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Why The 1500m Is, “The Crown Jewel,” Of The Olympic Games

February 1st 2020

I like running, although it hurts. Nevertheless, on most Wednesday adternoon's I masochistically tire myself out in repentance for a week’s worth of typing and sitting idly by my desk. And it’s almost a sort of therapeutic retribution… in essence for the time that I spend either watching sports (*instead of playing them) or working on, as well as my music hobby.

But do I enjoy it? That’s difficult to answer, however, I usually run 3-4 times a month… and every-time that I do… I push myself beyond my comfort zone (often considerably).

Whereby, I should say that I like to time my 1 mile runs… and I find that this practice is analogous to checking your weight on the scale, a weekly ritual to keep an ongoing assessment of your personal health. But to be clear, I don’t play, “the weight game,” because my weight IS my 1 mile time. Which means that while 90% of America is focusing on their meal portions, often checking their weight 2-3 times a day or intermittently fasting, I’m instead checking my seconds on the track.

And; 6’36, 6’12, 5’59, 7’05, 7’26, 5’57, 6’43, are what my month’s typically look like.

Whereby, this has also led me to take an interest in the science behind running and speed/endurance, as well. Where today I can genuinely attest to the fact that I do genuinely love the sport of running and I feel strongly about this because specifically, tall runners have a slight advantage but not a considerable advantage, which means that I believe running is a fairly unbiased assessment of an individual’s heart and fortitude, as well as people’s discipline and determination. Or, I should say, body type isn’t as damning a factor in distance running as it is in most other sports, ie basketball.

Nevertheless, with that being said, I’m also semi-judgmental about it… even though my times aren’t particularly great, compared to most runners… my personal best is 5’29 on the treadmill and a 5’56 on the track, which I ran in High School. *I also ran a 6’02, in 2016 and a 6’09, in 2019, albeit… mediocre times… or are they?

However, this year my times have dipped to around 7 minutes on the track and 6’00 on the treadmill but for many years… I’ve consistently run just under 6 minutes. Nevertheless… I ran similarly average times growing up and I was often lapped by the field, during my youth track meets. (*Don’t worry kid, it turns out that 6’30 really isn’t that bad.)

In reality, I've finished dead last in High School track meets about a dozen times and embarrassingly I recall crossing the finish line in last place and running something like a 6’15 perhaps even a handful of times and I remember that I would get lapped by the leaders in the 1 mile event, while running a 6’15 mile and one of my friend’s would run a 4’15… but what’s truly funny about this event is… that a 6’15 mile is practically superior to 95% of runners over the age of 30, today. And furthermore, according to the military fitness examination I believe that it’s something like 90% of runners in the military, over the age of 32, cannot break 6 minutes in the mile. (Statistical reference link.)

Which is a funny thing… because today that 6’15-5’55 mile is right around the top 20% of runners my age (32+), but amongst young runners, it’s a poor time. Yet, does it hurt to run under 6 minutes? YES, it does and it’s a deep physical pain… where sprints, 400m’s and 800m’s, hurt a lot, in my opinion. However, my point here is that it’s NOT elite to run a sub 6 minute mile at any age.

Although, at least we're not getting butt implants for attention…

Where was I?

Running is PURE, I love the purity of it, I love the, “me vs me,” aspect of it and in many ways it’s similar to golf but much healthier. Nevertheless… the SCIENCE behind my weekly run is utterly fascinating, along with the preparation, as well as the lung capacity and really just the TOUGHNESS required to run under 6 minutes, deep into my 30’s.

But long story short, is it training? Is it body type? Or is it evolution? That propels someone to go from 6 minutes to 5 minutes or even sub 5?

And does it help to train everyday? Sure. Does it help to eat properly? Sure does. But how much of this sport is genetic? And that’s the beauty of this sport too, heart can make up for inadequacies… in fact, more than make up for inadequacies, particularly with smaller body types, whereby people can also use their lighter weight to their advantage, as well and in fact, I would go as far as to say that smaller runners have an advantage, in some cases. Which is to say, that the more that I study the science behind running, the more that I believe this is a very cerebral sport… hinged predominately upon mental toughness and discipline (as well as diet) for growth/evolution.

Which leads me to the topic of today’s article, professional running and the limitations of the human body. Whereby, I often wonder… what does it feel like when famous Marathon runner Eliud Kipchoge turns the final corner, on his 26th mile at 4’35/mile pace? Or how hard is it to break 5 minutes in the mile, a feat which I plan on attempting at some point when I settle into my career. And it’s almost spiritual and hopefully in the near future, Ai technology will quantify this pain for the public, but some professional runners endure a level of physical intensity that very few human beings can even comprehend, in my opinion. The pain must be surreal. Professional running is a depth of physical pain and endurance that I believe cannot even be described. Where what Kipchoge and many great runners put their bodies through, on a weekly basis, is quite simply a level of toughness that you CANNOT TEACH and I would guess that lighting yourself on fire is about the only thing that equates to running the way Kipchoge runs a Marathon.

ut with that being said… and my personal diagnosis of this sport understood… I’m a fan of distance running. In fact, in my opinion there should be a pro-distance league of some sort, where runners brave the elements, run courses all over the world and perhaps run through dirt and sand. Where Chess and distance running have long been overshadowed by other sports, somewhat unfairly, in my opinion.

And now I’m straying off topic but let’s get back to the point… “why is the 1 mile run so important? And what is the significance of it, in this year’s Olympic Games?”

Well, for starters, running the mile under 4 minutes… had never even been done until 1954, when an Oxford runner broke the 4 minute barrier… after decades of failed attempts. Nevertheless, that was 66 years ago and since that time… the limits of this event have continued to EVOLVE. In fact, since that time… most High School’s today… have 1-2 kids that can run under 5 minutes in the mile and a few are even near World Record pace. We’re talking about 4’45, 4’30 and 4’15 mile times, even 4’05 in some rare cases… and in 2001, Alan Webb broke 4 minutes in a High School track meet.

Pretty incredible times, often only a mere 15-20-30-40 seconds off of the WORLD RECORD. And where I grew up, we had 2 runners who ran under 4’30, in High School. Furthermore, that would have probably earned both of them a Harvard scholarship back in 1970 but who’s keeping track?

Anyway; long story short… it’s a field where the science of it has become shrouded in ambiguity throughout recent history and the standards are continuing to evolve. And maybe I’m naive… but for reasons unknown… this sport doesn’t get the recognition that it deserves, in terms of EVOLUTION. Where in my opinion, maybe our society stands to lose some sort of, “work ethic,” by teaching our citizens to push their minds and bodies to the limits, in this case through cardiovascular exercise, but we don’t talk nearly enough about the cardiovascular limits of the human body in terms of evolution, in today’s day and age.

Because again, if Alan Webb ran under 4 minutes in High School, Webb being a person with mediocre physical advantages, I might add, then why is the World Record only 3’42? For example. And furthermore, I don’t know why this sport is so overlooked… but I do know that the pinnacle of this sport… has dramatically shifted over the years.

The World Record, 1 mile run… today stands at 3 minutes and 42 seconds, set by Hichum El Guerrouj in one of the most remarkable races you’ll ever see, which I’ve included at the bottom of this article. But when diagnosing the state of this sport, before you scroll down, (where I hope you’ll watch Hichum’s moment of greatness), I want to explain something to the casual reader… this is evolution. and this is the evolution of not only athletic science but society and the human body itself!

And the World Record is 3 minutes and 42 seconds…. as of today but the history of this record is emblematic of society as a whole, I should say. But comparatively, my friend in High School ran a 4’15 when he was 17 years old… and in hindsight, he was 30 seconds off of the World Record… while attending High School for 6.5 hours a day, with no hope of ever going pro… and training at night, unpaid, simply for the love of the sport. (*And he didn’t even run in college.)

Pretty incredible… although, what’s almost even more incredible is that friend… I believe placed something like 5th or 6th in our County, that same year… and maybe 35th in the state of Michigan? (*Back in 2003.)

And sure, I come from a fairly competitive area… but that in itself… goes to show what a slim margin of error, that there is today, when running this event. But furthermore, what are the limitations of the human body when running at the highest levels today? And is it unfair to young runners, to be so close to an elite level, while not ever getting the recognition of other semi-pro athletes? Perhaps? However, this is the reality of a sport which has so often become overshadowed by basketball and football, while remaining an intricate part of athleticism, itself.

Running mechanics, sprint speed, lung capacity, it all counts… and the premier runners will do breathing exercises, as well as sleep in pressurized environments… just in order to shave seconds off of their times.

But here’s the thing… what is the human body even capable of? Is it even physically possible to run under 3’30? And I think it is… and especially with today’s modern NBA athletes I feel that a runner with a superior body type, like say a Kevin Durant, could possibly run record breaking times… were he to commit to running, as opposed to basketball. Yet, this concept, however, breaks into the topic of EVOLUTION and physical EVOLUTION of the human body, which is why I don’t think that we have this conversation nearly enough, particularly in pop culture. Because again, I think that an athlete like Durant could definitely set the World Record in the 1 mile run but to be honest, I also wonder if the U.S. government doesn’t want everyone striving to become 7 feet tall.

But at the same time… I also wonder… can you die from pushing your body past a 3’40 mile? And I think that answer is also, yes. Which to be clear, means that I think your heart CAN LITERALLY EXPLODE, from training that hard! Which is also fascinating, especially in terms of the relationship between the body and the human mind! And I’ve used Kevin Durant as an example because in my opinion… his Kenyan roots make him an ideal physical specimen for the sport of distance running. *Although, I would also assume that it helps to have curriers in your blood line, which I assume is the reason that Kenyan runners are typically so dominant in the sport.

Regardless… there might be 5,000 runners today who can run under 4 minutes in the mile… and maybe more… maybe 10,000 can do it now. But Google quotes, “,” a running website, when asked how many runners can break 4 minutes in the mile today… and their response was the following…

“According to a Track & Field News list, 487 Americans had run a sub-fourminute mile as of June 3, 2017, and 2016 was the year with the most new additions to the list (27), followed by 2015 (24), 2013 (23), and 2012 (also 23).” Jun 9, 2017

Whereby, again, I’ve placed sentimental value on this event because I find that this event is something of a catalyst, in terms of the evolving human body, as well as… because I believe that the mile is arguably the most competitive event in the entire Olympic Games!

But with 500 U.S. runners going under 4 minutes… how does the Olympic committee choose 12 runners? Particularly, when the top 500 runners are probably separated by 1-2 seconds!?!?!?! But also, beyond that… what if the World Record wasn’t 3’42 and what if the WR we’re to be 3’36? Then would more runners run under 3’40? Which is to say, is it mental? And mentally, if we weren’t taught to believe that 3’42 was the APEX of human achievement then could we run faster?

And that’s the real underlying beauty of this event… is it a mental barrier or a physical barrier at the highest level? And how much do genetics matter?

Yet, furthermore, I’d go as far as to say;

1) Michael Jordan could probably have come close to breaking the 1 mile World Record, in his prime.


2) The US government has probably had Navy Seals break the 1 mile World Record, multiple times.

We’re talking about Julius Cesar’s army marching 300 miles in 5 days, type of human achievement… we’re talking about the Egyptians taking credit for the modern human collar bone, we’re talking about evolution. And another great debate is, “were ancient Olympians actually BETTER than modern athletes?” But we may never know… yet, Wilt Chamberlin makes me think that quite possibly a few were. (And you would think that Rome’s ancient Olympic Games would have ancient records kept somewhere, water timers, or something… laying around somewhere. Although, the footwear also plays a large role in the times.)

Nevertheless, what is GREAT? Is what I’m getting at here… particularly when High School kids are basically 2 trainers away from Olympians… and every second counts.

And that’s where, “greatness,” itself, becomes difficult to surmise. Although, again, this is what the Olympics were designed to do… settle these debates… and in the modern era, we have the film, we have the footage.

But for example, the last Olympic’s were peculiar, beyond peculiar actually… pertaining to the runners approach to this very question. Whereby, looking back at the 2016 Olympic Games and the 1500m event, in particular (this event is 1500 meters now btw and for some reason it’s not a mile anymore) but it seems to me, that by the pace of this event… there was a strong likelihood that these runners were mad about the funding attributed to their sport and chose not to even attempt the WR! Whereby, I believe that this event was corrupted during the last Olympic Games and that these runners chose to voice their frustration(s) through the competition, whereby I also now believe that this was likely due to either frustration over the lack of funding attributed to their sport or the intense competitiveness of the field, which was trimmed down to 12 runners, from a pool of probably 200-300 deserving athletes and that those who did qualify chose to focus on lap 4… to explain to the other runners why they were NOT selected. (*As though sprint speed was the determining factor for the 12 runners who were chosen.)

Because who should get to be a professional Olympian, when everyone runs a 3’50?

BUT NEEDLESS TO SAY, I HATED HOW THESE RUNNERS RAN AT THE LAST OLYMPICS AND YET, I can’t relate to the intensity of their running. Where I know that the pain of the mile is intense, to say the least and even during my amateur 5’45 miles on the treadmill… I wither in pain afterwards, so maybe it’s not my place to judge. However, this is also something that I think this 2016 Olympic field… would be quick to point out.

Nevertheless, those familiar with the legendary Steve Prefontaine… would literally roll over in their graves, having just witnessed this heartless performance, at the 2016 Rio, Olympic Games. Steve Prefontaine… for those who don’t know… is perhaps America’s most famous distance runner, an Oregon runner, who was coached by Phil Knight the founder of Nike and a runner who notoriously ran, “balls to the wall,” from start to finish, every race.

Now, not to compare generations…. but today, as you can see here… a lot of runners coast through the first 3 laps and then treat the final, 4th lap, like a 400 meter sprinting event. And while this can create an entertaining finish, with an explosion over the final 400 meters, it can also feel somewhat amateur, particularly when the entire Olympic field runs 60 seconds per quarter mile and every runner in the field coasts through 75% of the race. However, this is NOT how the 1500m has always been run… historically speaking.


And in this way, running can be artistic, as well.

Because the first time that someone ran this way, in 2005 or whatever, I’m sure that it was entertaining. A runner coasts through 1200 meters at 60 seconds/400m pace, a relatively amateur pace… only to explode on the last lap, for a photo finish, coming all the way from behind, to pass the field with a 49 second 4th lap and something like a 3’49 finish.

Nevertheless, the point that I’m trying to make is that due to a lack of resources attributed to their sport, the runners didn’t seem to care as much last Olympics. Going out at 60 seconds/400 meter pace, for those who don’t know, is a jog for those guys, let alone most college athletes and furthermore, watching this race in retrospect, it’s even more absurd that this race pace was so slow because 4 of the top 10 runners to EVER have run the mile… took part in this event, in 2016. Yet, again, to me this indicates that the athletes themselves feel that their 1 mile event, has become a glorified 400 meter, “sprinting event,” compared to some of the other more heralded events like the Marathon or 100m sprint, which have grown more popular in recent decades. Or perhaps the runner’s were mad because their sponsors had begun showing preference to the Marathon runners and to be honest, what was specifically said, I can’t be sure.

But this event from the last Olympics brings up a plethora of concerns over evolution and the ethics of the Olympic Games, as well as leads me to wonder, did the committee pick the 12 best sprinters? When trimming the field from 1,000 elite runners down to 12, during the last Olympics? Or in essence did the Olympic committee use sprint speed in order to distinguish the Olympic qualifiers? And I guess we’ll never know… but it seems clear to me that there was some level of consensus among these Olympians, last Olympic games, to coast through the first 1200 meters of the race! (A secret consensus among pro athletes? Did the Raptors win the Championship again?)

And I think that the US government kind of hides this as well, perhaps because they don’t want everyone running distance in their spare time and then calling into work. (*Where corporate America tends to get their way on these types of societal issues and perhaps this sports lacks popularity because of the pounding on an elite runner’s knees, as well. Whereby, running your whole life can lead to health issues, particularly in elderly years… although, running can also prevent a hip replacement, when you get older, too).

Regardless, more was going on in this 2016 Olympic race than meets the eye.

Nevertheless, whatever type of understanding that these runners had… it was a sub-par performance, in my eyes, by any measure. Which is to say that every race might not be a World Record but this 2016 Olympic field lacked heart, albeit, “heart,” at a level for which I and most humans… can barely comprehend. Yet, in 2016 a 3'50.62 won the Olympic Gold in the 1500 meter event, not even the 1600 meter, which is also a method that I believe our government uses to shroud the limits of the human body.

BUT AS A FAN OF THIS EVENT AND IN AN EVENT THAT I CONSIDER TO BE THE PINNACLE OF ALL SPORTS, THAT'S JUST NOT VERY GOOD! However, will anything ever compare to what Hicham El Guerrouj did in 1999? Running a then World Record time of 3'43, in Rome? (In the 1600 meters, running 100 meters further, I might add!) AND MAYBE NOT… BUT YOU WOULD THINK THAT TODAY’S OLYMPIANS WOULD CARE MORE!

But ok, don’t take my word for it, check the tape! Am I being judgmental? I don’t know but let’s see what the PINNACLE of human achievement is thus far. And below is Hicham El Guerrouj’s World Record 1 mile and below that is Steve Prefontaine’s finest performance, in a loss at the 1972, Olympic 5k event (3.1 miles).

Hicham El Guerrouj's WR setting 1 mile run, in an absolute classic race.

***** – This one’s blocked from streaming, but it’s available here.******

And you can just see the difference… particularly when it comes to these runner’s HEART.

BUT WITH INFERIOR TRAINING CABILITIES ALMOST 40 YEARS AGO and inferior equipment… compared to what we have today, these runners 20-30 years ago, are outrunning modern athletes… which is essentially both shameful and generational, in some ways. And why isn’t this topic more readily discussed in sports? And I don’t know but it’s a real testament to, “the human spirit,” and this concept of, “physical evolution,” itself.

Although, again, I often wonder… could Russell Westbrook, Alvin Kamara or Kevin Durant, run faster than Hicham El Guerrouj? I think so… and especially if there were more resources put into running. In fact, I am almost 100% sure… that a 3’30 mile, is possible.

Point being… and I’ll end with this… limits can hinder people and even, “a World Record,” is a limit. Whereby, a World Record is an accepted norm and it’s a cancer to human achievement… in my opinion.

But ultimately… I hope to see times like 3’30 or dare I say even 3’15, reached during my lifetime. And furthermore, I’d also like to see the Olympic Committee televise a special… discussing the evolution of this event, during the 2020 Olympic Games. But in conclusion, the 1 mile run is the most important event at the Olympic Games and I believe that the Olympic Committee should re-organize this event to include multiple heats and more runners, in order to create a better race, next time around.

-William Larsen,