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The 100 meters, but with 40 meters less

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The 100 meters, but with 40 meters less

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In sport, certain distances have established themselves by convention, such as the marathon. Others, such as in swimming or athletics, simply measure round: this is the case of the 100 meter dash, the most anticipated race of the Olympics. But in athletics, now almost only in indoor athletics, there is an even shorter distance: 60 meters. It survives mostly due to space issues, because on indoor tracks like the one that will host the World Indoor Championships in Glasgow, Scotland from 1 to 3 March, there isn’t enough to run the 100 metres.

Outside of athletics, 60 meters has survived as a distance over which the speed of footballers, rugby players or baseball players is sometimes measured, for whom 100 meters is a less useful distance because it is approximately equal to the entire length of the field on they play: they are more likely to sprint 60 meters than 100.

In athletics, the 60 meters are for indoor races what the 100 meters are for outdoor races. They do not have the charm and attractiveness of the 100 meters and are a by-product of it, a winter declination used to prepare for the much more important summer events. They are a specialty in which there are no real specialists: there are only sprinters who also dedicate themselves to the 60 metres. And, however, there are also 100m runners who don’t even consider the 60 meters: the Jamaican Usain Bolt, for example, has never run them, although it has been calculated that in establishing his world record in the 100 meters – of 9 seconds and 58, still unbeaten – ran a 60 meter time in passing that was lower than the current world record in the category.

However, before becoming the indoor equivalent of the 100m, the 60m was also an Olympic specialty: on two occasions, in 1900 and 1904. Both times it was run only by males and they won, always with a time of 7 seconds (the stopwatches and the timekeepers did their best), were two Americans.

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From 1908 the 60 meters was eliminated from the Olympic program, but unlike other less successful distances, such as the 50 meters or the 60 yards, equal to approximately 55 metres, they did not disappear completely. They reappeared in 1985 at the World Indoor Games in Paris, a preview of what only began to be called the World Indoor Athletics Championships in 1987. The winner in 1985 was Canadian Ben Johnson, Carl Lewis’ rival, in 6 seconds and 62 hundredths.

Since then, at both male and female level, the 60 meters have been one of the peculiarities of indoor athletics, which takes place in smaller spaces, with runways 200 instead of 400 meters long and in which the curves have a smaller radius, as well as a slight inclination. In indoor athletics there are no throws (hammer, discus and javelin) and the longest distance is three thousand metres, in which male and female athletes do double the number of laps compared to outdoor competitions. Another difference is the 60 meter hurdles, the indoor version of the 100 and 110 meter hurdles. The 60 meters, both flat and hurdles, were also run in the center of the track and not, like the 100 meters outdoors, on one of its two parallel straights.

The little space available also has another consequence: once the 60 meters are finished, in which the best in the world reach speeds of about forty kilometers per hour, there aren’t many meters to slow down, which is why on the edge of the track, beyond the curve, there is a mattress that the sprinters crash into. Sometimes in trying to slow down before reaching the curve of the track, which is a bit inclined, there are even those who stumble and fall.

In more technical terms, the 60 meters also have other peculiarities. First of all, like all indoor athletics, they are not influenced by wind or other atmospheric events, and then they make the reaction speed at the start and the acceleration capacity in the first tens of meters even more decisive. The 60 meters are, among other things, the moment, one meter plus and one meter minus, in which sprinters, even hundred-metre runners, reach their full speed: from then on, generally, it slows down.

A consequence of these differences is that the best sixty-meter runners are usually less tall and lighter compared to athletes who do better in the 100 meters. But it is more a question of form: almost always a good time over 60 meters is achieved at the beginning of the year, and is therefore a sign of good preparation or, even, according to some, a sign of having reached the peak of performance too early. form.

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Athletes typically aim to reach that peak in the summer, when there are World Championships (outdoors) and the Olympics. And it is for this reason, as well as the fact that 100 meter races are much more frequent than 60 meter races, that the absolute best 60 meter times are set by someone who was running the 100.

The men’s indoor world record over 60 meters belongs to the American Christian Coleman who in 2018, after a not a great start, he ran them in 6 seconds and 34 hundredths; the women’s one, by the Russian Irina Privalova, has resisted since the nineties. However, in the last edition of the World Indoor Championships, in 2022, Coleman came second behind the Italian Marcell Jacobs, who won, as reigning Olympic champion, in 6 seconds and 41 hundredths. Jacobs, who will not be present at the World Championships in Glasgow, is however not the reigning European champion, because a year ago, at the European Indoor Championships, he came second behind the Italian Samuele Ceccarelli.

None of them, however, came close to the 6 seconds and 31 hundredths that Bolt was calculated to have taken to run the 60 meters while he was busy setting the 100m world record, which is still his, in 9 seconds and 58 hundredths . However, not even Bolt has the best overall passing time over 60 metres: in fact, it belongs to the Chinese Su Bingtian, who reached the 60 meters in the Tokyo Olympic semi-final 6 seconds and 29 hundredths.

In Glasgow, the men’s and women’s 60m finals will be Friday and Saturday evenings, a few hours after the semi-finals. The favorites on the men’s level are Coleman and his compatriot Noah Lyles, world champion in the 100 and 200. On the women’s level, the main favorite is the twenty-two-year-old Julien Alfred, who in a few months could win the first Olympic medal in the history of her country : the small island state of Saint Lucia, in Central America. This year she was the only woman to run the 60 meters in less than 7 seconds.

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