But the question is why? What makes it tilt to one or the other?

  18. A pact with the devil? While Canadian male Olumpians have kept their virtue?

    • Like it or olump it, as my folks always used to say.

  19. Is there some genetic thing which reflects well on white males?

  20. The answer is very simple,

    1) From childhood sports to high performance athletes, the government gives 50% of all funding to women, where as most countries do not.

    2) The sports we do tend to win at are new sports and there are just more new womens sports — ie womens hockey (there are exceptions to this rule, yes, but more times than not it stands true )

  21. I had suspected Haitian voodoo myself

  22. OK, so let's look at that bottom line thingy. I can name about 400 male Canadian athletes who individually make more money than nearly all of Canada's female athletes combined. Who cares about 80% of Olympic medals when you bring home your salary in a U-haul truck every year?

  23. Total medals awarded to date 111 Male 109 Female

    Country………….Medals……% Female………+/- Female

    United States……32……………36%…………………..- 9
    Germany…………27…………….69%………………..+ 10
    Norway……………20……………30%…………………..- 8
    Canada…………..18…………….81%…………………+ 11
    Austria……………15…………….40%…………………..- 3
    Russia……………15…………….37%…………………..- 4
    Korea……………..11…………….36%………………….- 3
    China……………..10…………….80%………………….+ 6
    France……………10…………….60%………………….+ 2
    Switzerland……….8…………….13%…………………..- 6

    For all you statisticians, if you were to take the top 5 countries (US through Austria) there is a +1 female total.

    Bell curve it. Normal dist'n.

  24. I'd be interested to see the summer olympic stats, I'd suspected they would weigh heavier towards the men

  25. Pole vaulting in two years…

  26. OK, notwithstanding my comment below, I'll bite to play along.

    It's because all of the young men graduating high school are getting sucked up to work in the oil sands, going for short term gain over long term fame. Why survive on meager pay and work endlessly with such dedication for one of three spots in the world every four years when you can own a pickup truck, sleep in construction camps and get pissed every night in some cowboy bar and yell Ya-hoo in your sleep?

    • Wow. That's a leap of Olympian proportions.

  27. And right on cue, three medals in men's short track today, to be followed by guaranteed medals in men's curling, men's team pursuit, and men's hockey this weekend. 4-MAN bobsled sits second after two runs, so a possible medal there. Chalk those 7 up and it's not such a big deal anymore. I'm not sure whose point I just made.

  28. I don't suppose this would be the appropriate venue to marvel at all the money WE DON'T HAVE that we are throwing at EITHER gender so that a very small number of Canadians might enjoy success? That is, if fifteen minutes of fame and a shot of your tears streaming to Oh-Canada is what we now define as success…

    • Oh dood, lighten up. I've never been prouder to be Canadian than I've been these past two weeks. These games are the most magnificent ever, set in the most beautiful city on the planet, where Canadians are kicking the whole world's ass on the gold medal podium. Some Canadians just don't know how to handle all this wonderfulness (if that isn't a word, it ought to be) but I'm loving every minute.

      • Our elite subsidized athlete eked out the other elite subsidized athlete by 0.03 seconds, and YOU have never been prouder? What the *ahem* did YOU have to do with any of it?

  29. Clara Hughes is right and Chris Rudge should be fired, with his job handed over to Clara Hughes.

    It has always been ridiculously obvious that reaching the elite level in a men's sport is much more difficult, for the reasons she cites and also for the reason that even is countries where women are encouraged to do athletics, men simply participate more because men are more physically inclined and more physically competitive.

    Finally, Ryan is right, this is also a matter of statistics, and for some people to jump on a "women are superior" bandwagon is simply disgusting.

    • I've got no problem with people concluding that "women are superior" in some (or all) respects if the evidence warrants the conclusion, but it's a bit bizarre to jump to that conclusion based on a women's-only competition. The whole reason the women don't compete with the men is to give them a chance.

      • I agree. Even in sports like curling and bobsled, men are better.

        Even in curling, I've seen someone suggest that men are better at sweeping and power shots while women match in accuracy and strategy. That's not true, men are much more accurate in curling, and whether that has anything to do with physical ability or with the increased numbers of men in curling, I don't know, but it's obvious. Women can match men only in strategy.

        In hockey, the women's national team would have trouble playing against any men's college team anywhere, even without body contact allowed, despite that television commercial that suggests otherwise.

  30. It was written with tongue firmly stuck to the peanut butter on the roof of my mouth. The difference between podium and just extremely competitive at this level is so miniscule that it's largely random.

  31. When we finish the Olympics with more male gold medals than female, which is likely to happen now, can we use the occasion that men are better winners than females?

  32. I see many comments here. I read great ideas and well-said points.

  33. I think the offer for women athlete is more and men athlete also have some offer but not to that much as women.