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Altitude in the 400 (lonnnng post for geeks only)


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  • Altitude in the 400 (lonnnng post for geeks only)

    Inappropriately (mea culpa) the Mike Larrabee thread slipped off-course and got into altitude-aid value. About a year ago on the Darkwing list I noted that I had always throught that the empirical evidence showed that a site as high as Mexico City (2300m/7546ft) was worth about an extra second in the 400.

    That data is, of course, a bit colored by the fact that if you look at any Olympic races you're going to find people running faster than normal.

    At any rate, after 30 years of thinking about it but never actually doing it (time flies when you're having fun)I took the 10 guys in the World Rankings for that year and noted their altitude best (for some it was Echo Summit's 1897m/6224 for the OT, not M City), and their non-altitude best for the year and came up with the differentials:

    1. Evans 43.8-45.0 (1.2)
    2. James 43.9-44.9 (1.0)
    3. Freeman 44.4-45.4 (1.0)
    4. Matthews 44.4-45.0 (0.6)
    5. Gakou 45.0-46.7 (not enough sea-level data to trust)
    6. Jellinghaus 44.9-46.0 (1.1)
    7. Collett 44.9-45.4 (0.5)
    8. Bezabeh (only altitude data was available)
    9. Badenski 45.4-46.2 (0.8)
    10. Taylor (hurt in OT quarters, so doesn't have "real" altitude mark)

    Average improvement of the 7 guys who had numbers one could work with: 0.89.


    Now let's look at the 400H:

    1. Hemery 48.1-49.6 (1.5)
    2. Hennige 49.0-50.0 (1.0)
    3. Vanderstock 48.8-49.6 (0.8)
    4. Sherwood 49.0-50.5 (1.5)
    5. Whitney 49.0-49.5 (0.5)
    6. Skomorokhov 49.1-50.1 (1.0)
    7. Frinolli 49.2-49.7 (0.5)
    8. Schubert 49.1-50.3 (1.2)
    9. Knoke 49.6-50.0 (0.4)
    10. Gittins 49.1-50.5 (1.4)

    Average improvement: 0.98

    So, the OT/OG sites were clearly worth about a second, but how much of that was caused by the meet I don't know. Maybe in the next 30 years I'll find the time to do similar calculations for other Olympic years and find out how much "adrenaline" is responsible for of that second.

    Dr. Jonas Mureika, noted researcher, would probably say about half of it, becuase here's his response to my babblings:

    "Luckily, I'm working on 400m altitude assistance at this very moment! Based on my models, I find the altitude assistance of the two venues (2250m) to be almost exactly 0.5s. That's purely altitude assistance, mind you, no wind considerations. Wind can play havock with 400m performances, since unless you have absolutely still conditions or a cross-wind (which helps you on the last turn), or arguably favorable swirling winds, you're done for.

    The real problem with correcting 400m races is that there is absolutely *no* wind data avaialble to work from, so it's mostly guesswork when comparing to actual races, or has to be based on similar statistical analyses to this which don't account for that factor. The fact that you found a few in the 0.5s range is encouraging (glass is half-full!)

    I'm still working on the data, but I anticipate throwing together something for publication in a little while. If anyone is interested, I'd be happy to elaborate further.

    Dr. Jonas R. Mureika W. M. Keck Science Center The Claremont Colleges Claremont, California 91711-5916
    Web: Email: [email protected]"

  • #2
    Re: Altitude in the 400 (lonnnng post for geeks only)

    How about the differences in performance for the times of the relay teams (hard to do, we know, as they don't run together too often before the Olys). Maybe info for the Euro teams is available. And the difference in the 800 times would be interesting. It would have been something to see how a healthy Ryun could have done in the 800, even at altitude. Anything over 2 minutes was probably too long for the sea level runners, but it's possible he may have run sub 1:44 at altitude anyhow, as the Aussie ran his lifetime best - a corrected time of 1:44.4 in a great race with a Kenyan, of course.


    • #3
      Re: Altitude in the 400 (lonnnng post for geeks only)

      old vaulter wrote (in part):

      >To factor out the (probably considerable) effect
      >of these meets being the OT and OG, as well as
      >later in the season, how about doing the same
      >comparisons for 1964, 1972, and other Olympic
      >years where the trials and games were held at
      >low-altitude venues? I would think one would
      >still find a significant difference between
      >low-altitude pre-trials marks and marks set in
      >the trials or the games.>>

      Actually, I started to do that this afternoon and I'm shocked by the results. Of teh 10 men World Ranked in '00, 8 of them ran in Sydney. Only 2 got their seasonal bests.

      So I reasoned that Sydney simply came too late for people to be PRing and moved onto 1996.

      Only 6 of the 10 Rankers ran in the OG, and one of those, Reynolds, was hurt in the semis. Of the other 5, number who got seasonal bests in OG: 0! (but factoring out an altitude-aided seasonal best for one of them, 1 did)

      So for at least the last two OG, there has apparently been almost zero "Olympic factor."


      • #4
        Re: Altitude in the 400 (lonnnng post for geeks only)

        Other factors that cloud the issue:

        1) Latitude. Because of the spinning of the earth, gravity is slightly but measurably less near the equator than near the poles. No major meet has ever been held closer to the equator. However, it appears that this wouldn't be as important factor in the 400m as in the jumps, but it still must have had an effect.

        2) The track. From what I understand, rubberized tracks were still somewhat rare in 1968, especially outside of the USA. Needless to say, they are much faster than your run-of-the-mill cinder track. Some Americans might have run on them only at the OT and OG; others maybe only at the OG.

        There are so many differences between now and yesteryear that time comparisons only have so much meaning. Peter Snell ran his 1:44.3 on a 385y grass track; trying to compare that to Coe's best marks is difficult. When Clayton ran 2:08, he didn't have the benefit of a pacemaker or modern sports drinks (and I think the IAAF still restricted access to water at the time).


        • #5
          Re: Altitude in the 400 (lonnnng post for geeks only)

          I doubt that variations in the gravitational acceleration will provide much of an influence. While physically present, some effects are probably not observable, and would be drowned out by other factors (wind/altitude, temperature, humidity, pressure, track surface, etc...).


          • #6
            Re: Altitude in the 400 (lonnnng post for geeks only)


            It is worth noting that a biomechanical analysis of Beamon's jump showed that even at sea level he would have still smashed the WR so altitude alone cannot account for all of the difference even in the 400m


            • #7
              Re: Altitude in the 400 (lonnnng post for geeks only)

              The 400m and long jump are two very different events when you're considering drag. Large effects in one may not imply as large an effect in the other. Besides, there is a long-standing rumor that Beamon's jump was wind-aided, and that the officials were recording any wind in excess of 2m/s as simply 2m/s. Not sure of the origins of this, but it's not necessarily unreasonable (I don't think!).


              • #8
                Re: Altitude in the 400 (lonnnng post for geeks only)

                Re Beamon and wind aid: I was not there, so can't speak from personal experience, but over the years I've talked to at least a dozen "expert witnesses" who were, and I don't recall any of them saying they thought the wind was legal.

                And that observation was based solely on observable conditions.

                A empirical look at all the wind readings taken in the meet throws a huge shadow over the proceedings.


                • #9
                  Re: Altitude in the 400 (lonnnng post for geeks only)

                  This is a repeat of comment I made about Atlanta's mysterious "launching pad" --- which seems to bestow blessings on home runs and sprint times despite a very modest 992-foot alt.

                  Could be the "launching pad" has to do with density altitude. This is a phenomenon well known to pilots. Example: Lake Tahoe is 6200 feet. But on an 80 degree day, a plane's wings and prop will get no more lift out of South Lake Tahoe's airport than if the airport was at 9,000 feet on a 59-degree (so-called "standard) day.

                  I vaguely recall the air temperature during MJ's WR was in the high 80s/low 90s. So the density altitude may have been around 4,000 feet.

                  Now, whether density altitude affects runners as it does wings and props, I have no idea. Is there a physicist in the crowd?


                  • #10
                    Re: Altitude in the 400 (lonnnng post for geeks only)

                    gh, are you suggesting that only the long jump winds were suspect, or that this extended to other events as well?


                    • #11
                      Re: Altitude in the 400 (lonnnng post for geeks only)

                      In re: density altitude. Any factor which affects aerodynamic drag will influence the sprints and jumps. Wind and altitude are the most obvious, but certainly humidity, barometric pressure, and temperature will also have some kind of effect. Gases expand at higher temperatures, so the density will decrease as it gets hotter (if the pressure remains relatively constant). This would be equivalent to a rise in altitude. What this "equivalent" altitude change would be for a 20F (or say 8C) temperature variation I'm not immediately sure, but it wouldn't be hard to calculate (although unless you accounted for the other factors, it would be somewhat limited).

                      I have a thesis student working on the temperature/humidity factors in the 100 and 200m even as we speak. This will be done sometime in the near future, so stay tuned!


                      • #12
                        Re: Altitude in the 400 (lonnnng post for geeks only)

                        >gh, are you suggesting that only the long jump
                        >winds were suspect, or that this extended to
                        >other events as well?>>

                        I'm not SUGGESTING anything. I'm saying flat out (and I'm not the first, since there were people aware of this long before I became part of T&FN) that the Mexico readings up and down the line were ludicrous.

                        I'll see what I can dig up re actual readings, but the T&FN Oly edition said this:

                        "Accuracy in measuring the wind readings is possibly the only facet of officiating subject to criticism--and that iwll probably always remain a matter of conjecture. [GH: NOT!] Wind readings changed drasticallly between heats, NO ADVERSE READINGS WERE PROVIDED [caps mine] and a number of outstanding marks were reportedly aided by the absolute maximum of 2.0mps on the World Record leaps of Bob Beamon in the long jump and Nelson Prudencio and Viktor Saneyev in the triplejump aswell as a number of women's events. Even the athletes volunteered they thought the wind readings were favorably generous to the competitors in certain instances."


                        • #13
                          Re: Altitude in the 400 (lonnnng post for geeks only)

                          Love to read about all this 400 at altitude stuff but regarding the "Olympic factor" I think that 4 rounds of 400s will take an edge off that same factor. At least they are not running Semi and Final on the same day as they did in the 50's.
                          Regarding Beamon at Mexico City. There were lots of speculations in European papers about that 2.0 wind reading. What was really weird was that Saneyev's winning jump and W-rec in the T.J. 57-3/4 also had a reading of 2.0. Not only that, but his second best jump had a 2.0 reading as well. I am pretty sure that even Nelson Prudencio's best jump amazingly had a 2.0 reading. He got silver medal in those Mexico City games.


                          • #14
                            Re: Altitude in the 400 (lonnnng post for geeks only)

                            Getting back to the original premise--how much did Mexico aid the 400?--for a minute, here's another piece of empirical data, since one of the posters in the thread brought up the possibility that perhaps dirt tracks had held back non-OG performances.

                            1975 Pan-Am Games in Mexico City. Run in mid-October, when we wouldn't expect people to be in particularly great shape. And not exactly the same kind of motivator that the OG is. Two guys World Ranked:

                            Ronnie Ray 44.45; best low-alt for the year 45.42, an 0.98 difference.
                            Juantorena 44.80; low-alt best 45.51 (0.71).

                            The two (hardly a real sample) average an 0.85 improvement (recall that the number for OG was 0.89).


                            • #15
                              bump, because somebody raised this question about Andrae Williams and Lubbock recently.