New Delhi: A common (mis)conception is that the use of oval athletics track came from ancient Greeks. However, in ancient Greek athletes ran in clockwise direction. Even in Athens Olympics 1896 and 1906 and St. Louis 1904 clockwise tracks were used. Only in London 1908 Olympics, anti-clockwise tracks were used, so that the Royal family can have a better view of the track.
Until, 1896 Olympics, some but not all track races in England were ran clockwise.
So, since when did the athletes started running in anti-clockwise direction?
In early modern Olympics - Athens (1896 and 1906), Paris (1900), St Louis (1904) - athletes ran clockwise. This was changed to "left-hand inside" after that (apart from the 1908 London Olympic Marathon, which was switched so that the Royal Family could get a better view).
Oxford and Cambridge University were both important in athletics and both ran clockwise - Oxford until the late 1940s and Cambridge until the 1950s.
So how did anti-clockwise become standard?
According to Running through the Ages by Edward Seldon Sears, in the 20th Century a number of countries began to settle on the American custom of running counter-clockwise. One theory is that early races were run on horse tracks, which ran in that direction.
Anti-clockwise running had become the norm by the early 1900s and Olympic organisers came under pressure to conform.
According to The History of Oxford's Athletics Club, in April 1948, Roger Bannister, who became president of the athletics at Oxford, said of the athletic track at Iffley Road: "I would not rest until plans were started to replace the old third mile track with a new six-lane, 440 yards track conforming to international specifications."
"It changed sometime between 1950 and 1954 and Bannister's four-minute mile was run in the anti-clockwise direction," says Roycroft.
Some were of the opinion that running anti-clockwise will have an advantage to most of the right-legged athletes.
British sprinter, John Regis says, "I am right legged - but it wasn't something that came into my mind. It was just part of the sport; you were just trained to run that way. My right leg is a bit stronger and it does a bit more work but not so that any strain is put on either leg."
There are a host of other theories about the domination of anti-clockwise running. Most people are right-handed and some surmise it is easier for them to run anti-clockwise. For most people the right leg is the strongest, with it therefore making sense that the strongest leg covers the slightly longer distance.