Most of this information will be gleaned from the fabulous book "One Hundred Bay Sheffields" by Les O'Donoghue & Les Brown.
ORIGINS of the SHEFFIELD Distance
The Sheffield distance of 130 yards or the now metric equivalent of 120 metres can be traced back to the English city of Sheffield in the 1700's, 40 years before Captain Cook arrived in Australia.
Rivalry between two Sheffield publicans and two pubs back in 1730 started some traditions and rules which have been maintained to this day.
Foot-running in England had been steadily building up in popularity since 1653 when the Duke of Buckingham matched himself against all-comers for side wagers. The Duke is acknowledged as being the first "professional runner".
At this time it was considered a shocking thing to bet on the result of a race - or even bet. Eventually the gentlemen of the day succumbed to the lure of the "fast buck". Soon, many had their own trained stable of representatives, much as you would have a stable of horses today.
Match races on Newmarket Heath for large and strange stakes became common. "Pedestrians" were in great demand by noblemen and gentry who paid huge sums to keep their runners fit. Wagers of 1000 guineas on a foot-race were not uncommon.
The Duke of Buckingham eventually slowed down and then built a huge stable of carefully tended and trained runners.
Now, back to Sheffield England 1730 and the extreme rivalry between the two pubs. Fisticuffs had been tried often, but to no avail, so a race from one pub to the other was arranged in which only one regular client of each pub could compete. The prize was the "Publican's Purse" of five gold sovereigns - plus the purse. The distance between the two pubs just happened to be over 130 yards, and since that time "Sheffield" foot-races are still run over 130 yards (now 120 metres).
REF: Brown, L J (1987) "One Hundred Bay Sheffields" Aneil Press.