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Introduction to Middle Distance Running

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Events:

Middle distance events generally include the 800-, 1000-, 1500- and 2000-meter runs, as well as the mile run.

Technique:

Competitors do not use starting blocks. Runners may not touch the ground with their hands at the start. In the 800, starting positions are staggered to equalize the length of each lane on the curved track. Runners must remain in their lanes until the end of the first turn. Stamina is important in all middle distance events, as is strategy, as runners must conserve some energy in order to finish strong.

What to Look For:

In the 800, runners from the outside lanes boxing in runners from the inside lanes after the first turn. In all events, a slower pace favors runners with strong finishing kicks. Lead runners, particularly in longer events, encounter more wind resistance, and therefore expend more energy, than the runners immediately behind them.

Men's World Records:

At age 21, Kenya's David Rudisha followed pacesetter Sammy Tangui through a fast (48.2 seconds) first lap. Rudisha nearly maintained the blistering pace through the second lap to set the 800-meter record of 1:41.01 on Aug. 29, 2010 (the mark is currently subject to standard IAAF verification procedures).

Former record: Sebastian Coe's former mark of 1:41.73 stood for 16 years before Wilson Kipketer's amazing six-week attack on the mark in 1997. The Kenyan native, running for Denmark, tied Coe's record on July 7 of that year, then broke the mark twice in August, running 1:41.24 on Aug. 13, then lowering the record to 1:41.11 on Aug. 24 at the Cologne Grand Prix in Germany. Kipketer, known for excellent form and a strong finishing kick, benefited from the fast pace set by Kenyan David Kiptoo to set the record.

The 1000 is overshadowed by its much-more glamorous cousins, the 1500 and the mile. So recaps of Noah Ngeny’s career generally begin with his upset victory over Hicham El Guerrouj of Morocco in the 2000 Olympics 1500 race. Buried later in the summary will be the Kenyan's outstanding run in the 1000, when he broke Sebastian Coe's 18-year-old world mark in a time of 2:11.96, at Rieti, Italy. The record hasn't been seriously challenged since.

Historically the most glamorous of all track and field events, the venerable mile continues to be run while its non-metric brethren - except for the marathon - have faded away.

The mile isn’t run in the Olympics or the world championships. But it still captures people’s attention, even though the record has been unchanged since El Guerrouj won a brilliant battle with Ngeny on July 7, 1999, in Rome’s Olympic Stadium. With Ngeny virtually on his heels down the stretch, El Guerrouj broke the mile record with a time of 3:43.13. Ngeny’s time of 3:43.40 remains the second fastest mile ever run.

In contrast to his record-setting effort in the mile one year later, El Guerrouj was virtually alone when he completed his record-setting 1500-meter effort of 3:26.00 on July 14, 1998, in Rome. Previously, Algerian Noureddine Morceli had run the four fastest 1500s in history, with El Guerrouj fifth.

On Sept. 7, 1999, El Guerrouj capped a two-season assault on the record book by setting his third world mark – all previously held by Morceli – while winning the 2000 meters in 4:44.79. El Guerrouj topped Morceli’s old record by more than three seconds.

Women's World Records:

Jarmila Kratochvilova of the Czech Republic (then still part of Czechoslovakia) set the 800 world record almost by accident. Her time of 1:53.28, set on July 26, 1983, is currently the longest-standing individual track and field record. She originally traveled to the Munich, Germany event only to tune up for the forthcoming world championships, and only to run in her specialty, the 400. She switched to the 800 after suffering leg cramps that, she felt, would make it difficult for her to run the shorter sprint race.

In a two-month span in 1996, Russian Svetlana Masterkova won two Olympic Gold medals – in the 800 and 1500 – then set two world records that continue to stand. More remarkably, she set her initial record in her first-ever mile run, with a time of 4:12.56 at a meet in Zurich, Switzerland on Aug. 14. She then established the 1000-meter record (2:28.98) in Brussels, Belgium on Aug. 23.

Shortly after the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow, Olympic champion Tatyana Kazankina from the Soviet Union ran the women’s 1500m World record with 3:52.47, which remained unbeaten until 1993, when the Chinese Qu Yunxia astonished the athletics world with an amazing 3:50.46 in Beijing, China.

Chinese runners dominated many middle- and long-distance events in the 90s, led by several competitors trained by legendary coach Ma Zunren. Two of those runners, Yunxia Qu and Wang Junxia, both shattered the women’s 1500-meter record in a meet held in Beijing on Sept. 11, 1993, with Qu winning the race in 3:50.46, taking two seconds off the previous mark.

Best known for her accomplishments in the 5000, Ireland’s Sonia O’Sullivan dominated several shorter events in 1994 and 1995, when she had the world’s fastest time in the 1500, 2000, 3000 and the mile in both years. She set the 2000-meter record in Edinburgh on July, 8, 1994, with a time of 5:25.36.

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