Taking America's Measures-Fun Activities for KidsGo to the National Institute of Standards and Technology homepage


Just as global competition is heating up the way Americans conduct business, sporting competition has become increasingly international. The need for a universal system of weights and measures is clearly evident. Because the metric system is the language of measurement used by 95 percent of the world's population, the U.S. Department of Commerce and its Metric Program offer these Sporting Fast Facts to help make the transition a little easier.

  • Diving off the 10-meter diving platform is similar to diving from the roof of a three-story building.
  • Basketball players slam dunk in a net measuring 45 centimeters in diameter, or twice the diameter of the ball.
  • Competitors in one of our most popular recreational road races, "the 5K," run 5 kilometers -- which is longer than 54 football fields laid end-to-end.
  • Just like engine displacement in vehicles bought by the American public, auto and motorcycle racing engines have their displacement measured in cubic centimeters or liters (1 liter = 1000 cubic centimeters).
  • Those bicycle racers that complete the grueling Tour de France will have ridden about 3800 kilometers -- the straight-line distance from New York to Phoenix.
  • With frames made from steel, aluminum, titanium, or carbon fiber, road racing bikes are designed and built (usually using metric specifications) to be strong and lightweight (8 to 10 kilograms).
  • Gymnastic floor exercises are performed on a mat measuring 12 by 12 meters, roughly half the area of a basketball court.
  • Female gymnasts execute precise movements on a balance beam that is only 10 centimeters wide -- about the width of a paperback novel.
  • The rings in men's gymnastics are placed 250 centimeters off the floor, which is about the height of a standard ceiling.
  • The stars of beach volleyball can jump about 75 centimeters off the sand -- about the height of a Great Dane at its shoulders.
  • Volleyball and beach volleyball players use a regulation court size that is 18 meters long and 9 meters wide.
  • The annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race takes mushers and their teams of racing dogs on a grueling 11-day, 1850-kilometer Alaskan course from Anchorage to Nome.
  • An "Olympic-sized" swimming pool is 50 meters long and 25 meters wide; it has eight lanes, each 2.5 meters wide. All swimming events are measured in metric distances, such as the 100 m freestyle and the 200 m backstroke.
  • Waterpolo players pass and carry a ball in a pool that is 1.8 meters deep, or approximately the height of a standard upright refrigerator.
  • Almost all track and field events involve the use of metric measurements. For example, competitors in the high jump are allowed a 25 meter run-up, the uprights are placed 4 meters apart, and the bar itself must not weigh more than 2 kilograms.


Created: May 8, 2001
Last updated: Feb. 14, 2006
Contact: inquiries@nist.gov

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