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Oversized Track Issues
02-21-2010, 12:30 PM
Post: #1
Oversized Track Issues
Over at MichTrack.org (one of my favorite websites), Jeff Hollobough has an article about a fast 400 on an "oversized track". In another article, he talks about records falling and he says:
Quote:... Megan Goethals has hit 10:25.66 for 3200 on an oversized (non-record) track. The state 2M best is 10:22.96 for the full yard distance. Youngster Kendall Baisden might have a chance at the 200/400 bests of 23.90 and 54.79.

On the guys side, watch for Bedford's Nick Kaiser. He just ran an oversized 1:53.17 in Kentucky. The state record on a legal track is 1:52.80. And if Omar Kaddurah and Mike Atchoo keep improving, look for them to threaten the 1600 best of 4:09.0. ...

I have no issue with the concept of maintaining state records for 200 meter tracks. In my day, 200 meter tracks were the exception, not the rule, most tracks we ran on were 10 lap (176 yard if I remember correctly) tracks. High school kids seldom got on a 200 meter track. Ironically when I went to nationals as a freshman in college we were on a banked 17 lap track ...

Fast forward to 2009 and with the construction of the GVSU Turf Building Track I suspect that nearly half of the high school 2010 indoor competition is on a 300 meter track. I don't think it is an illegal track! I'm not even sure it is an oversized track. It is a 300 meter track.

The NCAA has different qualifying standards based on track size. I think it's now time to simply keep a second set of records for 300 meter surfaces because with the completion of GVSU's facility it is now the state standard. Others will eventually follow suit. You cannot compare times on the two surfaces with complete accuracy, but you can recognize significant efforts on each.

What do you think?
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02-21-2010, 01:38 PM
Post: #2
RE: Oversized Track Issues
The quick answer: maybe.

But it's really not a simple question. The history and tradition of the sport needs to be considered. Fairness to other venues needs to be considered.

I've been meaning to put together my thoughts on this, and it looks like today's the day.

The devil's advocate in me wants to say, keep in mind that bigger and faster is not always better.
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02-21-2010, 02:44 PM
Post: #3
RE: Oversized Track Issues
While that is true, the point I believe makes it worth doing is that it's no longer a rare exception. It used to be that you had a couple dozen such results in a season, you put an asterisk next to them and left them for what they were.

Just like we at some point moved from 10 lap to 8 lap as the standard, this is growing.

I certainly respect all that you do to maintain the integrity of the standards. I know that you know that, so I'm not being critical, just saying I think it's time.

What got me deciding to write something is the concept that if a 200 track is "legal" that somehow implies that the 300 track is "illegal" which discounts the many great performances that we are beginning to see. We do agree that they aren't directly comparable with each other.

There are lots of other great reasons to go to GVSU as well. Results go up on the big screen in seconds, they have live cams shooting all over the building. It's fully automated timing and is one of the best organized meets you will ever go to. They use Hytek so that results are immediately usable by stats nuts like you and I, etc. The staff there is awesome, etc. etc. It is just a great venue in which to compete.
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02-21-2010, 02:50 PM
Post: #4
RE: Oversized Track Issues
This went a bit long, so I thank you in advance for taking the time to read it....Jeff

I blame the NCAA. And football. In an era where track & field needs to be simpler, not more complex, in order to attract fan interest, things are getting just too complicated.

Case in point, raised by Don: now that we have a 300-meter track in Allendale, do we need to reconsider the topic of “legal record tracks”?

It’s not a simple question by any means. For a lot of folks in the Grand Rapids area, it’s a no-brainer. However I suspect few there cared about the issue at all more than two years ago, when the only oversized track marks that came up were from Detroit-area track clubs travelling to Ohio and Kentucky. (Incidentally, in all those years, with all those great oversized marks coming from Detroit kids [1:52.21 by Isaiah Ward or even Stan Vinson’s 47.2y in 1971—which would have been a national record at the time], I never heard a complaint from any of the coaches about the marks not being called records).

However, times change. To make sense of the arguments involved, one must step back and understand the history and tradition involved. Here goes. Back in the old days—1960s and earlier, the standard indoor track in North America was usually a board affair that was 10 or 11 laps per mile. A few fieldhouses, like Jenison in East Lansing and Yost (yes!) in Ann Arbor, featured 220y tracks. Indoor track was basically unknown in Europe; it was an American sport.

Back then, indoor record keeping was mostly left to track writers, such as the ones at Track & Field News. For years, they attempted to keep records based on a confusing array of track sizes: 11-laps, 10-laps, 8-laps, etc. That eventually disappeared because it was just too confusing and convoluted. Fans didn’t care. So all the records were lumped together.

As far as I know, the first oversized track was built at the University of Illinois around 1970. Yes, it was notably faster. Since it was the only one of its kind, the track world determined that it was “oversized” and would not count for lap records. Obviously, marks set there in the dash and the hurdles would be acceptable. (Ironic sidenote: the new Illinois track is 200m.)

That was the state of indoor track when I ran my first indoor race in 1977, a two-mile run at the AFL-CIO meet in Cobo Hall, on an 11-lap to the mile banked wooden track that bounced when athletes ran on it. I clocked 11-minutes or so, but who knows. I’m sure I lost count of the laps. I got dizzy running on it, and was scared to death that if I accidentally stepped off, I would snap my ankle. That night, I saw a kid running a 440 (I think) in an outer lane fly off the high part of the curve. Medical attention was needed! Running on the boards was an art form unknown to our current athletes—it took a special combination of agility and fearlessness. In that world, Stan Vinson, one of the all-time greats from Chadsey High and Eastern Michigan, had godlike powers.

What’s changed
Three things: the NCAA, football, and Europe.
The NCAA has long used time-based qualifying for their Division I Indoor Championships. It didn’t take coaches long to figure out they could get faster times on a big track than on a small one. So a few other schools constructed giant tracks (Northern Arizona, Notre Dame, Washington, Kentucky, etc.). They made money off them because so many college coaches were willing to fly kids in from across the country to get their qualifying marks. The coaches who had budget/travel constraints pushed for adjusted qualifying standards, so that they would still have a chance to qualify their kids from a 200-m track, which is the standard for 95% of colleges. However, the qualifying standard adjustments the NCAA still uses remain too weak, and still give too much of an advantage to the big tracks. The proof: colleges are still flocking to those meets.

Most of the giant tracks have been constructed around indoor football practice facilities. In American colleges, football is the tail that wags the dog, so I don’t think the trend to pour more taxpayer money into the gridiron is going to change anytime soon (except perhaps in Michigan, see below). Combine this with college track coaches wanting to have their own giant track so that they can qualify without travelling while raking in money from visiting schools, and you may see more giant tracks being built.

(However—and this is to respond to Don’s contention that the Allendale track is now the “standard” for the state of Michigan—in our state we have between six and ten 200m tracks, so I would argue that remains our standard. And will we really see more colleges in Michigan building giant tracks? Not anytime soon, I bet, given our moribund economy, and the fact that the state is going to have to cut back even more on spending for the public universities.)

Finally, a quick look at Europe. In the 1980s, the Europeans started getting into indoor track in a big way, and so did the IAAF, with the creation of the World Indoor Championships, first held in Indianapolis in 1987. As far as I know, there are no giant tracks in Europe (for a time, there was a big one in the former East Germany, but I believe it is no longer used/in existence). The standard in Europe is the ultra-fast 200m banked synthetic track—the same kind used in New York, Boston, Fayetteville, etc. All world-class invitationals are held on these ovals now. The IAAF now has official indoor world records—modeling their guidelines on the ones that USATF uses—that is, the maximum circumference track acceptable for records is 220y. Oversized marks are not recognized. I don’t see that international rule changing in our time. Building oversized tracks is strictly an American phenomenon.

What’s fair in records
The keeping of state records (or any kind of records) is merely because of a desire to compare marks—we all want to know what was the best ever. And we try to base records on the concept of fairness and standardization, otherwise there’s no point. For instance, because excessive tailwind makes people run faster, sometimes dramatically so, and 95% of races are run with winds less than 2.0mps, then that became the standard for allowable wind. You have to apply rules to records, otherwise you end up with (bad) craziness.

We also base records on tradition. Consider this—we know that bigger tracks are faster. So why not build your next outdoor track to be 500m? Too tough to do staggers, so maybe 800m would be better? Of course, you wouldn’t because that’s not the sport’s tradition (or rules). Maybe this is a little too ad absurdum, but ever consider that your team would score more touchdowns if your football field were only 50 yards long?

There’s a point there, even if silly. However, in indoor track, the cat is already out of the bag. We have 300m tracks. Now we have to deal with them.

I am just about convinced that in the next Michigan Track Yearbook, I need to add a “300m track records” list. Wouldn’t take much more than a feather to push me in that direction, even though I see having two sets of state records as something that will only confuse fans and athletes.

However, I find that I would be terribly troubled if someone were to say “throw out all restrictions and comments on track size, treat everyone equally!” That is because everyone would not be treated equally in such a case. Most of the state’s tracks would be at a disadvantage in the qualifying game, and most of the state’s athletes would be at a disadvantage in the recognition game. More and more athletes would flock to Allendale; which would be great for Grand Valley’s finances, but no one else’s.

If more 300m tracks are built on the other side of the state, then I would gladly reconsider. Just as I would if the IAAF and USATF change their record policies.

Today, we have just one 300m track in Michigan. Yes, the kids that run on it deserve recognition. I am definitely open to suggestions.

PS--It’s clear that MITS needs to adopt a dual set of qualifying standards for lap races. If the directors of the meets at U-M, MSU, CMU and Macomb aren’t already complaining about this, they should be. The current set-up is not fair to anyone.

PPS--No matter what the consensus here, the fact is that any potential world, American, and national high school records set on a 300m track are not eligible for record status, and powers much bigger than me and Michtrack determine that.

PPPS—the GaREAT facility in Northeast Ohio is now open for business, aggressively marketing their own 300m supertrack. I couldn’t help but groan when I saw they are sponsoring their own “national championships” in March in direct competition to the other two national high school indoor championships. As if we needed three national championships, let alone two! Please don’t patronize them. If you really want to win a cheap national title, just invite a few friends and have your own national championships in your gymnasium.
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02-21-2010, 02:51 PM
Post: #5
RE: Oversized Track Issues
Isn't there a conversion for oversized tracks? I agree that "illegal" is not the right term but speaking from experience there is a MAJOR difference running on a 300m track versus a 200m. Is it psychological? Maybe. Just convert the times, and go from there.

What do you think?
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02-21-2010, 03:10 PM (This post was last modified: 02-21-2010 03:32 PM by michtrack.)
Post: #6
RE: Oversized Track Issues
I agree we need to use a conversion for MITS qualifying. It's not foolproof, though. The amount of advantage can vary significantly with leg length, and stride length.

For records, it's a different story. I know a lot of high schools convert records all the time, but I maintain that records must be absolute--never converted. That's how the IAAF, USATF, NCAA all maintain them.
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02-21-2010, 05:37 PM (This post was last modified: 02-21-2010 05:41 PM by DonP.)
Post: #7
RE: Oversized Track Issues
Where to start now ...
  • First Jeff, thanks for taking the time to write a thoughtful article on this. I was glad to see you posted a copy here in addition to the copy over on your site. For some reason I don't succeed in posting comments over there.
  • Second your last paragraph (the PPS) left me sitting here laughing. It reminded me of cross country where there were national championships with very few participants.

I really do believe that the right answer is for you to keep two sets of records (you being the de facto state record keeper which I hugely appreciate).

I do not believe this is confusing to people. We have indoor and outdoor records. We all understand that a 4:00 mile/1600 is impressive indoor or outdoor but that they are different.

I won't pretend to tell MITS what they should do -- it's their series and they get to make the rules. I do agree that there may be an unfairness in comparing one to the other between a 200 and 400 performance. Is that what is creating the "competitive" advantage to GVSU? I'm suggesting there are other factors at work ...
  • two pole vault pits
  • two long jump pits
  • good seating area
  • instant FAT results including display on the big board
  • light and airy
  • kept at a great temperature without all of the lung burn you experience at many other venues
  • ability to wear spikes
  • weight events with space to actually contest them
  • jumbo tron
  • infield with room to actually warm up

Of course the gentler corners offer less risk for injury and faster times.

I totally disagree with the ideas of:

1. keeping one set of records with some conversion factor -- the NFHS rule book talks of integrating hand and FAT times. In this case you can integrate the times for qualifying purposes in an effort to be more or less fair, but doing that for record purposes ... I don't think that appropriate.

2. throwing all records in one bin -- they aren't the same and we all know it.

I probably don't/didn't say what I mean when I say the 300M oval is the standard. Standard is the wrong word on reflection. The standard today is 200M -- I agree. When I ran the standard was probably a ten lap indoor track. We ran at the Armory at Illinois. I guess I ran on 11 lap to the mile tracks ... somehow I have 17 laps stuck in my mind ... guess I'm old and faulty, but yes running on the boards was a unique thing all it's own.

My point is that with a 300M track being used regularly in our state for both high school and college competitions it's time to allow recognition of those performances.

I also don't think that our state Universities all flock there just because it is 300 meters -- they go there because 200/400 meter runners experience less stress, because they run a meet of high quality, because the temperatures of the building are conducive to good performances, because FAT times are on the board in seconds -- nearly live. Without all of the other things that go with, people wouldn't be heading over there.

Anyway let me nudge Jeff to put 300 meter records in the book ... it's another column, brings you in at the same page count and I suspect will if anything result in higher sales since more athletes will be recognized for their performances.
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02-21-2010, 05:43 PM (This post was last modified: 02-21-2010 05:52 PM by DonP.)
Post: #8
RE: Oversized Track Issues
Hey Jeff, I understand many 200 tracks now have hydraulically banked corners? How are those handled for record purposes? We'd all agree that isn't the same as a flat 200 -- wouldn't we? Do they bank them steeper for the faster races?

I remember that the old indoor plywood tracks were banked for the sprints and we were nearly falling off the inside edge at the slower speeds we were moving.

I remember working on the crew assembling Don Canham's new track at the Silverdome in 1983. It was bigger than the old one I think ... maybe ten instead of eleven laps? I remember watching the NCAA's at Cobo in 1978.
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02-21-2010, 06:14 PM
Post: #9
RE: Oversized Track Issues
The hydraulic banked tracks are either amazing or crazy depending on your viewpoint. On the one hand, they make more sense to colleges because they can give you a world-class 200 track, but then can be lowered to allow for multi-sport use of the fieldhouse.

One burning controversy is the fact that on many of the banked tracks, the 200/400 sprinters starting in the outside lanes have a net downhill run. Basically they go down the slope twice but only up once. Maybe it all evens out versus the flat, but I don't think so. So far the IAAF and the international stat people have ignored the issue, and those marks are listed along with the flat ones. I recently saw on the T&FN boards the statement that some in the college ranks are converting those banked marks by the same factor as they use for big tracks.

As for the GVSU meets, I have heard nothing but great comments about the setup and the meet management/results. If I were Bill Gates, I'd buy them a 200m banked synthetic track, and then everyone would be happy!
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02-22-2010, 10:31 AM
Post: #10
RE: Oversized Track Issues
1) GaREAT is in SE Ohio (not NE)

2) records are only as good as the "keeper," thanks Jeff for all of your support of track & field

3) we need a sanctioned indoor season, so we can coach without restrictions
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