Why 1600m in high school?


Forum devoted to track & field items of an historical nature.

Postby EPelle » Thu May 04, 2006 10:52 am

Article on linearising mile times:
http://condor.depaul.edu/~mash/gash1609.pdf
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Postby Halfmiler2 » Thu May 04, 2006 11:39 am

The bottom line is that the general population is clueless about what 1500 or 1600 meters is. If we want to market the sport, we should have stuck to the Mile.

Imagine the tons of coverage Webb would have gotten for breaking 3:58 in the 1600 meters or 3:42 in the 1500 meters. :roll:
Last edited by Halfmiler2 on Fri May 05, 2006 6:06 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby skyin' brian » Thu May 04, 2006 11:58 am

Halfmiler2 wrote:The bottom line is that the general population is clueless about what 1500 or 1600 meters is. If we want to market the sport, we should have stuck to teh Mile.

Imagine the tons of coverage Webb would have gotten for breaking 3:58 in the 1600 meters or 3:42 in the 1500 meters. :roll:


i think it was more for breaking ryun's record than the now arbitrary barrier of sub4
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Postby kuha » Thu May 04, 2006 12:04 pm

skyin' brian wrote:
Halfmiler2 wrote:The bottom line is that the general population is clueless about what 1500 or 1600 meters is. If we want to market the sport, we should have stuck to teh Mile.

Imagine the tons of coverage Webb would have gotten for breaking 3:58 in the 1600 meters or 3:42 in the 1500 meters. :roll:


i think it was more for breaking ryun's record than the now arbitrary barrier of sub4


You both are correct, but Halfmiler is right on the money: Webb got such HUGE coverage strictly because he was a miler, NOT an 800 guy, a 1500 guy, a 3000 guy, or any other kind of guy. Just think how LITTLE relative attention other HS athletes have gotten for comparable quality--but non-mile--performances: Darrell Robinson's 400, Rupp's 5000, etc. There's no way around it: the mile has magic in the U.S. (oops, I mean, in America), that the other distances very clearly do not.
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Postby ppalmer » Thu May 04, 2006 12:12 pm

kuha wrote:My apologizes for not letting this go... My suspicion is simply that the French wanted to do two things: 1) to acknowledge the standard clearly set by imperial distances in athletics (it simply WAS the case); and 2) to tweak it to "make it theirs" in some way (as much symbolic as substantive).

The problem they faced really did NOT have much to do with track lengths--as I've stated before, tracks in the 19th century varied considerably in size; there was far less standardization than now. The problem they faced was how to move from a half/quarter/eights scheme to an essential decimal (1/10s) scheme. They chose to accept the essential logic of (the imperial!) half/quarter/etc., scheme by going with 100, 200, 400, and 800 meters--all clearly just "tweaks" of the yards distances. However, at some point I suspect they said to themselves: "We are slaves to the basic imperial model, and we hate ourselves for it. We have to prove our independence from it somehow--we have to get a '5' into our system." Thus the 1500, which is different "enough" from a mile to appear to represent something of intrinsic meaning in the metric system. However: Why did the unit-and-a-half (1500m) come to take on such importance over the "unit" (1000m) itself? Strictly because it is closer to a REAL distance--viola, THE MILE!.

So, the 1500 was close enough to a mile to not be utterly useless; and different enough to not be English.

This is my speculation, but I've thought way too much about this, and believe it to be probably the case. I await in-depth research to be proven wrong.


I didn't get into it, but this is my speculation also: that it was probably a political compromise. It is easy to imagine that as the modern olympics was being set up the French were annoyed to find that the English wanted to blithely insert their imperial distances. The net result was metric distances but close to the imperial equivalents, with a bone cast to the pro-metric people in the middle.

I suppose to really know one would have to spend more time than it was worth reading through correspondence related to starting the modern Olympics. (I just realized that John MacAloon may know even if he didn't mention it in his book, so I will send him an email about it.)

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Postby kuha » Thu May 04, 2006 4:15 pm

Pat: If you do hear from on the matter, please let us know... The question comes up often enough that it would nice to have some actual facts rather than pure myth. Bottom line: at some point the French realized that they had to make a transition from the 2/4/8 system to the 5/10 system. The 1500 became the key compromise distance..., whether all of us today like it or not...
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Postby Gebfan2 » Thu May 04, 2006 6:06 pm

kuha wrote:Pat: If you do hear from on the matter, please let us know... The question comes up often enough that it would nice to have some actual facts rather than pure myth. Bottom line: at some point the French realized that they had to make a transition from the 2/4/8 system to the 5/10 system. The 1500 became the key compromise distance..., whether all of us today like it or not...


OK, it appears the 1924 Olympics in Paris were run on a 500 meter track -- which provides support for a couple lines of reasoning above. There appears to be, though, dreadfully little written on the subject.

From "The Decathlon in Olympic History" at http://www.decathlonusa.org/history.html:

"Four years later, in 113- degree heat on Paris's 500 meter track, Harold Osborn, a former student at the University of Illinois, won the gold medal just days after he also won the Olympic high jump title. He remains the only athlete to have won both the decathlon and an individual event."
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Postby kuha » Thu May 04, 2006 6:12 pm

Yes. But, as stated before, track lengths varied quite a bit in the 19th century, and the interesting fact from Nelson/Quercetani is that "the first important race at 1500 meters was the French championship in 1888." So, Olympic Games in the early 20th century are well after the fact...
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Postby Halfmiler2 » Fri May 05, 2006 6:07 am

skyin' brian wrote:
Halfmiler2 wrote:The bottom line is that the general population is clueless about what 1500 or 1600 meters is. If we want to market the sport, we should have stuck to teh Mile.

Imagine the tons of coverage Webb would have gotten for breaking 3:58 in the 1600 meters or 3:42 in the 1500 meters. :roll:


i think it was more for breaking ryun's record than the now arbitrary barrier of sub4


Yep, and Ryun never set a record for 1600 meters. :wink:
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Postby dj » Fri May 05, 2006 6:37 am

I'll wade into this and say that I don't think anyone will find THE answer to the big "why" question regarding the Euro continent adopting 1500 meters as standard. It's akin to trying to figure out who invented baseball.

Track lengths have little to do with it as the tracks varied quite a bit in size during the 19th century. In fact, it was not until 1960 that the IAAF standardized tracks as either 400m or 440y. The major industrial cities of the continent often had stadiums with 500m tracks until that time. But before the English-speaking world generally moved to quarter-mile tracks around the time of World War I, tracks were usually measured as fractions of a mile, the most common (after 1/4) being 1/5 (the New York AC track at Travers Island for example), then 1/3 (1908 Olympics at Shepherd's Bush in London), then 1/6 and even 1/2 (most likely a cart path or horse track). The continent created their tracks in decimal units of one kilometer, generally 0.5 or 0.4 kilometers.

As for the French not being at the forefront of "modern" athletics, that's an absolute fallacy, as they were the first country on the continent to contest a national championship. Here's the sequence in when countries first ran national championships (although I don't know when each continental country first ran the 1500m), listing only those which began by 1896: Ireland '73, UK '76, USA '76, Canada '84, New Zealand '87, France '88, Belgium '89, Germany '91, Australia '93, South Africa '94, Denmark '94, and finally in 1896, Greece, Hungary, Norway and Sweden.

I have little doubt that the 1500m was an accommodation to having a "round" metric equivalent to the English mile, as several English-speaking countries predated the French in establishing the sport. But to find "the" answer, someone would have to get very lucky and stumble across a scrap of paper in French archives.
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Postby kuha » Fri May 05, 2006 7:09 am

"As for the French not being at the forefront of "modern" athletics, that's an absolute fallacy, as they were the first country on the continent to contest a national championship."

Thanks for the very thoughtful response above. I will quibble a bit, however, with this statement. The French may have been the first "on the continent" but the "continent" was WAY behind England (#1) and the US (#2) in terms of being serious about t&f athletics. I refuse to date "modern athletics" to the 1896 revival of the modern Olympics. England and the US were extremely serious about it by the late 1870s/early 1880s--at which time it was an essentially trivial activity in France............or am I missing something important here?
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Postby James Fields » Fri May 05, 2006 7:31 am

Epelle posted an instructive quote about the origin of mile:
. . . The word comes from the Latin word for 1000, mille, because originally a mile was the distance a Roman legion could march in 1000 paces (or 2000 steps, a pace being the distance between successive falls of the same foot). . . the measured distance between surviving milestones of Roman roads is often closer to 1520 meters or 5000 feet."
---------
My appreciation of that information goes beyond this thread: Long ago, as a U.S. Army recruit, I and other novice soldiers were instructed to walk with a 30-inch step (60-inch pace; one thousand such paces would be 5000 feet -- a military mile).

We recruits did not ask about the genesis of this step length, nor did our drill instructors voluntarily tell. But it produced a comfortable pace that became habitual. Later I coud use it to approximate a course for distance races before making the precise measurement. Much later I still find the pace to be automatic in my my exercise strolls. And now a T&FN forum contributor has provided me with long overdue background for the army technique. Thanks!
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Postby Halfmiler2 » Fri May 05, 2006 7:41 am

dj wrote:Track lengths have little to do with it as the tracks varied quite a bit in size during the 19th century. In fact, it was not until 1960 that the IAAF standardized tracks as either 400m or 440y. The major industrial cities of the continent often had stadiums with 500m tracks until that time. But before the English-speaking world generally moved to quarter-mile tracks around the time of World War I, tracks were usually measured as fractions of a mile, the most common (after 1/4) being 1/5 (the New York AC track at Travers Island for example), then 1/3 (1908 Olympics at Shepherd's Bush in London), then 1/6 and even 1/2 (most likely a cart path or horse track). The continent created their tracks in decimal units of one kilometer, generally 0.5 or 0.4 kilometers.


There are still a few USA high school tracks that are 1/5 mile (352 yards) or the metric equivalent of 320 meters. They are usually in locations at which there is not enough space for a 400 meter track. A track of 352 yards or 320 meters can almost fit around a football field - except that two corners of a football endzone extend into two or three lanes of the track.

On a 1/5 mile track (or metric equivalent), the 440/400 race requires a third straight-a-way which is added to the beginning of the race. A 220/200 is run on a horseshoe. The halfmile require an extra half lap and the mile, of course, requires an extra lap. 400 meter hurdles are not practical and 300 meter hurdles are usually run instead.

Of course, an unsuspecting runner doing a workout may come upon one of these tracks and suddenly think he has become a world class athlete after timing himself in a few intervals. :wink:
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Postby kuha » Fri May 05, 2006 8:26 am

My first high school track (ca. 1965) was a 352y grass circuit around the baseball field. Our "good" track, the next year, was a 440y grass circuit around the soccer field. Pretty high class...
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Postby oneill » Fri May 05, 2006 10:03 am

I was told that the Athens Panhellenic Stadium track used in the 1896 Olympics was a 500-meter track, but that doesn't explain why the 800 and 400 were run there in 1896....If there were an earlier, possibly French precedent for a 1500 meter distance, then why were the early records German and Swedish?

I don't suppose tnat anyone has some sort of International rule book from about 1900 which might address the subject, or even give us a list of tracks of 500 vs. 400 distance in that era?

I would imagine that at least some of the impetus to 400 meter tracks might have been the more economical fit of a football (soccer) field inside the oval, but that's a guess.
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Postby psaltejohn » Fri May 05, 2006 10:53 am

http://www.aafla.org/SportsLibrary/Book ... symbol.pdf

Incredible (to me at least), MacAloon's Great Symbol is available as a pdf file online. For those of you who like me have wanted to send friends copies of this book but couldn't surrender your own, a cheap solution...
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Postby dj » Sat May 06, 2006 5:06 am

The Athens track in 1896 was one-third of a kilometer, 333.33 meters.

Early records for the 1500 are not often seen in progression lists because they were inferior to existing mile records.

IAAF wasn't formed until 1912, and during WWI the AAU rules as listed in the Spalding Guides conformed to what the IAAF was passing. The first time the IAAF publishes its own set of rules is around 1919-21.
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Postby bad hammy » Wed May 10, 2006 6:21 pm

We could do a shoulda woulda coulda on this until hell freezes over. Here is the deal:

The US made a feeble attempt in the late ‘70s to go metric. As part of this the HS folks decided to go metric. In any and all events, they decided to go with long-time world-wide established distances except with the mile and two mile – there they went with the bastardized 1600 and 3200. Dumb beyond belief.

There is a semi-valid argument that the conversion to metrics was the cause of the decline of T&F’s popularity in the US. Maybe, maybe not. But it is a fact that these two HS distances stand alone in the world, and do not allow a valid comparison to anything else.

If they want metric, go 1500/3000. If they want to actually try to attract fans, go mile/2 mile. If they want to be idiots, go 1600/3200.
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Postby kuha » Wed May 10, 2006 6:28 pm

"If they want metric, go 1500/3000. If they want to actually try to attract fans, go mile/2 mile. If they want to be idiots, go 1600/3200."

Yup. Those ARE the real choices.
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Postby tafnut » Wed May 10, 2006 6:44 pm

kuha wrote:"If they want metric, go 1500/3000. If they want to actually try to attract fans, go mile/2 mile. If they want to be idiots, go 1600/3200."

Yup. Those ARE the real choices.


We seriously need to get over all these hang-ups. 1500/3000 is meaningless and non-sensical here. The Mile/2-mile is a good IDEA, but tracks are metric, making splits, etc., too 'hard' (I kid you not, in the Florida HS 1A/2A State Championships, held on a yard track, they couldn't figure out how to do splits, so they didn't, and scolded the coaches for asking for someone to read them out, like someone couldn't start at the start line and take two steps toward the finish line every lap!!!), so the only LOGICAL answer is the 1600/3200 for HS, since 99% of marks don't matter in the big scheme. At the post-season biggies - Golden West, Nike Outdoors, etc., they can go international.
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Postby bad hammy » Wed May 10, 2006 6:56 pm

tafnut wrote:1500/3000 is meaningless and non-sensical here.

Say what? Tell that to the rest of the non-US world. Take a look at the big long picture. The 15/3 matter. Not as much as the mile/2 mile, but they matter.

tafnut wrote:. . . since 99% of marks don't matter in the big scheme.

All marks matter. EXCEPT the 1600/3200.
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Postby kuha » Wed May 10, 2006 7:01 pm

Bad hammy is right on the money here. Tafnut, you're usually a voice of reason in the wilderness......but, on this, you're simply in the wilderness. Head for the hatch and all will be made clear...
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Postby bad hammy » Wed May 10, 2006 7:47 pm

kuha wrote:Bad hammy is right on the money here.

Will you marry me????? :-)
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Postby kuha » Thu May 11, 2006 5:13 am

Do you come with a dowry?
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Postby skyin' brian » Thu May 11, 2006 6:35 am

You can have a race at any distance, measured or not measured. It seems to me that training for the mile/1600/1500 is the same no matter what distance is the goal, correct? So, it only really matters from a records standpoint(see thread on old dude milers).

We no longer care about records for 440y(1/4 mile), 880y(half mile), do we? Why the still long obsession with the mile? The 4 minute barrier isnt what it used to be(imo). friends of mine still call the 800 the "half" or 400 the "quarter." It should also be pointed out that most high schoolers think 1600m = 1 mile. why are you not crying out to bring back those arcane distances? just because they are not commonly run anymore? IAAF precident?

probably the most annoying thing to me is that the 1500 and mile are both so commonly run(albeit the mile less so). due to this a "miler" can rack up twice as many PR's or even WR's! or AR's in some cases, but 1 of them will always be intrinsically superior, and then we have to figure it out which is.

I propose we choose 1 of the 3 distances and stick to it for the same reason that we no longer contest an 880 or 440(under normal circumstances. I vote 1600 :roll: with a second choice 1500, followed by mile.



hey tafnut...say an athlete has a pb of 4:00 in the 1500, and 4:25 in the mile. what time do you enter them in in the 1600m in the big invitation to ensure they get into the fast heat??? :twisted:
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Postby tafnut » Thu May 11, 2006 7:16 am

bad hammy wrote:
tafnut wrote:1500/3000 is meaningless and non-sensical here.

Say what? Tell that to the rest of the non-US world. Take a look at the big long picture. The 15/3 matter. Not as much as the mile/2 mile, but they matter.

tafnut wrote:. . . since 99% of marks don't matter in the big scheme.

All marks matter. EXCEPT the 1600/3200.


Too bad you (and kuha) can't read! What's the last word in the first quote? HERE! As in the USofA. 99.99% of Murkans can't relate to a 1500/3000. They CAN relate to the 1 and 2-mile, but as I ALREADY pointed out, Murkans can't handle yard races on metric tracks. That only leaves the 16/32. See how logic works? (where's my rolling eyes emoticon when I need it?) When you eliminate the solutions that will NOT work, you're left with the only one that WILL!!

And kuha, nice try on the 'voice of reason' olive branch - no one's buying tHAT!

99% of HS times don't matter outside of the team itself, because we're talking about 14.2 100s and 13'6 Long Jumps! The average performance on my team of 100 would be the junior girl who can run a 6:15 1600 and 14:20 3200 - see my point?
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Postby ppalmer » Thu May 11, 2006 8:01 am

kuha wrote:Pat: If you do hear from on the matter, please let us know... The question comes up often enough that it would nice to have some actual facts rather than pure myth. Bottom line: at some point the French realized that they had to make a transition from the 2/4/8 system to the 5/10 system. The 1500 became the key compromise distance..., whether all of us today like it or not...


John said he never came across any information about the origins of the 1500. He suggested someone else to try, and I will do that. (He was pleased to hear that his book on the olympics still gets favorable mention here.)

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Postby kuha » Thu May 11, 2006 9:35 am

"And kuha, nice try on the 'voice of reason' olive branch - no one's buying tHAT!"

Hmmmmm..... One slightly soiled olive branch, now marked down from $29.99 to $12.99! Step right up! Only one per customer...er, in fact, there's only one to begin with... PayPal accepted...
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Postby gh » Thu May 11, 2006 12:05 pm

dj wrote:The Athens track in 1896 was one-third of a kilometer, 333.33 meters.


And DJ knows this because he ran a lap of it in 1982 under the noon sun, and boy was that a bitch!
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Postby gh » Thu May 11, 2006 12:15 pm

Unfortunately, I can't cite the source, so this remains in the unsubstantiated column, but I read somewhere once that De Coubertin (being the proper Frenchman that he was) simply would not countenance using an English distance like the mile. That would have been akin to eating a chunk of Stilton with his Côte du Rhone!

If one extrapolates that kind of thinking to the French establishment as a whole (given Gallic/Anglo relations at that point, not much of a leap of faith), one can imagine that when the first French Champs came around they said (continuing the wine allusion) "no f***ing mile!" I could see the "logic" in running the 400 and 800, so there was a direct parallel to the established Brit and American times, but still refusing to run a mile. And if the track was a 500 (which the one for the '00 Paris Olympics was), then 3 laps was perfectly "logical."

(Do we know that they actually ran the 400 and 800 in those early French Champs, or did they perhaps run 500 and 1000?)
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Postby kuha » Thu May 11, 2006 12:19 pm

gh wrote:Unfortunately, I can't cite the source, so this remains in the unsubstantiated column, but I read somewhere once that De Coubertin (being the proper Frenchman that he was) simply would not countenance using an English distance like the mile. That would have been akin to eating a chunk of Stilton with his Côte du Rhone!

If one extrapolates that kind of thinking to the French establishment as a whole (given Gallic/Anglo relations at that point, not much of a leap of faith), one can imagine that when the first French Champs came around they said (continuing the wine allusion) "no f***ing mile!" I could see the "logic" in running the 400 and 800, so there was a direct parallel to the established Brit and American times, but still refusing to run a mile. And if the track was a 500 (which the one for the '00 Paris Olympics was), then 3 laps was perfectly "logical."

(Do we know that they actually ran the 400 and 800 in those early French Champs, or did they perhaps run 500 and 1000?)


This correlates exactly to what I suspect is the case. As I said above, the 1500m was deemed to be "enough" like the mile to not be useless, but different enough to not be English. And the importance of that last requirement should NOT be underestimated. In the late 1880s, the relative quality of French t&f athletics to English was about akin to my running ability vs. Bekele's.
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Postby gh » Thu May 11, 2006 12:30 pm

A great thread by the way. We don't get nearly enough of these, with people taking the time to expostulate at some depth after doing some good thinking/research. (The current Rupp/asthma thread is also a wonder, at least if you like medicine.)
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Postby bad hammy » Thu May 11, 2006 12:51 pm

And I would add a BIG thank you to T&FN for continuing to maintain the mile and 2 mile as the standard on their high school lists. A voice of reason in the sea of HS 16/32 insanity.
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Postby kuha » Thu May 11, 2006 1:04 pm

bad hammy wrote:And I would add a BIG thank you to T&FN for continuing to maintain the mile and 2 mile as the standard on their high school lists. A voice of reason in the sea of HS 16/32 insanity.


YES!
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Postby skyin' brian » Thu May 11, 2006 1:15 pm

bad hammy wrote:And I would add a BIG thank you to T&FN for continuing to maintain the mile and 2 mile as the standard on their high school lists. A voice of reason in the sea of HS 16/32 insanity.


yeah, because the 2 mile is run about as often as the 100 yard dash or 440.

when i was in high school(class or '01), at least in illinois they ran 3 miles in cross country in the fall, is this preferable to the 5k, or some other k distance. any thoughts on cross country distances? or do those not even really matter since variance in courses. oh well, i guess at least there people appreciate the RACES rather than complain about it being ~9 meters too short.
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Postby tafnut » Thu May 11, 2006 2:43 pm

bad hammy wrote:And I would add a BIG thank you to T&FN for continuing to maintain the mile and 2 mile as the standard on their high school lists. A voice of reason in the sea of HS 16/32 insanity.


Nice try, but paraphrasing pego's sig, paraphrasing someone else, 'dat's NOT the fact, Jack!' If you check T&FN's HS lists, they do NOT list the 2-mile; they list the 3200 (but inexplicably DO list the Mile). HA . . . HA . . . HA
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Postby gh » Thu May 11, 2006 3:04 pm

actually, there's some major confusion there at this point: boys side has both 3000 and 3200 insteda of the melded-together 2M, but the girls side is just the 2M (as it should be!)
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Postby bekeselassie » Thu May 11, 2006 3:43 pm

gh wrote:A great thread by the way. We don't get nearly enough of these, with people taking the time to expostulate at some depth after doing some good thinking/research. (The current Rupp/asthma thread is also a wonder, at least if you like medicine.)


Have you even been reading my posts?
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Postby bad hammy » Thu May 11, 2006 4:17 pm

tafnut wrote:
bad hammy wrote:And I would add a BIG thank you to T&FN for continuing to maintain the mile and 2 mile as the standard on their high school lists. A voice of reason in the sea of HS 16/32 insanity.


Nice try, but paraphrasing pego's sig, paraphrasing someone else, 'dat's NOT the fact, Jack!' If you check T&FN's HS lists, they do NOT list the 2-mile; they list the 3200 (but inexplicably DO list the Mile). HA . . . HA . . . HA

Nice try, but paraphrasing pego's sig, paraphrasing someone else, 'dat's NOT the fact, Jack!'

Check the May issue of T&FN. Mile, 2 Mile.
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Postby kuha » Thu May 11, 2006 4:51 pm

Ah ha! I found a book I knew I had--Les Courses a Pied et les Concours Athletiques (Paris: 1911), an early history of French athletics. The results of the national championship meets are given in the back. The events included in their first (1888) championship were (all meters, of course): 100, 400, 1500, 110HH, 4k steeple, and....that's it. The 300 was run pretty consistently between 1893 and 1910. The 10k began in 1905; the 200 and 5k apparently only began in 1908. Etc. Not sure why no jumps or weight events at all are shown. If this is, indeed, the full early program--it is a complete joke compared to what the Brits and Americans had been doing for more than a decade.....
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