Why 1600m in high school?


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Why 1600m in high school?

Postby Daisy » Tue May 02, 2006 2:03 pm

This thread is an off shoot from International comparisons - Junior female distance runners
26mi235 wrote:
gh wrote:
Daisy wrote:
mike renfro wrote:On the face, not illogical, 4 laps, 8 laps of 400m track. Would have worked well at the turn of the century. The 20th century.

True, but surely just keeping the old mile and two mile races would have been much more logical.

If you're not a true track person (and very few at the HS level are), what seems illogical is to have a race that starts 10m (or 20m) before the finish line, then does an even number of laps. It would also make little sense to those people to run all but two races in meters. Either you switch or you don't.

I have no problem with the 1600; physically is makes more sense than running a mile on a 400m track and it is so close in distance to a mile that the 1.4-2.0 seconds is very easy to take into account as the incremental slowing does not have time to accumulate. I wonder if the standard was 1600 and not the mile, would we have a conversion factor of 7.5% (rather than the implicit 7.37% that the 8% for the mile yields)?


26mi235 wrote:
Daisy wrote:
gh wrote:Either you switch or you don't.

Well they did and the didn't, metric but not 1500. Worst of both worlds in my opinion.


The 1500 is an odd bird, it is the only race with laps that does not begin on the lap or the half lap. With an (usually indoor) 200m track, it is the only one that does not begin at the finish line. It is run in a country where people understand miles and quarters and distances that are almost those; For someone thinking miles, I think that it is easier to compare the 1600 than the 1500. I think that it is irrefutable that it is easier logistically for lap times etc. Besides, most of the distances are a double as you move up, but the 1500 is less than a double and the 5000 becomes much more than a double, so moving to 1600 is not bad on that score either.


26mi235 wrote:
Daisy wrote:
26mi235 wrote:The 1500 is an odd bird.

This is very true, I'm sure there is an interesting history as to why they chose that distance (we're moving into new thread territory here).

Considering the mile was so well established when metrification kicked in, i agree that the 1600 would have been preferable to the 1500m. Given the 1500m race was chosen by the international community, however, it made no sense for the HS's to go their own way despite it being more user friendly.

HS does not pay too much attention to the world stage because it is not closely connected by any institutions.

Interesting. Do they have smaller football fields? Or do they use a full size one (100yds)? If the latter they clearly take note of some institutions. What was their logic for ignoring international standards?
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Postby tafnut » Tue May 02, 2006 6:24 pm

All the distance types here - get set to boo me, but . . . the 1500 makes no sense and never did. Just because some nitwit (with all due respect to the Lords and Nobles in charge back then) thought of it in the 19th Century doesn't mean squat (actually it does mean squat, squat being the null set). If tracks were 440 yds originally and the Continental types metrified it into 400, that's fine, but the race SHOULD be 1600m! Perhaps HSers are the only ones using Common Freakin' Sense here, by NOT bowing down to the 'tradition' of the 1500. The 5K and 10K sorta do make sense, so they can stay, and I understand we HAVE to keep the 1500 in the OG, but lay off HSs running the 1600 - it's only LOGICAL.
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Postby kuha » Tue May 02, 2006 6:40 pm

We've been around this block (track) before, but I'll say once again that I hate the 1500--and anyone who claims it's "logical" is out of their gourd. When the MILE was the sport's standard unit of measure, who would have thought of instituting the mile-and-a-half distance as the marquee event? And, moving beyond the ugly 3-3/4 lap distance, ponder the fact that our current metric events, 100 to 800, represent one-tenth, one-fifth, two-fifths, and four-fifths of the supposed basic unit of measure. If you're for the kilometer, then bite the bullet and really recognize the kilo and it's logical sub-divisions (which I'd presume would be 100, 250, and 500).

But, back to the question at hand. No one to my satisfaction has come up with the "real" introduction of the 1500m. My suspicion is that it's intimately related to the French influence over the introduction of the modern Olympics in 1896. Prior to that, track was very predominantly an English-language activity--and needless to say, neither the Brits nor the Americans had the slightest interest in metric foolishness--events that were "sort of" but not really equivalent to the standard imperial distances.
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Postby tafnut » Tue May 02, 2006 6:49 pm

kuha wrote:No one to my satisfaction has come up with the "real" introduction of the 1500m. My suspicion is that it's intimately related to the French influence over the introduction of the modern Olympics in 1896.


The story I got was that Baron de Coubertin and a couple of his cronies were sitting around a Paris cafe in 1894 and ol' Bar, half-sloshed, turns to his friends and slurs out, "Hey, I've got a great idea (I'm translating, of course, but y'know my French lingo is impeccable!), let's do this really cool track meet, sorta like the old Greek Olympics - we'll even let other sports in - but no nude wrestling! - and we'll bastardize what the Limeys are running, y'know, 100 yards, the Mile, etc.. Let's really mess with their minds and run some really stupid distance like . . . um . . . one thousand, five hundred meters - that'll blow their mind!"

The rest is, as they say, history.
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Postby DaveW » Tue May 02, 2006 7:23 pm

The marathon distance is fairly unusual. But occasionally we should apply some reason.
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Postby tafnut » Tue May 02, 2006 7:29 pm

DaveW wrote:The marathon distance is fairly unusual. But occasionally we should apply some reason.


I get the whole 'let's end this in front of the Royal Box' thing, but shouldn't the distance be the 24.8 miles that Pheidippides ran (since it's based on the legend)?
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Postby kuha » Wed May 03, 2006 4:54 am

tafnut wrote:
kuha wrote:No one to my satisfaction has come up with the "real" introduction of the 1500m. My suspicion is that it's intimately related to the French influence over the introduction of the modern Olympics in 1896.


The story I got was that Baron de Coubertin and a couple of his cronies were sitting around a Paris cafe in 1894 and ol' Bar, half-sloshed, turns to his friends and slurs out, "Hey, I've got a great idea (I'm translating, of course, but y'know my French lingo is impeccable!), let's do this really cool track meet, sorta like the old Greek Olympics - we'll even let other sports in - but no nude wrestling! - and we'll bastardize what the Limeys are running, y'know, 100 yards, the Mile, etc.. Let's really mess with their minds and run some really stupid distance like . . . um . . . one thousand, five hundred meters - that'll blow their mind!"

The rest is, as they say, history.


That's as good or better than any other explanation I've ever heard!
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Postby EPelle » Wed May 03, 2006 9:32 am

Why 1.600m in high school?

So Jesuit High in Carmichaell, CA could sport a top-4 list like this:

4.04,00 *Mike Stember 1995
4.04,15 -Mark Mastalir 1986
4.04,21 -Pedro Reyes 1980
4.04,23 -Eric Mastalir 1986
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Postby ppalmer » Wed May 03, 2006 10:44 am

I have heard that some European tracks were 500m in that era (early modern Olympics -- that has sort of a ring to it).

I don't travel enough to have any sized sample, but I have run on an outdoor 250 m track in France (at the University of Grenoble).

Pat Palmer
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Postby Daisy » Wed May 03, 2006 11:46 am

In the International comparisons - Junior female distance runners thread: Daisy wrote:
gh wrote:I'm sure there are plenty (like a Gabe-ish number!) of previous 1600 threads from wish to choose.
I'll check. It will be embarrassing when I find I was involved in one of them.


And sure enough here is that thread titled, Dump the HS 1600/3200.

The thread has a great initial monolog from fizbin. What ever happened to fizbin?
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Postby bekeselassie » Wed May 03, 2006 12:21 pm

First, let me start with this: Hey Crandall!! BOOOOOOOOOOO!!!

There. Moving on. I have no problem with the 1500. I actually like having both it and the mile. I'm enchanted by long established times. There's now a mystique to a sub-3:30 and a 3:45 or better. When someone finally breaks 3:26.00, the first thing I'll want as a fan is to see him run a mile. And vice-versa.

Now, as for the 1600. It makes no sense to me. Do the 1500 or the mile, period. I have no long, thought-out argument for why. I happen to believe it's pretty self-explanatory.
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Postby tafnut » Wed May 03, 2006 1:36 pm

bekeselassie wrote:First, let me start with this: Hey Crandall!! BOOOOOOOOOOO!!!

Now, as for the 1600. It makes no sense to me. Do the 1500 or the mile, period. I have no long, thought-out argument for why. I happen to believe it's pretty self-explanatory.


Yeah, I see you never let logic or the facts get in your way!! Image
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Postby SQUACKEE » Wed May 03, 2006 1:59 pm

Lets see we got the 1500M, the 1600M and the mile-yards. Come on! Where's da 1615m, almost a exact mile but done in f%$%$#$@! meters!

"WHATS YOUR BEST 1615 DUDE? OH MAN YOU SHOULD HAVE SEEN THIS GUYS 1615, HE WAS LIKE FLYING MAN."
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Postby psaltejohn » Wed May 03, 2006 2:09 pm

I have spent a very pleasant hour re-reading parts of John MacAloon's magisterial This Great Symbol: Pierre de Coubertin and the Origins of the Modern Olympic Games in search of any evidence that the 1500m had its birth at the 1896 OG.

MacAloon says nothing about innovation here but I am grateful for being nudged by this thread to look through his biography and social history again. MacAloon was a decent college runner himself, which, if true, makes him and Kenny Moore the best of the writer/runner breed. Can't wait to read Men of Oregon...
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Postby bekeselassie » Wed May 03, 2006 2:27 pm

tafnut wrote:Yeah, I see you never let logic or the facts get in your way!! Image


No way! I was taught that when barriers were in your way go around them! Go over them! Go under them! Go through them!

And frankly, I've always found facts and figures that were inconvenient to me to be just such barriers.
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Postby tafnut » Wed May 03, 2006 2:39 pm

bekeselassie wrote:No way! I was taught that when barriers were in your way go around them! Go over them! Go under them! Go through them!



Oooooooooh - you were a steeplechaser! Why didn't ya just say so in the first place? That explains evertything!! Image
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Postby kuha » Wed May 03, 2006 6:34 pm

ppalmer wrote:I have heard that some European tracks were 500m in that era (early modern Olympics -- that has sort of a ring to it).

I don't travel enough to have any sized sample, but I have run on an outdoor 250 m track in France (at the University of Grenoble).

Pat Palmer


Yes, some European tracks may have been this size, but it doesn't "explain" how the aardvark distance of 1500m was born. If the reason was a 500m track, why in the world didn't the ONE LAP race (500) catch on? (And in the 19th century, tracks existed in all sorts of odd ball dimensions and lengths.)

There is STILL no solid historical evidence that I'm aware of as to how when the mangy 3-3/4 lap run began...
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Postby Jnathletics » Wed May 03, 2006 8:07 pm

kuha wrote:
There is STILL no solid historical evidence that I'm aware of as to how when the mangy 3-3/4 lap run began...


I think this question has very simplistic answers.

First, HS's run the 1600 because its 4 laps of a 400 track. Pretty simple starting and finishing at the same spot, not much error involved in that. Since all tracks are now made to metric standards, making HS's think is a dangerous thing.

The 1500 is used primarily because it has been dictated as a waterfall start. It's a cleaner start to do it with a full backstraight vs on the turn. Now if the start and finish were at the middle of the track, where it should be it might be a different story. Again it seems simplicity has taken over. As moving the timing equipment for different finish lines seems to be to hard or too much time delay.

So in conclusion, blame the impatient and unimaginative as simple, fast and easy seems to be the order of the day for running a track meet.
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Postby Gebfan2 » Wed May 03, 2006 9:39 pm

kuha wrote:
ppalmer wrote:I have heard that some European tracks were 500m in that era (early modern Olympics -- that has sort of a ring to it).

I don't travel enough to have any sized sample, but I have run on an outdoor 250 m track in France (at the University of Grenoble).

Pat Palmer


Yes, some European tracks may have been this size, but it doesn't "explain" how the aardvark distance of 1500m was born. If the reason was a 500m track, why in the world didn't the ONE LAP race (500) catch on? (And in the 19th century, tracks existed in all sorts of odd ball dimensions and lengths.)

There is STILL no solid historical evidence that I'm aware of as to how when the mangy 3-3/4 lap run began...


From the IAAF Website:

"The sister distance to the mile (1609.32 m), the 1500m was born on the 500 metre tracks of Continental Europe. It has become the classic middle distance event - demanding a combination of speed, staying power and tactical acumen.
Part of the first modern Olympics in 1896, many 1500m runners also competed at 5000m in this early era."
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Postby kuha » Thu May 04, 2006 5:03 am

Gebfan2: Thanks, but that bit from the IAAF site is simple PR blather: it's not an historical explanation. I remain unconvinced that the existence of some 500m tracks caused the 1500 to be born.

Addendum: on page 14 of Nelson/Quercetani's "The Milers," they state simply: "This distance [1500m] was adopted on the European continent as a standard distance, probably by the French who favored the metric system of measurement." They go on to say, "The first important race at 1500 meters was the French Championship in 1888...The only other beginnings at this distance by the end of the 19th century were two weak national records set in 1898: Edvard Johansson of Sweden, 4:21-2/5, and Franz Duhne of Germany, 4:26-1/5."

Wow, remember Franz Duhne!?!

Note in the above: no mention of track lengths.

So: the 1500 was hardly a "European" distance--it was strictly a French distance, and the French were not at all in the forefront of early t&f athletics--it was a very minor pursuit there for some time. The 1500 only gained international credibility (and then, only slowly) because of the modern Olympics, which France had everything in the world to do with.
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1600 vs 1500m

Postby James Fields » Thu May 04, 2006 6:13 am

"Given the 1500m race was chosen by the international community, however, it made no sense for the HS's to go their own way despite it being more user friendly."

"... anyone who claims [the 1500m is] logical is out of their gourd."
------------
I add here another opinion (mine) that the long straightaway start for 1500m is safer than having members of a large pack contend at the start for an inside position -- to avoid running extra distance further out.

(Veteran observers of this forum may recall a suggestion that the 400m, now run generally in lanes all the way, be replaced by 500m with a similar long straightaway start in which runners depart their lanes and move toward the curb at inside.)
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Postby kuha » Thu May 04, 2006 6:19 am

"I add here another opinion (mine) that the long straightaway start for 1500m is safer than having members of a large pack contend at the start for an inside position -- to avoid running extra distance further out."

No question: this is entirely true. Of course, if the 500m track scenario is true, then this was NOT the reason for the 1500 to be instituted (3 even laps)--this benefit is only possible on a 400m track!
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Postby skyin' brian » Thu May 04, 2006 6:48 am

once someone tried to argue to me that while the mile was a distance event, the 1500 was more of an extended sprint and thus a more difficult race. this was them making an excuse for why their son was running abismal times in the 1500 in college even though he was a decent mid distance guy in high school.

in my middle school i tried the 800m once. in high school i tried the 1600 once(well was more or less entered in it against my will) and did rather poorly in both of those races. maybe i would have been a natural in the 1500. i guess the world will never know.

one reason why the 1500 is cool, is for someone that doesnt know track the times seem more impressive. i once told a college teammate of mine "wow! you just ran a sub 4 minute (metric) mile!"
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Postby EPelle » Thu May 04, 2006 9:01 am

mile (mi)
http://mathforum.org/library/drmath/view/61126.html

mile (mi): a traditional unit of distance. 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). There is some uncertainty about the length of the Roman mile. Based on the Roman foot of 29.6 centimeters and assuming a standard pace of 5 Roman feet, the Roman mile would have been 1480 meters (4856 feet); however, the measured distance between surviving milestones of Roman roads is often closer to 1520 meters or 5000 feet. (MORE)

Given this explanation, a "mile" would have been closer to the 1.500m distance.
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Postby Daisy » Thu May 04, 2006 9:17 am

Nice detective work Epelle! Plus the 500m track sounds like a good reason for it too.
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Postby kuha » Thu May 04, 2006 9:20 am

Daisy wrote:Nice detective work Epelle! Plus the 500m track sounds like a good reason for it too.


The mile, of course, only achieved its modern meaning sometime in late middle ages England.

Daisy: "sounds like a good reason" isn't really a good reason!!! From where I stand, the earth "looks" flat...
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Postby Daisy » Thu May 04, 2006 9:30 am

kuha wrote:
Daisy wrote:Nice detective work Epelle! Plus the 500m track sounds like a good reason for it too.


The mile, of course, only achieved its modern meaning sometime in late middle ages England.

Daisy: "sounds like a good reason" isn't really a good reason!!! From where I stand, the earth "looks" flat...

But you can just imagine the French (assuming they introduced the 1500m) trying to find a reason to justify it. And here it is.

Neither is the earth round, as the French found to their cost when trying to define the meter.
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Postby kuha » Thu May 04, 2006 10:06 am

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.
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Postby Daisy » Thu May 04, 2006 10:17 am

kuha wrote: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." .

I love the speculation. Who would not have loved to be a fly on the wall for that conversation.
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Postby kuha » Thu May 04, 2006 10:35 am

Daisy wrote:
kuha wrote: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." .

I love the speculation. Who would not have loved to be a fly on the wall for that conversation.


Or even an escargot on the floor!
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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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