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History of the 400-Meter Dash

by
author image Nick Georgandis
Nick Georgandis has been a professional writer since 1993. His work has been published by the Associated Press, "Sports Illustrated," "The Houston Chronicle," as well as several regional and local newspapers and magazines. Georgandis has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Texas A&M University.
History of the 400-Meter Dash
The 400-meter dash has an Olympic history dating back to the start of the modern games in 1896. Photo Credit running legs on track image by jimcox40 from Fotolia.com

The 400-meter dash has been part of the Olympic Games since the start of the modern games in 1896. The distance is roughly one-fourth of a mile, or one lap around a modern track. When runners compete in the 400-meter dash, they are staggered in lanes, and must stay in the same lane throughout the race.The 400-meter run is the longest track and field event still classified as a sprint.

Strategy for Running

According to American sprinter Michael Johnson, who held the 400-meter dash world record as of 2014, the best way to run the race well is by using the four "P"s: Push out of the blocks at top speed; pace in the second 100 meters; position yourself for the race's end in the third 100 meters; and pray for the home stretch. Johnson also says that the race is a lot more intellectual than a classic sprint, because no one can run it full speed the entire way.

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Olympic History

The 400-meter dash made its debut in the first-ever modern Olympic Games, held in Athens in 1896. American Thomas Burke took the gold medal, finishing in 54.2 seconds, with fellow American Herbert Jamison second in 55.2 seconds. The first women's 400-meter dash at the Olympics was in 1964. Australian Betty Cuthbert won the gold medal in 52.01 seconds.

Men's World Record

The International Association of Athletics Federations first recognized the men's 400-meter dash world record in 1900, when it was set by the United States' Maxey Long in 47.8 seconds. An American has held or shared the men's record for all but nine years up to 2014. Johnson set his world record of 43.18 seconds in 1999 at Seville, Spain.

Women's World Record

The IAAF first recognized the women's 400-meter dash world record in 1957, when it was set by Australia's Marlene Willard in 57.0 seconds. Poland's Irena Kirszenstein was the first woman to finish the event in less than 50 seconds, doing so in 1974. East Germany's Marita Koch set the current world record of 47.60 seconds in Canberra, Australia in 1985.

Other Versions

The 440-meter dash once was the standard in many countries, but no longer is part of international competition. On three occasions, the men's world record in the 400-meter dash was actually a time for the 440-meter race: the United States' Bill Carr ran the 440 in 46.28 seconds in 1932; Jamaica's Herb McKenley finished the 440 in 46.0 seconds in 1948, and American Adolph Plummer ran the 440 in a record-tying 44.9 seconds in 1963.

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