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RE: Sad story from the 1988 Men's Olympic Trials 1500m
As for the altitude, keep in mind that these kids in Colorado don't just have to race at altitude, they spend all season training at altitude (with some exceptions in sparsely populated parts of the state).
In an event like the mile, where turnover is obviously critical, they are deprived of the chance to get the most out of the kinds of workouts milers typically do. They can try to run race-pace reps between 200 and 600 meters with reasonably short recoveries, but the reality is that no one can get track-sharp at altitude without, say, doing intervals on a treadmill using supplemental O2.
Rich lived in Colorado Springs, at about 6,500'. If he or any of the kids who have challenged his 4:10.98 had enjoyed the chance to spend a few weeks during the spring at sea level sharpening up and then come back a week or so before the state meet, the record would surely be faster, but obviously high-schoolers don't have that luxury.
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