No, the paralympians would not have won the Olympic 1500 meter finals

Posted by Dave on September 13, 2016 | Comments Off

A story on the Huffington Post is making major traction these days: The winning time in the Paralympic 1500-meter run was actually faster than the winning time in the Rio Olympics.

Technically that is true: The Paralympic champion, Abdellatif Baka of Algeria, finished in 3:48.29, while Matthew Centrowitz’s winning time in the Rio games was a tad slower, 3:50.00. Baka’s pace was truly amazing and inspirational, even more so because he is legally blind. But the Post article goes on to claim that the first four finishers “would have beat out Matthew Centrowitz” for the Gold if they had been competing in the Rio games. Um, I’m sorry, but they would not have.

The 1500-meter dash at the Olympic level is a tactical race. The first two laps this year were run at an excruciatingly slow pace as runners jockeyed for position. Centrowitz held off all challengers when the race finally sped up in the final lap, running the last 400 meters in just over 50 seconds. None of the participants in the Paralympics have that kind of foot speed, which would work out to a blistering 3:09 1500 meters (or a 3:23 mile) if it was sustainable.

Centrowitz is capable of running a much faster 1500 than he did in the Olympics, but he was counting on having a better final sprint than the rest of the field, so he was happy to run at a very slow pace for the first half of the race if no one challenged him. But make no mistake, if someone had challenged him by running faster at the start, he could have easily kept up. His PR in the 1500 is 3:30.4, which would have put him nearly 150 meters ahead of the fastest paralympian at Rio.

The Paralympics are an astonishing testament to the dedication of hard-working athletes who have beaten dismal odds, but let’s not exaggerate the accomplishments of these athletes by suggesting they would win in a head-to-head matchup against the medalists in the traditional Olympic games.

That said, a 3:48 1500 and a gold medal is impressive in its own right! Congratulations to the truly amazing Abdellatif Baka and his fellow Paralympic champions!

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