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May 4, 2022

What To Make Of The On Athletics Club’s 4xMile Record Attempt

Here we are. It’s week three of talking about the 4xmile! To quickly recap, that Irish world record of 15:49.08 from 1985 still stands. The OAC fell quite a bit short of the time, although the attempt actually becoming an honest race with Dublin TC for a solid 15 minutes was a nice consolation prize for fans.

The chase for the mark fell apart from the gun when the opening leg went out in 2:09 for the first half. Ben Flanagan was tapped to be on this team with short notice after the original group suffered a couple of injuries, but he still took ownership of the mistake. It’s hard to fault a guy who ran a 1:01 half a few months ago for not being able to come down in distance to solo a 4-flat mile. Besides, the burden of taking the pace ought to fall on the team that is going for a world record.

It’s shocking that there was no pacer in there for the first 1200m to help Flanagan out. How much did On spend sponsoring the Penn Relays? The amount of organic hype that surrounded this record attempt became a PR firm’s dream. Why not set your own squad up for success to the fullest extent?

I’m sure there are a half dozen local Philly guys who’d have been willing to rabbit for a $1000 On gift card. Or why not take a page out of the NBA’s books and sign an unsponsored sub-four guy to a ten-day contract? Instead, this was a pretty big letdown in comparison to what was initially envisioned.

The debate now shifts to ‘do they take a mulligan and try again next year?’ Part of the reason why this record has stood for so long isn’t that it’s difficult to have four guys average 3:57/mile. It’s significantly harder for a team to have four guys who are fit and healthy at the same time. And it’s even more difficult to convince multiple professional coaches that they should fly their teams across the country to race one another in what is essentially a publicity stunt.

As a fan, I’d prefer teams take a weekend off from chasing standards to race each other in an odd 4xmile, but the truth is that like 99% of fun things, it doesn’t actually matter.

And if you’re wondering why the 4xmile is seemingly always in some team’s crosshairs, it has a lot to do with the perceived ease of breaking it compared to its closest analog. The 4×1500 record of 14:22.22 was set by Kenya at the 2014 World Relays. After four guys averaged 3:35 per leg, World Athletics was like, ‘no one is ever going to beat that’ and removed it from the program entirely. My favorite part of that race was when the late David Torrence stuck onto Silas Kiplagat for as long as possible and ran his first three laps in 2:48-flat. The last two legs were fairly boring minus the fact that they were going incredibly fast.

That’s not to say a relay that long can’t be exciting! The Penn Relays Saturday crowd would generally use the COA 4xMile and 4×1500 as an opportunity to grab concessions, though they were arguably two of the most exciting races of the weekend. After their second leg fell, the University of Texas men left a wake of bodies in their dust to burst away from a tight group of nine with 200 meters left. And in the women’s race, Arkansas fought off a challenge from a tough NC State squad to break the collegiate record in 16:53.87.

Hopefully, the lack of records falling on the professional side doesn’t dissuade clubs from going after it again, but we could all afford to take a year off from talking about it.

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