01 December, 2014

Relays, hurdles and steeplechase

This is a follow-up to my post on metric vs imperial. I have presented there my ideas on new implement weights together with the increase of throwing circles dimensions. But the most radical changes proposed were those on running distances. Instead of the mixed metric and imperial-inspired distances I proposed a reshuffling of the intermediate distances replacing the 400, 800, 1500 m races by 500, 1000 and 2000 m. This would of course necessitate tracks of 500 m circumference (and new stadia to be built but this is another story). 

These changes would entail modifications on the relay races. Keeping the logic of the present ones we should have a 5x100 and a 4x500 as championships distances. For longer, record only, relays we could have 4 or 5 times 1000 and 2000 m relays. The 5x1000 and 5x2000 m would allow a direct comparison of the records with those of the individual 5000 and 10000 m races. The only problem with the new distances is that a 5x200 m sounds a bit awkward in a 500 m track. But then a 4x200 m is so rarely run now-a-days that we need not worry too much about this.

Obstacle courses are more interesting. I have already written about my idea of a 100 m with just 8 hurdles for men. In the  same logic I would propose as a championships distance a 500 m with 12 hurdles. Only the almost never run 200 m would have 10 hurdles. But what about heights? 

Before entering the metric vs. imperial argumentation let us examine briefly the case of the 100 m for women. I was planning to write a full post on this point but then I found that P.-J. Vazel had, in his blog, presented a detailed analysis of the situation. Let me summarise the situation. The height of women’s 100 m hurdles is a mere 84 cm. Compared to the men’s 110 m hurdles height of 107 cm we have a ratio of 0.79. (The same ratio for the 400 m is 0.83). Now, the ratio of mean statures of women and men is 0.92 and, more significantly, the ratio of world high jump records is 0.85. Obviously the 84 cm hurdles are ridiculously low. Increasing their height to 91 cm (the height of men’s 400 m hurdles) would be the most sensible choice. This would necessitate an increase of the distance between hurdles by some 30 cm (from 8.5 m to 8.8 m).  Taking 2.7 m out of the part between the last hurdle and the finish line sounds absurd (it is already a mere 10.5 m). So the only possibility I find reasonable is to reduce the number of hurdles from 10 to 9. (Remember, we are already down to 8 for men). This would make for very interesting sprints after the last obstacle is cleared. S. Pearson, olympic and world champion, has already pronounced herself in favour of higher hurdles. P.-J. Vazel ends his article mentioning another possibility: instead of increasing the height of women’s hurdles we could lower those of men. We’ll see below what are the possibilities.

The current standards for hurdles heights stand at 1.067 m and 0.914 m for men’s 110 and 400 m respectively. For women the respective heights are 0.838 and 0.762 m. Obviously all these measures are imperial in origin (91.4 cm being a yard and the differences of heights with respect to this being an integer multiple of inches). Transforming these heights to metric is not very difficult. We could have just 1.05 m, 0.90 m and 0.75 m (0.90 m being also the height of women’s 100 m). Another possibility would be to keep women’s 100 m hurdles’ height at 85 cm and lower that of men’s to just 1.00 m. This would make men’s races super-fast with a world record (over 100 m with 8 hurdles) probably below 11 s.

G. Papavasileiou, the flying steeplechaser

Finally let us not forget the steeplechase. Currently both men and women run a 3 km race. This is the only proposal of mine where I will suggest an increase of the number of races, with a 2 km and a 5 km also. When I mentioned the possibility of a 5 km steeple race to G. Papavasileiou, a renowned greek, balkan  and mediterranean champion in the 50s (an article on this great steeplechaser is under preparation) he had a very positive reaction. For him a 5 km steeple race would be even more interesting than the 3 km one. Such a race, in a 500 m track, would necessitate 10 water jumps and some 40 hurdle jumps, a very demanding race indeed. Finally, there is another hidden imperial measure, that of the water jump, fixed at 3.66 m i.e. 4 yards. Given the present tendency to make the water pit shallower (50 cm instead of 70 cm previously enforced at the maximal depth) we could easily opt for a 3.5 m water jump. That said a 4 m one would be equally acceptable.

If that were not clear from this article and the preceding one, I am a big fan of the metric system. The best proof of its efficiency is the fact that the British, who were at the origin of the imperial unit system, have now gone almost exclusively metric. It is high time the IAAF abandon the “soft metrication” policy, which consists into presenting (disguising?) imperial-based measurements in metric units. As to when will the USA follow suit, I do not think that the people who read these lines will live long enough to see such a revolutionary change. 

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