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Herk Confer's question on fast Atlanta track

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  • Herk Confer's question on fast Atlanta track

    On August 11, Herk Confer wrote:

    > Does anyone know if the running track for the Atlanta games was a "tuned"
    > track? By tuning I mean that the stiffness of the track is set to minimize
    > contact time and optimize step length and speed. The reason I ask is that
    > throughout the Olympics they referred to the track as being a "fast track"
    > and I thought that this may be the reason why.

    > Herk A. Confer

    I agree with Martha Jack in her message from yesterday that the
    Atlanta track was probably not a "tuned" track such as the scientifically
    designed track at Harvard.

    In the sport of track and field, the term "fast track" is often used
    loosely to describe a track that, for whatever reason, leads (or seems to
    lead!) to fast times, particularly in sprinting races. According to what I
    have read in the (non-scientific!) magazine Track & Field News, some of the
    ***harder*** tracks have a reputation for producing faster times in sprint
    races and also better results in events requiring fast sprinting speed such
    as the long and triple jumps. I half-remember reading within the past
    couple of years in Track & Field News that the International Amateur
    Athletic Federation (IAAF) has put some kind of restriction on the hardness
    that a track can have. The reasoning is that the harder the track, the
    faster the sprinting, but also the greater the likelyhood of injury,
    particularly through the repetitive use of a hard track for training. It
    was said that the track used for the 1991 World Championships in Tokyo may
    have been harder than the maximum allowed. The Atlanta track was reported
    to be harder than most other tracks, and it was also reported to "feel"
    faster than most other tracks. Did it really produce faster times? Or is
    it all in the athletes' imagination? Who knows?! The differences (if they
    truly exist) are small enough that it is difficult to prove statistically if
    one track is faster or slower than another. If you have a competition that
    produces a few particularly good times, everyone is going to start saying
    that this is a fast track, even if the fast times were due to some other
    reason, such as the fact that all the athletes were particularly well
    prepared for that competition, or even mere chance! Maybe there IS
    something to all this, and some outdoor track & field tracks are markedly
    faster than others (say, half a tenth of a second for 100 meters?), but I
    have not seen clear evidence of it up to this point.

    Jesus Dapena
    Jesus Dapena
    Department of Kinesiology
    Indiana University

    Bloomington, IN 47405, USA