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Posted at 11:21 AM ET, 06/15/2011

Lightning safety and the 3200 meter race

On June 9, a high school boys 3200 track event was stopped after seven laps because of lightning. What made stopping the race controversial is that there was only one lap to go in the race and the lead runner was on pace to break the New Jersey state record. A wall of officials blocked the track and forced all of the high school runners to exit.

Video of the 3200 meter race on June 9 at The New Jersey Track and Field Meet of Champions. The lead runner was on pace to break the NJ state record but was stopped after seven laps into the race, with just one lap to go, because of lightning. It helps to start watching the video at 2:30 minutes to skip toward the end of the race.

There was loud booing from the crowd followed by criticism and debate in the press. Not many people argued that the officials were wrong to have stopped the race; however, many said the race should have never been started. The video above shows the race being stopped and the reaction from the crowd. It helps to start watching after 2:30 into the video unless you want to watch much of the beginning of the race.

Read below for more discussion of lightning and races.

I found this race particularly interesting because of a similar race and storm that occurred when I ran high school track. I traveled to the Golden South Classic held in Orlando, Florida to run the mile during my senior year. I usually doubled in the mile and two mile, but for the meet I decided to focus only on the mile. As I prepared to run the race, towering cumulus clouds filled the sky. With each passing moment the clouds grew higher and more threatening. My race occurred without incident and I ran well in the Florida heat and humidity, setting a personal best of 4:13 in the mile.

I then stayed to watch the two-mile race. The clouds grew darker and quite ominous. As the runners lined up for the race the sky opened up and rain came pouring down. The officials started the race. Then came thunder. The race was allowed to continue as the runners disappeared on the backstretch of the track due to blinding sheets of rain. All eight laps of the race were run to completion in the thunderstorm as onlookers cleared the stands and took cover. The meet was then delayed.

I’ve seen similar situations occur with summer swim meets for kids. When thunder is heard and a swim race is in progress, sometimes the race is allowed to finish while in other meets the timers splash water to stop the swimmers. It becomes a matter of how quickly the officials can take control of the situation and stop an event. In NJ, the officials were decisive and had the guts to stop the race, but ultimately suffered a firestorm of criticism.

What do you think about the decision to stop the track race? Have you seen other races that should have been stopped after thunder or lightning occurred?

By  |  11:21 AM ET, 06/15/2011

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