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Dave Cundy was in charge of the measurement of the Beijing Olympic marathon course. Also measuring with Dave were Hugh Jones, Norrie Williamson, Fran Seton, and Zhao Pu, a Chinese trainee.

Dave prepared a comprehensive report of the measurement. It can be downloaded from: Beijing 2008

When the index appears click on "Beijing2008.pdf" to download.
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Barbara and I were in the Adirondacks during the Olympics. Feeling isolated, one day I bought a NY Times and was surprised to see an article on the Olympic Measurement. I was even more surprised to see that the Jones Counter was invented by a "9-year-old boy over 3 decades ago."

This was the eighth Olympics to use the Jones Counter to measure the Marathon. Others were:

Montreal, 1976 (we were there)
Los Angeles, 1984 (we were there)
Seoul, 1988
Barcalona, 1992
Atlanta, 1996 (we were there)
Sydney, 2000
Athens, 2004

I have no idea how the Russians measured the Marathon at the 1980 summer games.


This is from the NY Times, August 15.


August 15, 2008
Measuring Marathons, Right Down to Last Inch
BEIJING — Five weeks ago, David Cundy and his wife, Fran Seton, came to Beijing from their home in Australia to measure the Olympic marathon course. Their role, their avocation, is a quiet one, and its results are pretty much taken for granted. But the only way to know for sure that a marathon course is precisely 26 miles, 385 yards is to call upon official measurers, like Cundy and Seton.

The idea is to slowly ride a bike over the marathon course, measuring distances with a device, a Jones counter, which keeps track of each revolution of the bicycle’s wheel. It is a device invented by a 9-year-old boy more than three decades ago.

To learn how wheel revolutions translate into miles and kilometers, the measurers start by using a tape measure to lay out a precise distance. Then they ride their bikes along that path.

In Beijing, known for its heavy traffic, the measurers reasoned that the best time to ride and measure the course would be at night. So, at 11:10 pm on July 10, Cundy, Seton and an entourage arrived at Tiananmen Square, where the race begins, to lay out a 300-meter distance for calibration. At five minutes to midnight, with the Jones counter calibrated, the official measurement began.

The work was slow and painstaking — the measurers had to stop at every kilometer and find signposts, like a lamppost nearby, that would enable them to specify how to go back and find each kilometer and each mile and mark them on the course. That is because there is a timing point in the marathon at each mile and at every five kilometers. The measurement was completed at 7 a.m.

“We make sure that not only is the full distance accurate but the splits are accurate too,” Cundy said.

“For all the research in the world and all the global positioning systems, this is still recognized as the best measurement system in the world,” he said.

He remembers a time when there were no precise measurements of marathon courses. It was the mid 1980s and Cundy, a marathon runner himself, volunteered to help organize a marathon in his home city, Canberra.

“I started to wonder how you should measure the course,” he said. That led him to discover the Jones system, which had never been used in Australia. Gradually, it came into worldwide use. And Cundy found himself one of a small fraternity of official measurers, working on 12 to 20 courses a year.

It took decades, though, before it was routine to precisely measure marathon courses. For that reason, the International Association of Athletic Federations, which appoints course measurers, waited until 2004 to recognize world records in marathons. Until then, the federation would say a time was the world’s best, but not a world record.

The Beijing course, Cundy said, would make for a fast marathon were it not for the hot and humid weather. The women’s marathon is Sunday morning, and the men’s race is on the morning of Aug. 24. The route goes along smooth, wide, tree-lined roads and it is flat.

The course does have one glitch, though. The Beijing Olympic Committee planners, who designed the route, wanted it to start in Tiananmen Square and end in the National Stadium. But their course was a tiny bit short.

To make up the extra distance, they had to add a little stretch at the end. They did it by adding a hairpin turn. The runners must run 50 meters past the entrance to the stadium, turn around, and run back to the entrance before running in.

As a runner, Cundy said, “I would find it frustrating.” But for spectators, he said, it will be great.

And, he added, that is far from the worst extra distance that has been added at the end of a race.

“I have seen some courses where you go past the finish line, run for two kilometers, and come back,” Cundy said.

Compared with that, he said, the Beijing hairpin turn is “a minor inconvenience.”
Would you know who first measured the 2K race walk course just outside the stadium? That 9-loop course started and finished in the stadium. It was first used for the IAAF race-walking challenge in April 2008 -- before the stadium was completed. Since the Marathon course crossed the race walk course, I would imagine some of the measurements from the race walk course may have been used.

The carpet on the race walk course, that Dave refers to in his report, is actually the 4-millimeter thick synthetic Mondo used for track surfaces. The 4 meter wide Mondo synthetic surface was added after the granite surface raised concerns following the IAAF Walk Challenge. That may have been the most expensive race walk course ever built.
Last edited by justinkuo
Re the turn point, this was not a last minute addition because the course was found to be short after measurement. This was always part of BOCOG's course design and it was the adjustment point presented to us in our capacity as measurers. The course had a fixed start (adjacent Chairman Mao's tomb) and fixed finish (track finish line) and any adjustment was to be made on the out and back section near the finish. This out and back section, of course, could have been anywhere along the course but, from a measurement perspective, it was very convenient exactly where it was planned by BOCOG. Runners I spoke to weren't particularly concerned and some thought it provided a good late race opportunity to check their opposition. It was also good viewing for spectators who were in the Olympic Green.

Re the initial measurement of the walks course, this was done by local Chinese measurers for the April test event. However it had not been well documented so the course used in April may not be exactly the same as the course we laid out for the Olympic Games. To my knowledge the Stadium was in full use in April for a track and field test event, so it is not correct to say the Stadium was not finished at that time.

There was less than 500m of common course between the walks and marathon and we measured each independently.

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