Rio 2016, a showcase for the metric system

As 2016 draws to a close, we look at one of the institutions that benefits from an international and universal measurement system – the Olympic Games.

Rio 2016 consisted of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. It took place between 5 August and 21 August in thirty-two venues in Rio de Janeiro, Brasil. The football events took place in Belo Horizonte, Brasília, Manaus, Salvador and São Paulo. Around ten thousand athletes competed in Rio, and, according to the official Rio 2016 website, the Games comprised 42 sports, 306 events, 37 venues and 206 countries. The Paralympic Games comprised 23 sports, 528 events, 21 venues and 176 countries.

Nearly all the sports in Rio 2016 depend on accurate measurements and would not be possible without them. These measurements are described here, based on information from the official Rio 2016 website.


The Rio 2016 website tells visitors the following interesting facts about archery:

  • The distance between the archer and the target is 70 metres.
  • In the air, the arrow can travel at more than 240 km/h.


There were 24 track events in total. They varied in distance between 100 m and 10 000 m. The men’s and women’s track races with no obstacles comprised distances of 100 m, 200 m, 400 m, 800 m,  1500 m, 5000 m and 10 000 m. Races with obstacles comprised the men’s 110 m hurdles, the women’s 100 m hurdles, men’s 400 m hurdles and women’s 400 m hurdles, men’s 3000 m steeplechase and women’s 3000 m steeplechase. Separate relay races for men and women included the 4 x 100 m relay and the 4 x 400 m relay. There was an Athletics Marathon over a distance of more than 42 km and three Athletics Race Walk events, which were the men’s 20 km and 50 km race walks and the women’s 20 km race walk.

In addition to all the athletics events with distance measurements in their titles, there were also the following men’s and women’s events:

  • High jump
  • Pole vault
  • Long jump
  • Triple jump
  • Discus throw
  • Hammer throw
  • Javelin throw
  • Shot put

There was also the men’s decathlon and the women’s heptathlon events. All measurements for these athletics events were expressed exclusively in metric (either in metres or, perhaps, a combination of metres and centimetres), the international measurement language understood throughout the world.

Canoe Sprint

A series of canoe single, canoe double, kayak single, kayak double and kayak four events took place at Rio 2016. These events involved distances ranging from 200 m to 1000 m. Like all track races, all kayaking events involve distance measurements. There can be no race without them!


All the diving events involve the 3 metre springboard or the 10 metre platform. The springboard and platform measurements feature the all titles for the diving events. One may not think that there are any measurements in diving but the fact that springboard and platform lengths are included in the event titles show that there are. Divers are judged on the beauty and accuracy of their dives rather than how long or deep their dives are.


Like archery, shooting events also define the distance between the shooters and the target. For shooting events, these distances are 10 metres, 25 metres or 50 metres.


Freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly, medley, medley relay and freestyle relay events all involve distances expressed in metres. The swimming events tend to use the same distances as athletics events up to a distance of 1500 m. The men’s and women’s relay events were 4 x 100 m and 4 x 200 m. There was also a men’s 10 km marathon swimming event and a women’s 10 km marathon swimming event.


There were eight taekwondo events, four for men and four for women, involving different weight categories. The weight categories for men differ from those for women. The men’s weight categories are under 58 kg, under 68 kg, under 80 kg and over 80 kg. The women’s weight categories are under 49 kg, under 57 kg, under 67 kg and over 67 kg. These weight categories are all defined in kilograms.


The weightlifting events comprised 15 body weight categories, 8 for men and 7 for women. They are all given in kilograms. The weights are also given in kilograms.


There were freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling events. In Greco-Roman wrestling, there are 2 rounds of 3 minutes each, inside a circular area with a diameter of 9 metres. There are only men’s Greco-Roman wrestling events in six weight categories, which are 59 kg, 69 kg, 75 kg, 85 kg, 98 kg and 130 kg. The freestyle wrestling events comprise 12 body weight categories, 6 for men and 6 for women, all expressed in kilograms.

The Rio 2016 website also supplied measurements for some of the buildings where the events will take place:

  • Carioca Arena 1: Size = 38 000 square metres
  • Riocentro – Pavilion 2: Size = 1500 square metres
  • Riocentro – Pavilion 3: Size = 23 000 square metres
  • Riocentro – Pavilion 4: Size = 23 000 square metres. This pavilion had a floor-to-ceiling height of 12 metres.
  • Riocentro – Pavilion 6: Size = 7500 square metres
  • Whitewater Stadium: The facilities in this stadium contained 25 million litres of water. Its canoe slalom course for competitions was 250 metres long and its canoe slalom course for training 200 metres long.
  • Olympic BMX Centre: Size = approximately 4000 square metres. Its dirt track was about 400 metres long.
  • Mountain Bike Centre: This centre had a 5400 metre long track.
  • Olympic Equestrian Centre: Size = one million square metres

No medieval measurement to be seen anywhere! Even the road signs directing British and US athletes to the Games were in metric – it appears ARM’s remit does not extend to South America.

One thing that our politicians can learn from Rio 2016  is that the UK does not need more than one measurement system. Instead of leaving us with the measurement muddle they have created, why can’t politicians make the case for completing the transition to a single, simple, logical and universal measurement system? If the Republic of Ireland and most of Commonwealth countries succeeded, then why can’t we? Over to you, Mrs May.

You can find the official Rio 2016 website at

6 thoughts on “Rio 2016, a showcase for the metric system”

  1. Yet, despite the full use of the metric system in the Olympics, the American media trips over itself trying to hide it all with voice overs in USC only. So you hear USC from the announcer and you see metric in the displays. I’m surprised they don’t use CGI to edit out the metric and replace it with USC. So, as far as Americans are concerned, there is no metric in the Olympics.

    I’ll never understand why the Marathon is not 40 km exactly. It was in the first Olympics. I know the story behind the 42.2 km distance, but I don’t understand why the Olympic Committee allowed the change in the 1908 Olympics and for whatever reason they did, why didn’t they revert to the 40 km for all of the distances afterwards?

    There would be no issue today if the Marathon was changed back to 40 km or even 50 km. By the IAAF rules for road races, the times have to be taken every 5 km. Thus for every Marathon so far, the 40 km times are known and can be compared.


  2. Ronnie says, “Over to you, Mrs May.”

    The problem here of course is that Mrs May has quite a few problems on her plate at the moment, viz:

    1. In spite of her apparent move to the central ground immediately on being appointed PM, she has had to cater to her far right extremist wing, the ones who essentially forced David Cameron to hold the referendum, and who are anti-EU. They would fight any attempt to change British road signs to metric units, or indeed to advance metrication any further. Consequently she will not want to go against this extreme anti-EU faction.

    2. Brexit, in whatever form it will take, is essentially consuming all her government’s efforts. Things like metrication will be rather a long way down her to-do list at the moment.

    3. The costs of Brexit have, by the Chancellor’s own admission, ballooned to something like £122 billion (£122 000 000 000), and will seriously curtail any new initiatives. Converting road signs, even though the real one-time costs are relatively trivial in the grand scheme of things, would be an early casualty once the budget constraints really start to bite.

    Sadly, I foresee very little chance of the current government doing anything constructive for many years to come in terms of moving Britain forward towards full metrication, in spite of the fact that it is obvious that the world a lone UK will be facing is, USA excepted, virtually 100% metric. That is the measurement language this country will need to speak internationally – and the measurement language the current government does not understand.


  3. And the effects of lack of government direction towards metrication continue to evince themselves. Witness the BBC World Service report from a BBC reporter in Iraq (fully metric country) just yesterday talking about refugee camps where all of the various units (temperature, distance, etc.) given were in Imperial (with one small nod to “Centigrade” in addition to the dreaded Fahrenheit temperature).

    Absolutely shameful yet utterly not surprising. 😦


  4. More bad news: BBC reports Storm Barbara will have winds of 90 mph … no metric whatsoever! ????


  5. @John Frewen-Lord:

    Going to disagree with most of that, sorry. Also hope that it does not reflect UKMA thinking, otherwise they might as well just disband themselves. All very defeatist; too much internalising of problems callously, carelessly (but quite deliberately) and divisively inflicted by others. Happy new year, BTW ;-).

    Nobody forced Diddy David Cameron et al to hold a referendum at all or dictated its terms and mood—his political `party’ eagerly relished it with the selfish short-term aim of curtailing defections and the hubris to believe that it couldn’t `lose’. Let the dozy clowns who orchestrated all this suffer the consequences, or let’s have a general election now they’ve scarpered. The UK parliament went along with the plan without making any effort to clear its schedule of non-EU matters first, so only has itself to blame that it shall now have to do both simultaneously. If the ruling `party’ didn’t want someone who is unwilling to delegate as prime minister, they ought to have appointed a different candidate—or correct their mistake soon hereafter. Otherwise, presumably, they are content for every decision to be slowed down by having to pass across one desk sequentially. DFT still has thousands of employees sitting around doing nothing particularly useful and there is no reason there should be a moratorium for them just because [some] other government departments have now been given piles of extra work. If DFT is incapable of managing metrication of road signs and reducing some of its ongoing profligacy at the same time, then it is about time the apparently too-onerous design of signage was taken off their hands, permanently.


  6. I was looking through the website and I chanced on this article which I thought was interesting and thorough. With the 2020 Olympics fading in our minds the same comments would be applicable there. When I am watching Olympic sport, I just don’t think that it would be anything different than in metric! I can offer some perspective on my own sport of athletics, namely the marathon distance. We all probably all know the history behind the distance. Suffice to say, that it isn’t a round number in any units, miles or kilometres. Changing the distance to 40 km while seeming sensible would have altered the nature of the event. The final 2,195 m (definition!) adds an extra dimension as the race is often won or lost in that small distance. Of course the distance now has a long history. So why change it? Regarding US athletes and their public, they are missing out a lot by not using the native units of a sport. There have been many examples of athletes getting confused in the past, but perhaps modern US athletes often go with the proper measurement these days, especially in the vertical jumps (high jump, pole vault).


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