One of the enlightening books in the track and field aficionado's traveling library is a small green paperback crammed with metric distance conversions and the basic rules of the sport, which occasionally achieve an enigmatic. Zenlike grace, e.g., "It is not necessary to cross the finish line, only to reach it."
The pocket-size book, now in its fourth edition, has a long-winded title that pretty much sums up its contents: Track & Field News' Little Green Book with Metric Conversion Tables, Decathlon Tables and Other Essential Data for the Track Fan, Coach and Official (Track & Field News, Box 296, Los Altos, Calif. 94022, $6.25, including postage and handling).
For track nuts, the heart of the 80-page book is numbers and more numbers, pages and pages of conversions of metric measurements to feet and inches and decathlon and heptathlon scoring tables. When your local newspaper blandly reported last summer that Tyke Peacock high-jumped 2.33 meters in West Berlin for an American record, you could have solved the mystery by looking up 2.33 meters in the conversion table and finding out that it equaled 7'7¾".
Consider the penchant in high schools for running 1,600 meters, a distance only 10 yards, eight inches short of a truly satisfying mile. The Little Green Book supplies a "rough conversion factor" of plus 1.4 seconds, or a multiplier of 1.0059, to help high school runners come up with what their mile time might have been.
Among other essential data, the book contains a pacing table and sections on the effects of wind and altitude; variations between hand and automatic timing; the distance added by running wide; and breakers of significant statistical barriers, such as the 60-foot shotput (60'5¼", by Parry O'Brien, U.S., 1954).
Records give track and field its dense statistical allure. Every performance, from high school to world-class level, is measured against these numbers. The Little Green Book is the indispensable guide for making those calculations.