Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Miles' Lists: "It's a labor of love."

Tim and Bill Miles, the brothers who coach at St. John's University and Wayzata High School, respectively, have again generously given Down the Backstretch the liberty to publish their comprehensive statistical lists of the best 2008 and all-time track and field performances by Minnesota High School boys.

The brothers Miles began compiling these records in 1981 -- Tim deserving the lion's share of credit for the annual lists, Bill deserving the bulk of the kudos for the all-time compilations -- which are a treasure trove for the statistically minded track and field fan.

Over the next few weeks, we'll publish, event-by-event, the body of work we call The Miles' Lists. Kicking off the series today, we've asked Bill Miles some questions about constructing the lists and, below, posted the Miles' List statistics for the 100 meters.

DtB: Why did you and your brother Tim decide to compile lists of the top annual and all-time high school boys track and field performances in Minnesota?

Miles: We are both fans of track and field. Nobody else was doing it and we thought that it was something that we would enjoy looking at. So we did it.

DtB: How long does it take to gather the information and then construct the lists each year?

Miles: It's a labor of love. We don't punch a clock.

DtB: You and Tim compile the boys' lists, does anyone keep track of girls' performances?

Miles: Tim and I did compile both boys and girls annual lists for the first few years and had pretty complete all-time lists. We passed all of the records and archives off to others. There have been two individuals who have published lists, but they both stopped. Copies of our original work for girls track and field has been passed on to the Girls Track & Field Coaches Association and the Minnesota USATF. If anyone is interested they can get the names of the contacts at those two organizations from me. As a track fan, I would love to see those honor rolls and lists.

DtB: What are some of the things you've seen change over the years in the sport and that are reflected in the lists? Have there been trends you can see from the "data" you collect?

Miles: In the good old days we ran on cinders or in mud. Lane one was always chewed up and loose. The really fast tracks were crushed brick. Jumping surfaces were uneven. Times were recorded to the tenth of a second on sweep clocks. In the 1950s, times or distances were often only recorded for the meet winner. Before FAT times were only recorded for scorers, so if you finished sixth at the State Meet when only five scored, you didn't have an official time- just the time that your coach got. No longer do pole vaulters and high jumpers land in piles of sawdust or bags of foam.

Today tracks are faster, shoes are lighter, discs are more aerodynamic, poles are better, and pits safer. I also believe that the science of the sport is better understood and more widely distributed. We have many coaches who are real students of the sport and their athletes are trained in a manner more specific to their event. The internet has also increased an awareness by athletes of what others are doing and raised standards and expectations.What hasn't changed is the simplicity of the sport. We run, jump, and throw. Athletes work hard and get better. We know who wins without judges or judgement calls. It is sport at its best.

DtB: Let me put you on the spot: What's the best performance -- across the boys events -- all-time in Minnesota?

Miles: The best performance I witnessed was Bjorklund's 4:05 mile in 1969. The stadium at Macalester was overflowing and the place was going wild as he tried to run 4:00. That record stood for almost 40 years until it was broken by Finnerty's 3:59 1600 last year. Even though I didn't get to see it, I would have to call it the best. I should probably disclose that I was a distance runner and am a distance coach and don't doubt that a great argument could be made for a field mark or a sprint/hurdle mark by someone more interested in those events.

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