Evolution of 1500-m olympic running performance


Advocate Lutheran General Hospital


Purpose:This study determined the evolution of performance and pacing for each winner of the men's Olympic 1500-m running track final from 1924 to 2020.

Methods:Data were obtained from publicly available sources. When official splits were unavailable, times from sources such as YouTube were included and interpolated from video records. Final times, lap splits, and position in the peloton were included. The data are presented relative to 0 to 400 m, 400 to 800 m, 800 to 1200 m, and 1200 to 1500 m. Critical speed and D' were calculated using athletes' season's best times.

Results:Performance improved ∼25 seconds from 1924 to 2020, with most improvement (∼19 s) occurring in the first 10 finals. However, only 2 performances were world records, and only one runner won the event twice. Pacing evolved from a fast start-slow middle-fast finish pattern (reverse J-shaped) to a slower start with steady acceleration in the second half (J-shaped). The coefficient of variation for lap speeds ranged from 1.4% to 15.3%, consistent with a highly tactical pacing pattern. With few exceptions, the eventual winners were near the front throughout, although rarely in the leading position. There is evidence of a general increase in both critical speed and D' that parallels performance.

Conclusions:An evolution in the pacing pattern occurred across several "eras" in the history of Olympic 1500-m racing, consistent with better trained athletes and improved technology. There has been a consistent tactical approach of following opponents until the latter stages, and athletes should develop tactical flexibility, related to their critical speed and D', in planning prerace strategy.



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