Track and Field Units of Measure

I was watching Track and Field last night when a seemingly obvious question came to mind. I say “seemingly” because it has never crossed my mind before.

Why do we measure running distances (except the marathon) in meters but throwing and jumping distances in feet-inches?

Of course, this might be a foible of American TV. I was watching NBC after all, and they might assume that while the average American probably knows what a meter is, he or she will be extremely unlikely to know what a centimeter looks like (I may be being cynical, but I doubt it).

A quick check of Wikipedia, the repository of all human knowledge in its most precise form, shows a listing of world records in feet. Okay, maybe this is a wikipedia thing, measuring things in feet, while the rest of the world sensibly goes with meters.

Nope. According to the official results from the Sidney Olympics, we measure the Long Jump in feet, to the nearest hundreth. This is screwy. Entirely screwy. Why are we measuring in feet, still? And which foot are we using? I hope it’s the international foot, rather than the American Survey Foot, although the difference between those two is only found in the seventh decimal place (0.3048 meters for an international foot and 0.30480061 meters for a survey foot) so it wouldn’t really matter.


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