Why do athletes have to race around the track in an anti-clockwise direction?
- PERHAPS they are running against the clock?
R. A. Cotmore, Mansfield, Notts.
- BECAUSE of the effect of the Earth's rotation, an athlete running anti-clockwise will have a slight advantage, resulting in a faster time. In the Southern Hemisphere, this effect is reversed but, as the sport grew up in the Northern Hemisphere, anti-clockwise races have remained, despite the international status of athletics. Evidence of this phenomenon is that none of the current world track records have been set south of the Equator. The question is, if the World Championships are ever held in the Southern Hemisphere, would the IAAF decide that track events should be run in the opposite direction?
Peter Brown, Sheffield.
- THE answer involving gravitational effects was not convincing. I think the tradition goes back to the Olympic Games, circa 700 BC. The ancient Hippodrome appears to be based on an anti-clockwise race with competitors coming up to the finishing line at the end of the straight (see the booklet Olympia, Altis and Museum, by Nikolaos Yalouris, Verlag Schnell and Steiner Munchen. Zurich Art Editions, Meletzis and Papadakis, Athens). Later, in Rome, the chariot races in the Circus Maximus must also have been anti-clockwise. The Circus was overlooked by the emperors on the Palatine hill, so the finishing line was on the eastern side of the north, where the spina ended (see the model of ancient Rome in the Museo della Civilta Romana). Perhaps an expert can confirm my speculation?
G. G. Bernard, Gillingham, Dorset.
- NOW that chariot races have been mentioned, is it not possibly due to the predominant right-handedness of our species? Overtaking with a long whip in the right hand would be less likely to cause havoc by whipping the wrong horse (or rider)!
Roger Franklin, Stroud, Glos.
- ON AVERAGE athletes have stronger right legs, while horses, though leading with the left foreleg, exert greater power through the right hind leg than the left, so it is rational to require the stronger legs to cover the greater distance. This is why both infantry and cavalry commanders have always preferred, if possible, to execute encircling tactics in an anti-clockwise direction.
John Veale, Woodeaton, Oxford.
- THE ancient Greeks may have run anti-clockwise round their stadia, but it is a mistake to assume that the tradition was unbroken until modern times. Contemporary illustrations show that when running on tracks was revived in the nineteenth century, clockwise running was probably just as common. Oxford and Cambridge universities ran clockwise - Oxford until 1948, Cambridge until some time later. The first modern Olympic Games in Athens (1896 and 1906) and Paris (1900) used the clockwise direction, but in 1906 there were complaints, as many countries had by then settled for the anti-clockwise practice. From 1908 the Games have all been run 'left hand inside'.
Peter Lovesey, Bradford-on-Avon, Wilts.
- It is also worth remembering that the Romans drove on the left. If that is the tradition, you would expect people to run anti-clockwise. The anti-clockwise track is shorter.
Quentin Langley, Woking, UK
- When the athlete runs, the Earth's spin, the direction of wind, the centripetal acceleration come into act. They directly contribute on the runner's speed, his heart iota to be exact, which is situated to the left, they are a contributing forces. Hence....
Richa Shergil, Tamil Nadu, India
- The Superior vena-cava collects de-oxygenated blood to the heart aided by heart suction. This vein carries blood from left to right. Centrifugal force due to anticlockwise running helps this suction. If we run clockwise, the centrifugal force impedes suction. That is why, in olden days, health officers ensured that all carnival merry-go-rounds were run only in the anti-clockwise direction. As the heart is on the left side, for humans and animals, running anticlockwise makes the centrifugal force in the body to act from left to right. Whereas it is from right to left for clockwise running. Racing tracks, animal shows in circuses, bullock-drawn pelt on wheels, all mostly have only left turns. Stairways in temple towers have only left turns for going up. Clockwise running tires people.
Goteti Mvsr Krishna, Tadepalligudem, India
- Part of the reason could also be the very simple fact that, when they are running on the straight part of the track where a race begins and ends, the athletes are running from left to right, and that is construed as moving forwards...
W Boddy, Cambridge, UK