Last Updated on October 23, 2022 by Andrew Pirie
The 1000m is the Key to the 800m
A Discussion Paper by Coach Tony Benson
Part 1: Introduction
Some years back Kevin Prendergast, an Australian Senior Coach, invited several coaches, including myself, to be part of an Australian Track & Field Coaches Association “Middle Distance Discussion Panel” to discuss the 800m training with an emphasis on facts Australian men’s and women’s 800m records have remained unbroken since 1968 and 1976 respectively.
Many ideas were canvassed but the final article gave no definitive explanation as to why the men’s 800m is static in the 1:44-1:45 range or the women’s in the 1:59-2:01 range. Unfortunately, as usually happens, a major part of the discussion descended into speculation and focused on the 400m/800m versus the 800m/1500m approach.
This meant finding a definitive answer would require in-depth research and I felt the best place to start was to research the personal bests of a selection of elite male and female runners using the IAAF handbooks, to pinpoint the type of athlete with a world record and Olympic success.
Classification of World Record Holder since 1960
Men’s World Record Holders (8): 400m/800m (3) 800m/1000m/1500m (5)*
Women’s World Record Holders (9): 400m/800m (3) 800m (2) 800m/1000m/1500m (4)
The results as regards men’s world record holders were reasonable, although slightly in favor of the stamina approach as Jim Ryun, Ralph Doubell, and Dave Wottle are credited with equalling Peter Snell’s record.
The situation is similar in the women’s event as two of the four 800m/1000m or 1500m athletes had listed 400m times and the pure 800m types may have been close to the Sub 53”/400m and/or Sub 2:40/1000m times.
Classification of Olympic 800m Gold Medalists since 1960
Men’s Gold Medalists
400m/800m Type 4 Winners (5 Gold Medals)
800m/1000m (1500m) Type 10 Winners (11 Gold Medals) (Includes one 400m/800m/1000m runner)
Women’s Gold Medalists
400m/800m Type 4 Winners (4 Gold Medals)
800m/1000m Type 11 winners (11 Gold Medals) (Includes two 400m/800m/1000m runners)
Wikipedia summarised the statistics as follows: “Historically, athletes in this event have also had success in the 1500 meters at the Olympics. Holmes was the last athlete to win both events at the same Olympics in 2004, but no male athlete has reached both middle-distance podiums since Sebastian Coe in 1984.” (Editor Note: Australia’s Edwin Flack and New Zealand’s Peter Snell, of course, achieved this feat in 1896 and 1964 respectively).
As can be seen, there have been only four male Sub 46”/400m runners and 4 Sub 53”/400m female runners who became Olympic champions against ten male winners (Peter Snell winning 2) and eleven female winners who were 800m/1000m or 1500m types. This suggests stamina is a much more important factor in championship racing than in attempting world records or personal bests.
However this did not mean speed training could be ignored or given a lower priority in program planning because the second fact to emerge from the wider study presented later in this paper was that, regardless of 1500m times, very few of the male athletes were slower than 47” and those who were, were unlikely to be Sub 1:44/800m runners. The same was true for the women. In most cases a sub 53”/400m time was needed to achieve a Sub 1:58/800m.
Considering a selection of performances based on Championship results and World Records is however far too narrow to be as definitive enough for a coach to construct a long-term personalized training program for a potentially elite 800m runner so the scope was broadened to include all women who had run Sub 1:58 for 800m and all men who had run Sub 1:44 for 800m and to link this to an examination the All-time 400m, 1000m and 1500m lists.
[There were two reasons for selecting the sub 1:44 and sub 1:58 times. The first was compiling information on all the athletes who have run sub 1:45 and sub 1:59 appeared a massive task and the second reason was the first sub 1:44 and sub 1:58 times were achieved in 1973, meaning both men’s and women’s performances are in the same time frame.]
Examining the performances of the 137 women who ran 1:57 or faster and 123 men who ran 1:43 or faster over 400m, 1000m, and 1500m revealed the key to the puzzle. The athlete’s performance at 400m is crucial but even more crucial was their capability over 1000m – using the athlete’s actual 1000m performance or making the assumption that any athlete appearing on the All-Time 1500m List would run a fast 1000m.
Equally interesting was the wide range of 1000m and 1500m times that allowed athletes to run a Sub 1:43 (male) or a Sub 1:58 (female) time for 800m. The typical 1000m/1500m range was 2:15 (+/- 3”) and 3:33 (+/- 4”) for men and 2:34 (+/- 5”) and 4:01 (+/- 9”) for the women. This exposed two things.
The first was the quality of the endurance training may have varied considerably in specific effectiveness and the second was the ideal connection of 400m speed to 1000m speed endurance appeared to vary for each individual.
The existence of this third type of runner which may be called an 800m/Stamina Type is not immediately obvious however because the 800m/1000m type is often merged into the 800m/1500m type. Take New Zealand’s Peter Snell for example. There was a runner most would label 800m/1500m type and who says in his book “No Bugles, No Drums” he did not believe he could break 48 seconds for 440 yds (perhaps 47.7 for 400m) from blocks but was a double Olympic 800m champion (1960/1964) & 1500m champion (1964) and who set world records for 800m (1:44.3), 880 yds (1:45.1) and 1 mile (3:54.1) – amazing times for grass track running – as well as Indoor World records (probably on a 160-yard track) for the 1000yd and 1000m of 2:06.0 and 2:16.1
A closer analysis of these times however suggests his 800m and 1000m personal bests are superior to his 1500m time of 3:37.6, recorded en route to his 3:54.1 mile, and that the 800m/1000m category fits him better. This is confirmed by the Hungarian Scoring Tables of Bojidar & Kovacs which rates an 800m time of 1:44.31 at 1183 points and this equates to a 1000m of 2:15.3, 1500m time of 3:33.94, and a 1-mile time of 3:51.61.
The same could also be said of Ralph Doubell, Australia’s 800m Olympic champion, and Sebastian Coe. As Doubell broke Snell’s 1000yd world record with a time of 2:05.5, he must have been also capable of equalling or bettering Snell’s 2:16.6 for 1000m, and given he never ran below 46 seconds for 400m or ran a sub-4-minute mile despite many opportunities, the 800m/1000m label also fits him much better.
This is also true of Sebastian Coe (46.5, 1:41.73, 2:12.18, and 3:29.77) as his 800m and 1000m times rank much higher on the All-Time list than his 1500m. In his case the Hungarian Tables rate his 800m time at 1267 points, his 1000m time as 1248 points, his 1500m time as 1237 points, and his mile time at 1231 points.
The 1,000m times, therefore, were illuminating. The study identified 123 men who ran below 1:44. Of these 15 did not have a 1000m or 1500m time fast enough the meet the criteria of the study but they had run 45” or faster for 400m as so were classified as 400m/800m types. A further 21 had no performances fast enough to meet either the 400m or 1000m/1500m criteria and so were identified as “Pure 800m Types”.
After that 87 runners had performances over 1000m and/or 1500m that met the criteria of the study with only one, Yuriy Borzakovskiy, having a 45” time for 400m. The majority of the others, along with the “Pure” 800m runners, were assumed to be capable of 46” or 47” for 400m and/or capable of a 1000m time faster than 2:20.
The actual range of times for the group was 2:12 to 2:18 for the men but 2:14 to 2:16 seemed to equate to times in the 1:42s and 1:43s.
The same procedure using the same selection of athletes was applied to the women. However given what has emerged about drug use from the early 1970s to the late 1980s, the study focussed on two All Time list sub 1:58 lists.
Like the men, the expected 400m/800m and 800m/1500m types appeared evident with the women, and, again when the 1000m times were examined the results swung heavily in favor of the 800m/Stamina type. Those running in the 1:57-1:58 area with ~52.5/400m speed had 1000m times in the 2:38-2:40 range while the slower ~54.5/400m types needed to run 2:37 to 2:39. Those running in the 1:56-1:57 area with ~51.5/400m speed had 1000m times in the 2:36-2:38 range while the slower ~53.5/400m types needed to run 2:34 to 2:36. Those running below 1:56 all had 1000m times below 2:35 with the fastest being sub 2:30.
In summary, if it is assumed the women who registered as 800m/1500m could also run a fast 1000m it meant over 110 women could be cataloged as 800m/Stamina against less than 15 who could be described as 400m/800m. It is also logical to assume that the remaining 105 Sub 1:59/800m females slower than 51 seconds (51-53 seconds) have/had far more stamina than Australian female 800m runners capable of Sub 53 seconds have demonstrated.
Part 2: The Findings of the Women’s study
The study revealed 137 Women who Ran Below 1:58. Of these, no significant data regarding either 400m or 1000m could be found for 15 athletes (See Table 3 Column 2 below). However, it would be reasonable to assume they could run a very respectable 400m and/or 1000m.
The study did reveal the following:
- Only 26 out of 137 Sub 1:58/800m runners had a 400m time fast enough to appear on the All-Time 400m lists during their competitive era – and of these 11 had recorded fast 1000m and/or 1500m times.
- No female who was not a sub 53”/400m runner ran sub 1:58 without a 1000m and/or 1500m ranking could identified but there were 10 known runners with a 1000m and/or 1500m ranking who managed to do it.
- As there are 95 athletes (see Columns 3 to 8) who ran Sub 1:58 for 800m but who did not appear to have run below 53” for 400m but who were fast enough to enter the All-Time 1000m and/or 1500m lists of their era it is possible to run faster than 1:58 for 800m times with times between 53” to 57 for 400m.
[Note: The findings listed above would change marginally if any of the 15 athletes identified only as Pure 800m types (Table 3 Column 2) if their 400m and/or 1000m capabilities could be found]. Equally the picture would also change marginally if any of the stamina types did have a sub 53”/400m capacity however that information was not available.]
|Breakdown of Female Sub 1:58 / 800m Runners Based on their Performance in a Second Event|
|400m / 800m Type
|800m / 1000m Types.
|800m / 1500m Types.
|800m / 1000m / 1500m Types.||800m / 1000m Types||800m / 1500m Only Types.
|800m / 1000m / 1500m Types.|
|15 Runners. All Sub 53” for 400m||16 Runners||8 Runners
All Sub 53” for 400m
|2 Runners||28 Runners||32 Runners||35 Runners|
|1 x 48”
2 x 49”
(2 x 1:56)
3 x 51”
(2 x 1:57)
7 x 52”
(6 x 1:57)
|1 x 54” and 2:44.
(1:57) Maybe typical of this group.
|1 x 49”
1 x 50”
1 x 51”
5 x 52”
(4 x 1:57)
|1 x 51”
|2 x 51″
(2 x 1:57)
|4 x 53”
(3 x 1:57)
|None of the 32 athletes appeared in the All-Time Lists as Sub 53” runners over 400m.||1 x 53″
1 x 54″
1 x 55″
1 x 56″
1 x 57″
The other thing the study revealed was a wide discrepancy between the 800m performances of the faster 400m/800m runners. For example, there were 7 runners capable of running 51” for 400m (see Row 4) but the majority could only run 1:57 for 800m. This pattern was reproduced by the 52”/400m runner (see Row 5) where only 2 bettered 1:57.
Table 4: The Performances of the 35 Women with Recorded 400m Times
|Row||400m Time||800m Performances about 400m Speed.
*The 6 Sub 1:56 runners are highlighted
|1||48”/400m||1 runner 1:53 (1)|
|2||49”/400m||3 runners 1:54 (1) 1:56 (2)|
|3||50”/400m||3 runners 1:54 (1) 1:56 (2)|
|4||51”/400m||7 runners 1:53 (1) 1:55 (1) 1:56 (1) 1:57 (4)|
|5||52”/400m||12 runners 1:54 (1) 1:56 (1) 1:57 (10)|
|6||53”/400m||5 runners 1:56 (1) 1:57 (4)|
|7||54”/400m||1 runner 1:57 (1)|
|8||55”/400m||1 runner 1:57 (1)|
|9||56”/400m||1 runner 1:57 (1)|
|10||57”/400m||1 runner 1:57 (1)|
The chart above also provides some additional material of interest.
- The average differential between the women’s 400m and 800m time is 64.5”. For example the differential between Jamila Kratochvilova’s time of 48” for 400m and 1:53.28 is 65.3” whereas for Nadezhda Olizarenko, a 51”/400m runner with 1500m best of 3:56, the differential is 62.43”.
Kratochvilova’s differential was typical for the fifteen 400m/800m types who averaged 65.2” whereas the differential dropped back to 63.9” for the twenty 800m/1000m types.
- The best average differentials were recorded (unsurprisingly) by the slower 400m runners. For example, the best 52/53” runners achieved a 64.5” differential. This stretched out to 65.1” for the 50”/51” group and further out to 65.3” for the 48”/49” runners.
- The study suggests a large number of women should, perhaps, have run faster over 800m. For example, there are four runners with 400m bests of 49”/50” who could only manage 1:56 for 800m and another four 51”/400m who could only manage 1:57 whereas there were several 51” runners who managed 1:55 or 1:56. We see a 51” runner who ran 1:53 for 800m and a 52” runner who ran 1:54. Admittedly these were atypical but there were also women with recorded 400m bests of 55”, 56” and 57” who ran 1:57 for 800m.
The next obvious thing was to check if there was any change in the data if the performances of the athletes from countries that may have indulged in State-sponsored drug programs and/or that who may have turned a significant ‘blind eye’ to drug-taking were removed.
This meant removing the results from the countries like the Soviet Union, the former German Democratic Republic, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Czechoslovakia, and China. This changed the picture but did more to confirm the stamina approach than refute it.
Women from non-Soviet Bloc Type Countries who ran Sub 1:58 in the Study.
This study revealed that 12 of the 47 athletes were capable of achieving an All-Time 400m performance in their era, while one runner managed to run 1:57 of a 400m time of 54.5.
However, 4 of these athletes (30%) also produced an All-Time 1000m performance. Against that 30 of the 47 athletes (64%) were able to run Sub 1:58 without achieving 52” or faster for 400m. In addition, 4 athletes were able to achieve a Sub 1:58/800m without appearing on any other All-Time list.
|400m/800m||800m Only||400m, 800m, 1000m||800m; 1000m and/or 1500m|
1 x 49”; 1 x 51”; 6 x 52”
1 x 54.5”. No other 400m times listed
1 x 49”; 1 x 50”; 2 x 52”
All 5 also had listed 1000m time
No listed 400m times listed
Its obvious 400m speed cannot be ignored when planning an 800m program and it seems essential the female athlete must be capable of running at least 52” to break through the 1:57 barrier. However, it’s equally, if not more, important the program conditions the athlete to race a fast 1000m. Conditioning the athlete to race at a high level over 1500m appears less necessary and all that may be required is to ensure the runner has the general endurance and an aerobic threshold capacity of an elite 1500m runner.
Finally, what is the data on the six women who have run sub 1:55 for 800m?
Kratochvilova demonstrated a real lack of stamina despite an incredible amount of training hours and the massive variety of exercises she was programmed. Mineyev and Olizarenko had virtually the same 400m time but Olizarenko’s stamina prevails. Quirot, with a quality 400m and 1000m time, should have perhaps run 1:52 or faster as she had the best 400m to 1000m record of all. Kazankina’s time was achieved because of her 1500m to 3000m stamina and Jelimo, (a Kenyan whose amazing story may be found at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pamela_Jelimo and who probably could have run a very fast 1000m) performed the best of all with a differential of 1.23 seconds.
|Name||400m Time||800m Time||1000m or 1500m Time|
No Sub 52”/400m
4:19.31 (1500m) *On a dirt track in western Kenya
Part 3: Findings of the Men’s Study
The research into the characteristics of the 123 male 800m runners who ran Sub 1:44 time virtually duplicated the wider women’s study.
Only 16 out of 123 Sub 1:44/800m runners had a 400m time fast enough to appear on the All-Time 400m lists with a sub 46” time during their competitive era – and, unlike the women, there was only one of these able to record a 1000m time good enough to make the All-Time 1000m list.
|Breakdown of Male Sub 1:44 / 800m Runners Based on Their Performance in a Second Event|
3 @ 44” (All 1:43’s)
12 @ 45”(See below)
No 400m or 1k times
No known sub 46” times
No known sub 46” times
No known sub 46” times
|3 @ 1:43
1 @ 1:40
1 @ 1:41
3 @ 1:42
8 @ 1:43
|2 @ 1:42
19 @ 1:43
Assumed 46”, 47” or 48” runners
|1 @ 1:42
The runner had a 45”/400m
|14 @ 1:42
33 @ 1:43
Assumed 46”, 47” or 48” runners
|7 @ 1:43
Assumed 46”, 47” or 48” runners
|3 @ 1:41
8 @ 1:42
21 @ 1:43*
*Includes two 48” runners
On the other hand, there were 93 athletes (see Table 8) who ran Sub 1:44 for 800m but who did not appear to have run below 46” for 400m but who were fast enough to enter the All-Time 1000m and/or 1500m lists of their era.
It is therefore obvious it is possible to run sub 1:43 and faster times from 46” to 48” for 400m.
[Note: Again, as with the women, the findings listed above could be changed marginally if any of the 21 athletes identified only as Pure 800m types (Table 6 Column 2) had unidentified or 400m and/or 1000m capabilities]. Equally the picture would also change marginally if any of the stamina types did have a sub 46”/400m capacity however that information was not available.]
|400m/ 800m||800m Only||400m/800m/1000m||400m/800m/ 1.5k||400m/800m/ 1000m/1.5k||800m/ 1000m||800m/1.5k||8/1k/1.5k|
3 x 44”
12 x 45”
5 x 46”
2 x 47”
1 x 45”
1 x 48”
1 x 47.5
2 x 46”
1 x 47”
The study did reveal the following:
- Twenty-one athletes were designated as “Pure” 800m because no 400m time below 46” or 1000m time below 2:19 could be found on the All-Time Lists. However, five were identified as 46”/400m runners and two as 47”/400m runners. (See Table 7 Column 2). All but two were 1:43/800m runners.
- There were three 400m/800m types with 44”/400m bests but, surprisingly, none of them managed to run below 1:43.
- The results of the thirteen runners with 400m bests of 45” are much superior to the results of the faster group. This group included a 1:40, a 1:41, and three 1:42’s as well as eight 1:43 results.
- The situation then moves further in favor of the 800m/Stamina runner. There are 87 runners of this type. Among these, it was possible to identify one 45” runner who recorded a time of 1:42, seven 46” runners – two who recorded 1:41, one who ran 1:42 – and four who ran 1:43.
- Four 47”/400m runners ran sub 1:44 with one running 1:41!
- Finally, there are two runners identified with 400m times of only 48” who managed to run 1:43!
The differentials between 400m and 800m times were also interesting but somewhat inconclusive due to the small sample numbers. However, if the 400m/800m runners and the Pure 800m runners were grouped the average differential was 57.51 seconds. Against this, the average differential for the combined 800m/Stamina group was 55.31. Unsurprisingly the three 44” runners, Marcello Fiasconaro, Alberto Juantorena, and Mark Everett all had poor differentials, all being more than 58”, while runners like Sebastian Coe, Wilson Kipketer, and Joachim Cruz all had 54” differentials.
As with the women it’s obvious that 400m speed cannot be ignored when planning an 800m program and it seems essential the male athlete must be capable of running at least 46” to break into the 1:43 group. The results also show clearly it’s very important for the athlete to be capable of racing a fast 1000m and has the general endurance and aerobic threshold capacity of an elite 1500m runner.
Finally, what is the data in the five men who have run sub 1:43 for 800m? It would seem Rudisha performed as would be expected based on speed and his natural endurance; Amos could perhaps have gone, or could still go, faster; Kipketer and Coe, with strong 1000m and 1500m times, performed as might be expected and Cruz (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joaquim_Cruz) exceeded what would be expected from a 47”/400m runner.
|Name||400m Time||800m Time||1000m or 1500m Time|
2:16.29 (1000m); 3:34.21 (1500m)
2:12.18 (1000m); 3:29.77 (1500m)
2:14.09 (1000m); 3:34.63 (1500m)
The data suggest a women’s 800m time below 1:58 would be best achieved by ensuring the athlete has a 400m speed in the 51.5 to 53” range and a men’s time below 1:44 would be best achieved by a runner who has 400m speed in 46.0 to 47” range. These speeds however need to be backed up by a 1000m capability of 2:36 (+/- 2”) for women and of 2:16 (+/- 2”) for men.
The study also shows a female and a male with the same 400m speed could run at least a second faster over 800m if they were one or two seconds faster over 1000m.
Second, in terms of improving 800m running in Australia, the AA High-Performance program should consider introducing more racing over 1000m, pitting 800m and 1500m runners against one another, as this would greatly benefit Australian middle-distance running.
Finally, it would appear Australian women are better placed than the men as regards possessing the required 400m speed as many females have run sub 53” but are lacking in terms of their 1000m capabilities.
This explains why four Australian men, none of whom have recorded an All-Time sub 46” time for 400m, rank in the All-Time top 250 (http://www.apulanta.fi/matti/yu/alltime/4_Men.html) but no Australian women appear on the All-Time Women’s list (http://www.apulanta.fi/matti/yu/alltime/4_Women.html) that stops at 272.
Third, another consideration would be to link 800m qualifying times to an equivalent 1000m performance. For example 1000m times 2:37 (+/- 1”) for women and 2:19 (+/- 1”) for men. These equate to 2:00 & 1:46 for 800m.
Tony Benson ASM
ATFCA Level 5 Coach
The Author’s Note
The data for this study was compiled based on the All-Time Lists up to the end of 2013. Nothing further was done until recently due to three years of very difficult family circumstances. This means data may have changed slightly from 2014 to 2016 but given how little the data changed in any given decade since 1960 it’s unlikely any impact would be significant.
- Australian T&F Senior Coach (Middle/Long Distance/Steeplechase)
- National Coach Philippines (1979-83)
- National Coach Australia (1988-1993)
- Australian Olympic Head Coach (1992)
- World Championship Head Coach (1991)
- Commonwealth Games Head Coach (1990)
- Australian 5000m Olympic Representative (1972)
- T&F News (USA) World 5th Ranked 5000m Runner (1971)
- Australian 2000m Record Holder (1972)
- IAAF Lecturer in Africa, Asia & Pacific (1987-2004)
- Coached/Assisted 8 Olympians
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