## 11 November, 2014

### Metric vs. Imperial

Athletics is a discipline with a mixed heritage. For decades the influence of imperial, i.e. anglo-saxon, units have dictated the choice of distances and weights to the point that when countries using the metric system started becoming influent in athletics, it was impossible to erase all the imperial misdeeds. Why on earth should we have a 7.257 kg shot and hammer and use a 2.13 m circle in order to throw them? Why is the circumference of the stadia normalised to 400 m? And all this while throwing a 2 kg discus from a 2.5 m circle and run races of 5 and 10 km.

Of course, we can understand the logic behind the 800 m and 400 m, they are half a mile and a quarter of the same distance. The diameter of the 2.13 m circle is just 7 feet and the 7.257 kgs are just one stone. Still, all this does not sound quite right to me. I have already written my ideas on throwing circles and suggested that we forget the ridiculously small one where we force the present-day champions of shot put to evolve despite their gigantic proportions. To me a 3 m circle for shot, discus and hammer is the only solution.  Then there is the question of the weight of the implements. Why not opt for a 8 kg shot and hammer for men? (Women can keep the 4 kg one, just as in the case of discus where we have 1 kg and 2 kg for women and men respectively). These changes would allow us to make a tabula rasa of old throwing records and start afresh, just as was done in the case of javelin throw.

But the hardest part is running. Since I am not afraid of crazy proposals I will not hesitate to present one that, were it to be adopted (rest assured, it will never be) would revolutionise the discipline. Let us start with a basic consideration. What is the most important race, the one that must absolutely be preserved? To my eyes this is the 200 m, being the distance over which a human being can maintain maximal speed. The fact that  it corresponds to the stadium of the ancient Olympics lends more credibility to the argument. Based on the the premise that the distance of 200 m should be kept as such, my proposal for official distances is one akin to the choice for the euro currency denomination. The official distances would be

100, 200, 500, 1000, 2000, 5000, 10000 and 20000 m

I stop here because the next logical step would bring us to 50 km. However the Marathon has become over the past century a mythical race and should be preserved at all costs. In fact what I would propose is a distance of 40 km, the one of the first, 1896, olympic one. That would bring the men’s world record below 2 hours and that of women’s below 2 hr 10 min. Still, if people more fanatical than myself would insist on a 50 km marathon-class race, this is something that could be accommodated.

Tegla Loroupe, half-Marathon world champion
and 20 km (road) world record holder

Counting the races of a possible championships programme, excluding the 20 km one, we find that the “metric” list has exactly the same number of races as the current one. It goes without saying that for all this to make sense the stadium circumference should be increased to 500 m. (If that came to be, building contractors would erect statues in my honour).