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Thoughts On Bringing The Mile Back To Track & Field

posted by The Track & Field Superblog
Tuesday, January 24, 2012 at 5:28pm EST

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In recent weeks and months, the idea of bringing back the mile as a standard racing distance has gained some notoreity.

The website bringbackthemile.com launched last week to some fanfare. At the USTFCCCA’s annual convention, Texas A&M coach Pat Henry floated the idea of changing the NCAA Outdoor Championships distance from 1500 meters to the mile (which was voted down rather overwhelmingly).

The thought is that since we in the U.S. measure everything in miles, and the mile run is a standard requirement in U.S. phys ed classes, then the mile is a distance that means more to the general public than the 1500 meters does.

I’m ambivalent on the subject. I find it little more than rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. The specific distance we race isn’t all that important. What’s important is that we emphasize racing, the thrill of the stretch run.

Consider the Kentucky Derby. Without looking it up, can you identify its distance? Do you have any idea what the record time is? Few who are not horse racing fans could come up with these. But we’ve all watched the race, because it’s the race that matters, not the distance or the time.

There are other technical issues. It’s significantly harder to get an Olympic Trials qualifier out of the mile than it is to get one out of the 1500. And that’s if you’re a man; there’s no mile qualifier at all for women. There are no mile qualifiers for the Olympics or the IAAF Worlds. These are not small things.

And then there’s the aesthetics of it. A sub-4:00 mile has a nice ring to it, but the equivalent for women–about 4:40–just doesn’t.

You do get a lot of “what is that for a mile?” when someone hears a certain 1500m time. I’ll grant the mile proponents that, and it is a problem.

I think the reason for that is because we mostly run a bastardized mile in U.S. high schools, the 1600 meters. That distance should be abandoned for either the 1500 or mile, and I’d prefer the first. There would be a lot more acceptance of 1500m times at face value if we did.

Don’t believe me? Ponder this. These days no one hears a 100m time and asks “What is that for 100 yards?” This is despite the importance of 100 yards in U.S. sports.

What really drives interest in track in this country (or any other) is the Olympics. When there’s talk of changing that distance to the mile, then I’ll be 100% supportive. Until then…meh.

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