God plays dice

The Olympic running events are in the following distances: 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m, 1500m, 5000m, 10000m, marathon (42195m, although the original marathon in 1896 was 40km flat).

It’s clear that this sequence is trying to have each race be roughly twice the length of the one before… but there’s a bit of interference from the desire to make the races “round numbers” in base 10. And there are a couple omissions: why is there no 3km race, or 20km race?

In the winter, Speed skating contests a slightly harder to explain sequence: 500m, 1000m, 1500m, 3000m (women only), 5000m, 10000m (men only). This makes a bit more sense, I suppose, if you bear in mind that speed skating is done on a 500 meter track, so the first three are once, twice, and three times around the track. (But then why 1500 meter running — why not 1600, which is…

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