Track and Field: The Mile Run Still Thrives in a Metric World

Red Shannon@@rojosportsFeatured ColumnistJanuary 29, 2013

EUGENE, OR - JUNE 28:  Galen Rupp (R) celebrates after finishing ahead of Bernard Lagat and winning the Men's 5000 Meter Run on day seven of the U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team Trials at the Hayward Field on June 28, 2012 in Eugene, Oregon.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Last weekend's action in the world of track and field did nothing to help the cause of those who would convert us all to an exclusive global metric system.

Continuing to survive as the last holdout of the old imperial system of measurement, the mile run last Saturday solidified its relevance in the realm of the runner's sport.

In a magical five-minute window of time, two individuals rattled the record books in noteworthy early-season surprises.

In New York's New Balance Games, 16-year-old Mary Cain pulverized (four minutes, 32.78 seconds) the national high school indoor mile record which had endured for 41 years—and, for good measure, took down the 1500 meter high school record along the way. It was also 2013's fastest time in the world at the Junior competition level.

At the moment of Cain's dramatic finish, American 10,000 meter record-holder Galen Rupp was entering the final 400 meters of his indoor mile at the Boston University Terrier Invitational, only 215 miles away. Rupp kicked to become the fifth-fastest indoor miler ever, in 3:50.92, narrowly missing Bernard Lagat's American indoor record (3:49.89).

For those following the simultaneously trending events on Twitter, it was a frantic exercise in "scroll and refresh".

In either meet, there was no question beforehand as to which athlete (or event) would draw the spotlight. Cain's youth and talent has been rekindling fond memories of past distance legend Mary Decker and Rupp is just now showing the long-awaited promise of a true world-class runner.

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Die-hard track fans were anticipating both races and there was no disappointment in the results. To have both come via the mile only added to the legacy of the most storied distance in racing.

Bring Back the Mile is a website devoted to the sanctity and perpetuity of that classic unit of length. Its founder, Ryan Lamppa had this to say:

With Mary Cain's stunning high school indoor record of 4:32.78, Galen Rupp's 3:50.92 indoor mile...and a plethora of other top mile times here, it was perhaps, in totality, the best weekend for the mile on U.S  soil. In a word, "wow!"

The timing couldn't have been better as the mile has gradually eroded from the consciousness of a generation nursed on the metric system. Again, Lamppa elaborates:

...the mile has lost some of its luster because there are fewer mile events run here and worldwide—particularly post-collegiate indoors—than 10-20 years ago...(but)...without a doubt, the mile holds a special place in track and field and beyond because no running distance—or field event for that matter— has the history, the appeal, the magic of the mile...and no other event has produced an equivalent of the sub-4 minute mile standard in the sport, in the media and in the public's mind.

To further the argument, consider the premier event and grand finale at the prestigious Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Oregon—the Bowerman Mile. It annually attracts the top 10-15 runners in the world and predictably produces multiple world-leading times.

And even the casual fan must acknowledge the fame and historical significance of the Millrose Games' Wanamaker Mile.

But after all, this is America, where tradition dies hard:

The mile isn't going away anytime soon because it is still a marquee event in this country and Bring Back the Mile's tagline is "America's distance" because we Americans think, speak and relate in miles, not kilometers. In short, people in this country and elsewhere "get" and love the mile. It still resonates.

I suppose as long as touchdowns are measured in yards and home runs in feet, Lamppa has a point.

Looking ahead -

Galen Rupp will move up to the 3000 meters this Saturday at the New Balance Grand Prix in Boston.

On Saturday, Feb. 16,  the 106th Millrose Games will feature two exceptional indoor mile races—the men's and women's Wanamaker Mile. In the men's race, look for Matthew Centrowitz, Leo Manzano, Lopez Lamong and Lawi Lalang to challenge for honors.

The women's race highlights pro racers Sheila Reid, Sarah Bowman Brown and Emma Coburn with collegian Jordan Hasay and the sensational high school junior, Mary Cain.

ESPN3 will broadcast live (time to be determined) and run the replay on ESPN Feb. 17 at 8-10 p.m.

Rojofact - The mile fields at the Prefontaine Classic are so concentrated with excellence, two separate races must be contested—the International Mile and the Bowerman Mile. In 2011, a total of 20 runners finished in sub-4 minutes. The four-minute mile is still a standard considered to be a major breakthrough in an elite runner's career.

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