Q&A: The benefits of going straight

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Q: Would 400m runners run the 400m faster if it was run in a straight line rather than round a circuit?

A: In the second edition of The Guinness Encyclopaedia of Sport, the athletics statistician Peter Matthews indicates that men's times for 200m run on a straight track can be reckoned to be approximately 0.3-0.4 seconds faster than for races in which the athletes run a bend, which would seem to suggest that a straight 400m could be anything up to 0.8 faster than one on a standard track, where two bends are run. Also, at present athletes may gain assistance from a following wind for part of a 400m race but it hampers them in the other part. With a following wind for the entire distance it is therefore almost certain that 400m runners' times would improve significantly over a straight course. - A W Gilbert, Edinburgh

A: Until 1977, the International Amateur Athletic Federation used to list world records for a 'straight' 200m. The last holder was Tommie C Smith, of the United States, who ran 19.5 seconds at San Jose, California, on 7 May 1966. This compared favourably with the then 200m 'turn' record of 19.8 seconds. The implication therefore is that 400m runners also would record faster times if their event was run in a straight line.

It is useful to compare indoor with outdoor records. To set a world-best performance on the boards, the track must have a circumference no longer than 200m. In other words, a greater bend is involved. Butch Reynolds holds the outdoor record with 43.29, and Danny Everett the indoor one with 45.02. Further proof that 'straight' races would produce quicker runs, and that the turn of a normal track impedes performances. - Tim Mickleburgh, Grimsby

Q: Has any sportsman played in both the All England Championships at Wimbledon and the Open?

A: The great Scottish all-rounder Leslie Balfour-Melville is the most likely to have accomplished this in the period 1880-1900. Balfour-Melville was 17th in the 1885 Open and 5th in 1888. He won the British Open Amateur Golf Championship in 1895 having been runner-up in 1889. He was also a sometime Scottish tennis champion, and is likely to have played at Wimbledon, but I have no detailed records. Not only this, he was capped at the age of 17 for the senior Scottish rugby team, while still a schoolboy at Edinburgh Academy, and was a stalwart wicketkeeper/batsman for the Scottish national side for the last three decades of the century. He was also a Scottish national billiards champion.

Details of Balfour-Melville's extraordinary all-round sporting accomplishments can be found in Norman Mair's excellent celebration of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, Muirfield, published earlier this year by Mainstream. - John Pearson, York

Q: Why do England use young, inexperienced players as 12th men in Test matches? Surely it would be of benefit to keep at least one top-class player on the sidelines to step in and field during the increasing number of periods a player has to leave the arena. The England football team would never call on the services of a YTS player for an international at Wembley.

A: It is unfair to compare 12th men in cricket with substitutes in football or, for that matter, replacements in rugby union. When Terry Venables selects his next team (to play the United States at Wembley) his choice of subs will be as much a part of his game-plan as his decision on the eleven who should start the game. If and when called upon, his subs will be able to take a full part in the match, with no restrictions.

In cricket a 12th man may not bat, bowl or keep wicket. Thus he will only be asked to run his legs off in the field or deliver liquid refreshment to knackered bowlers. Few cricketers receive their call for international duty simply on the strength of their fielding or their bar-tending skills. More often than not it is a bowler who is relegated to 12th man and bowlers (with a few notable exceptions) are rarely noted for their fielding skills. So why not allow him to return to join his county colleagues and ply his proper trade while replacing him in the Test with a keener, fitter younger man?

A perfect example was at Lord's in 1989. Angus Fraser was relieved of 12th- man duties after two days and set off for Worcester. There he returned bowling figures of four for 34 and four for 39. Meanwhile 18-year-old Robin Sims, a member of the Lord's ground staff, was moved from selling score-cards to stand in as 12th man. He took a stunning catch to dismiss Allan Border - which, I believe, won him the Test Match Special Champagne Moment.

This is not a YTS scheme. Young men have the chance to impress. Counties are repaid for their accommodation in allowing their leading players to be absent in favour of helping their country. The 'club v country' tensions have led to football and rugby domestic fixtures being cancelled in order not to compromise the international selection process. These tensions do not exist in cricket and the counties deserve the opportunity of the return of their leading players whenever possible. - David Balcombe, Middlesex

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