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Length of track is still a mystery at Contreras

June 11, 2008|Eric Sondheimer | Times Staff Writer

You've heard the joke about how many people it takes to change a light bulb? Well, for close to one hour Tuesday, eight adults and one teenager measured the track at Contreras High in downtown Los Angeles in an attempt to solve a mystery.

In March, Contreras officials concluded their new dirt track was only 390 meters in length instead of the regulation 400 meters after Hal Harkness, the director of track and field for the California Interscholastic Federation, used the school's wheel measuring device to confirm the deficit. Earlier, Rose Low, the athletic director and track coach, used the same wheel device and came up with 393 meters.

In response, the school staggered its starting line by 10 meters for its four home meets this season.

Last month, the Los Angeles Unified School District sent a survey crew to the school and, using GPS, determined the track was 400 meters in length.

On Tuesday, three district officials, three Contreras administrators, one representative from the City Section athletic office, a teenage helper and Harkness re-measured the track using blueprints and a measuring tape. And their verdict?

The track's curves were inconsistent and off between three and four inches. District officials said that would result in the track being short by no more than one foot.

"There are a few irregularities in the arch," Harkness said. "But they're not significant enough to not consider it a 400-meter track.

"It appears the original measuring was flawed, because I'm not convinced the wheel is completely accurate."

Not everyone, however, has accepted the latest conclusion.

"I'm not convinced," Low said of the track being 400 meters.

Her most compelling evidence? Athletes' times on Contreras' track using a staggered 10-meter start were not significantly different from those posted on other tracks.

She said she intends to compare closely the times next spring, when Contreras goes back to using the regular start and finish lines.

"There's something wrong," she said. "I don't know what it is."


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