Bringing buzz back to the mile

It has been more than 30 years since U.S. track and field adopted the metric system, but was something valuable lost when the mile was trimmed to 1,600 meters? ESPNHS

A new campaign aimed at promoting the traditional mile – while eradicating the 1,600 meters – is about to take off, and organizers say it is an important step toward connecting the sport of track and field with the general public again.

David Monico and Ryan Lamppa, of Santa Barbara, Calif., are leading the charge for a grassroots movement that they hope will catch fire. Their new website, www.bringbackthemile.com, is due for launch this week.

“The mile, in general, is a distance and an event that has cache within the sports mainstream and has meaning all around the world,” Monico said.

In the mid to late 1970s, high school and college track and field in the U.S. went through an arduous process of converting 440-yard tracks to 400-meter ovals as the sport aligned with the rest of the world in using the metric system.

In the majority of states, the standard four-lap race became the 1,600 meters, a distance 9.344 meters short of a full mile. (Only Massachusetts offers the mile at its championship meet).

Monico and others point to Roger Bannister’s historic first sub-four minute mile in 1954 as one of the greatest athletic achievements of the 20th century and claim that the public’s fascination with the sub-four mile has been eroded by the advent of the 1,600 meters.

“This the only country that continues to use miles in everyday life,” Monico said. “So to be using 1,600 meters (as a race distance) confuses the heck out of people.”

A handful of states made the decision to go straight from the old-school mile to the 1,500 meters – the standard distance used by the NCAA and IAAF (not to mention the Olympic Games).

Monico, a former runner and coach, said he is involved in this movement because he’s a fan of the sport and wants to see it grow.

“This campaign is to grow awareness,” he said, “and to put the mile and the sport back on the map.”

Bring Back The Mile aims to elevate and celebrate the mile and shine a spotlight on the prominent U.S. athletes who are part of the country’s heritage in the mile. Jenny Simpson won the World Championships gold medal in the 1,500 meters last summer and Matthew Centrowitz earned a bronze.

“Articles about Jenny (Simpson) refer to her as a ‘miler,’” Monico said. “That’s the identity we’re trying to promote. The mile is a special distance. It is still an IAAF recognized event.”

The 1,600 meters, meanwhile, is not recognized by the IAAF. Outside of U.S. high schools, it is a distance that is almost never contested – anywhere.

“I do believe that (the 1,600) has played a small part in getting track off the radar with the media and general public,” Monico said.

Bring Back The Mile aims to highlight the 50th anniversary of Jim Beatty’s first U.S. indoor sub-four mile as well as the upcoming New Balance Indoor Gran Prix and Millrose Games miles.