I’ve been a runner for eight years. Eight years on a girls’ cross country team and only in a handful of meets have I had to race a different distance than the boys. The Fairfield County Interscholastic Conference (FCIAC) championship meet is one of them. The girls must run a 4K while the boys run a 5K. Whether this is their intention or not, having the girls run a shorter distance at the championship meet communicates that the FCIAC believes female runners are inferior.
Over a decade ago, Connecticut changed the state championship race to have the girls and boys run the same length: setting the precedent that girls and boys are equal. However, even with the state of Connecticut thinking in modern terms about gender equality, Fairfield County is lagging behind. There are 11 high school conferences in Connecticut, and all but one (Fairfield County) have changed their race lengths to be equal for their championship meets. The state of Connecticut believes in the capabilities of its female athletes, so why doesn’t Fairfield County?
There is no scientific evidence that backs up the need for girls to run a shorter distance. They are just as capable of completing a 5K as their male counterparts are. I spoke to Dr. David Bindelglass, a leading orthopedic surgeon at Fairfield County’s Orthopedic Specialty Group who said, “there’s no difference between boys and girls in their tolerance for distance running.”
When I began researching this, many FCIAC coaches (who are the ones to vote on this issue) said they were hesitant to change this because they didn’t want to tire their athletes out. But, in Dr. Bindelglass’ professional opinion, these young athletes “would not be at a disadvantage — for the future state championship meet where the girls run a 5K, they’d actually be better prepared.” I also interviewed other specialists, such as Jessica Gonzalez, a PA representing Willows Pediatric, who agreed that there’s no correlation between gender and the ability to run a 5K, further proving that female runners are more than capable of completing a 5K. Thus, this race length should be changed, in order to help young runners.
In discussion with coaches, apart from believing there’s physical differences between male and females, many are just hesitant to change. It can be difficult modifying a rule that’s been in place for decades, but that doesn’t feel like a strong enough reason to put down young female runners. Fairfield County’s athletes want to see this change. During outdoor track, I went around with a clipboard, gathering signatures from all the female distance athletes. Out of 100-plus interviewed (at least two from each FCIAC team), 98% expressed a desire to run a 5K opposed to a 4K. Athletes are the ones participating in this event, so why should we deny their participation in a race they would prefer to run, when it harms no one?
There is no concrete reason why these races are different. There’s no medical or training disadvantage, and the athletes would like to see this change. The coaches are the ones who have the ability to make this change, and they meet to discuss this on November 7. I urge the coaches to consider the need for this change and do their part by being on the right side of history.
Hannah Kohn is a senior cross country captain at Fairfield Warde High School. She is the founder and president of the school club Equality Now.