one e-mail from a friend made the following point about matthew centrowitz’s amazing gold-medal run in the 1500 meters: “as impressive as it was for an american to win, that was a brutal race—that’s basically just a men’s 800 race at that point. in reality, the athletes run the race knowing the move could come at any moment. that’s what makes the 1500 such a chess match. there was a point with a little more than a lap to go when ayanleh souleiman almost managed to get past centrowitz and box him in; centrowitz just barely managed to fend off the move and squeeze back in front. i remember listening to him explain 1500 racing to a couple of his star runners at american university one year before the ncaa final.
waiting for the move in a 1500 is like walking into a bar and feeling the tension in the air, knowing that a fight is going to break out, he explained. it’s not just about running a fast final 800; it’s about getting to that point in the right position without wasting too much energy, and centrowitz is a master at that. if, as my friend suggested, the 1500 final was basically just an 800 race, then you’d expect that the 800 prs of the finalists would be as good or better at predicting finishing place as the 1500 prs. trying to predict finishing place using 800 prs, in contrast, gives a lower correlation coefficient of 0.456, with a non-significant p value of 0.137. of course, the best 1500 runners also generally have better 800 times—that’s because they’re better runners overall, not because they’re relatively stronger at shorter distances. you can use a statistical technique called stepwise regression to see whether a model that uses both 800 and 1500 prs does a better job at predicting finishing order than 1500 times alone. even in a very slow, sit-and-kick championship race, the best 1500 runners tended to place most highly, and their 800 ability didn’t make much additional difference.
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