Should we bring back the mile?
Last week, NCAA track coaches voted 221-169 at the USTFCCCA in San Antonio to replace the 1,500m with the mile at the NCAA Outdoor Championships. While some—such as my friends at Bring Back The Mile—cheered the decision, others, like all-purpose stud Ben True and former NCAA cross-country champion Keith Kelly, questioned it. “Why?” True Tweeted. “Are we going to switch the 5k to the 3miler and the 800m to the 880? This is a step backwards in my opinion.” My own thoughts on the matter remain somewhat muddled, but I’ll try to sort them out before this entry comes to a close.
“Bringing Back The Mile” is an all-American initiative aimed at increasing awareness and excitement around one of this country’s most recognizable track events, and to that end I think showcasing it as an exhibition or featured race at domestic non-championship meets makes sense and could potentially attract fans and interest. The key word there is potentially—I’m not convinced there’s any measurable way to know for sure. The argument is that U.S. fans can easily identify with distance, the mystique of sub-4:00 mile, the symmetry of a 4-lap race, etc. Globally, however, most no one else really gives a shit about the mile, particularly at the world and Olympic level, where the 1,500m sits neatly among its other metric counterparts at almost every meet, championship or otherwise, with very few exceptions that I can think of minus The Dream Mile in Oslo. Heck, even at the U.S. Outdoor Championships and the Olympic Trials, every other running event on the track—from the 100 all the way up to the 10,000—is in meters, so why replace the 1,500m with the mile at the NCAA Championship meet? To that end, True makes a valid point. The mile sticks out like a sore thumb, even if you can record a 1,500m split along the way. When every event at a global outdoor championship meet is run exclusively in meters, why should the mile at NCAAs be an exception? I believe maintaining consistency across the board is important here.
That said, let’s not even get started on indoor track—where there’s a mile and a 2-mile at the U.S. Indoor Championships but a mile and a 3,000 at the NCAA Championships, and yet a 1,500 and a 3K at the world championships—or U.S. high school track, where inconsistency reigns supreme. Amongst state high school federations, most run the oddball 1,600m and 3,200m events to fit neatly with the rest of an all-metric lineup, a couple still hold the renegade mile and 2-mile, while others contest the rare—at the scholastic level, anyway—1,500m and 3,000m events you see elsewhere around the world.
So, back to the question I posed at the top of this post: Should we bring the back the mile? You tell me.