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Monday, May 29, 2023

Track and Field – Know more about the age-old sport.


Track and field is a sport for athletes and it tests the skills in running, jumping and throwing. The sport got the name from the place where people played it – track for running and grass field for jumping and throwing.

It comes under athletics, which also includes sports like road running, cross country racing and race walking.

Sprints, middle- and long-distance events, racewalking, and hurdling are foot racing events and athletes who complete it in the least time win it.

Similarly, jumping events include long jump, high jump, triple jump, and pole vault. And the participants who achieve the greatest distance win the event.

Shotput, javelin, discus, and hammer constitute the throwing event and the athletes win the sport by achieving the greatest distance.

In addition, pentathlon, heptathlon, and decathlon are the events that consist of five events, seven events, and ten events respectively. The athletes take part in the combination of track and field events.

In these sports, individuals participate and compete for the winners’ position. But relay race is the only event where teams comprise four persons per team, compete with each other.

Track and field sports have a long timeline and people played it from ancient times. Now, the Olympic Games and the IAAF World Athletics Championships are the two prestigious events at the international level.

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History of Track and Field

Ancient Period

ancient stadium where track and field took place
Image Source: www.liveabout.com

The sport required no equipment, innovations or stringent rules. It came into existence based on the natural physical expression of human beings. And so, the origin of the sport dates back to a long time in history.

In 776 BC, at the first Olympic games that took place in Olympia, Greece, participants played one track event – the stadion footrace. It is the available record for the presence of track and field sports in the organized sports.

Then in the following years, many running races joined the list of events. But, it took the form of real track and field sport after the introduction of pentathlon in ancient Olympic which included long jump, javelin throw, discus throw, stadion footrace, and wrestling.

Around this period, Track & Field events were also present at the Panhellenic Games in Greece. Subsequently, the game spread to Rome in around 200 BC.

Overall, the game had Greek and Roman influence, in this period. Then during the middle ages, new track and field events started to develop in parts of Northern Europe.

The Celtic societies in Ireland and Scotland played stone put and weight throw. And those games developed into the modern shot put and hammer throw events.

Track and Field in Modern Era

athletes ready to run in a track and field event

19th Century

Pole vault was the last track and field event to develop and the game emanated from competitions held in the Northern European Lowlands in the 18th century.

Educational institutions, military organizations and sports clubs started to conduct exclusive competitions for track and field events. It began in the 19th century and rival establishments took part in the competitions.

During those times, competitions in the English schools resembled and were the human equivalent of horse racing, fox hunting, and hare coursing.

Available evidence shows that The Royal Shrewsbury School Hunt is the oldest running club in the world. It started to function in the year 1819.

The RSSH school organized paper chase races in which runners followed a trail of paper shreds left by two “foxes”. And people called the runners as “hounds” and a race victory a “kill” in the school.

In 1834, Shrewsbury conducted its Annual Steeplechase, a cross country race, and it was the oldest running race of the modern era.

The school also conducted track and field meeting and it was the oldest track and field event. A document of the year 1840, wrote about it and the event consisted of a series of throwing and jumping competitions.

After a decade, the first Wenlock Olympian Games were held at Much Wenlock racecourse. The National Olympian Association, which started to function in the year 1865, held the first Olympian games in 1866 at the Crystal Palace, London.

The Amateur Athletic Club was formed and it held a championship for “gentlemen amateurs” in the same year. In the year 1880, it was reconstituted as Amateur Athletic Association and it was the first national body for the sport of athletics.

From the year 1880, the association conducts the annual event regularly. Though it was restricted only for England, it codified the rules for the first time and it was a global governing body in the early years of the sport.

Another organization in the USA, the USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships also began to conduct the annual national competition. The New York Athletic Club first held the competition in the year 1876.

General sports governing bodies the Amateur Athletic Union in the USA and the Union des sociétés françaises de sports athlétiques in France came into existence in the year 1888 and 1889 respectively.

The beginning of modern Olympic games at the end of the 19th century helped the game to grow in stature.

The 1896 Olympics contained track and field events and a marathon race in many of the foremost sporting competitions. Then during the following years, the track and field contests got its importance and got a prominent place.

20th Century

In the year 1912, the International Amateur Athletic Federation started to function, and it became the international governing body for track and field.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association held its first Men’s Outdoor Track and field championship in the year 1921, and it became one of the most prestigious competitions for students.

Then in the year 1923, track and field became a part of the inaugural World Students Games.

The first continental track and field event was the South American Championships, held in the year 1919. Then in the year 1934, European Championship followed.

Alice Milliat fought for the inclusion of women at the Olympics but the Olympic committee refused it. Then in the year 1921, she founded the International Women’s Sports Federation.

With the growing movement for the participation of women in sports in Europe and North America, the group initiated Women’s Olympiad and held it annually from 1921 to 1923.

It worked in alliance with the English Women’s Amateur Athletic Association and conducted the Women’s World Games four times between the years 1922 and 1934. And also Women’s International and British Games in London in 1924.

Finally, five track and field events for women entered in the 1928 Summer Olympics. With time women got their due place and only at the end of the century, the events for men and women attained complete equality.

Subsequently, track and field competitions for disabled athletes were introduced in the 1960 Summer Paralympics.

Then became the growth of regional championships and multi-sports events like Commonwealth Games and Pan-American Games. The game gained exposure and commercial appeal.

With the growing professionalism in the late 1970s, The Athletics Congress replaced the Amateur Athletic Union in the United States. It solely focused on the sport of athletics.

In 1982, IAAF followed it and rebranded itself as the International Association of Athletics Federations.

IAAF held the first-ever exclusive competition for athletics in the following year, which became a prestigious competition for track and field sport.

In the 1980s, many athletes got international fame. The sportspersons produced many records and the political climate and the cold war period added to the spirit of the sports. Increase in commercial value, modern coaching methods and training helped the development of track and field to a new high level.

In the 1990s, the IAAF became an important organization with two hundred member countries. Consequently, the track and field game became more professional. And the event became completely professional with the introduction of price money in the year 1997.

Events in Track and Field

Track and field events comprise three categories: track events, field events, and combined events.

Track events involve running on a track for a specified distance. In the case of the hurdling and steeplechase events, the athletes have to pass obstacles on the tracks while running. And relay race is a team sport which involves four persons per team, who carry and pass the baton.

Field games consist of Jumps and Throws. In jumping events, athletes have to cross a distance or height. The athletes don’t use any aids in the events. But in the pole vault, they use a vertical purpose-built stick.

Throwing events involve throwing of heavyweights, javelin or discus from a marked point. Here the athletes become winners by measuring the distance they reached.

In the combined events, the same group of athletes contests for a number of different track and field events.



athletes at the end of race in a track and field event

Races over short distances are very popular and are the oldest among the running races. And the short races are also known as sprints.
In the ancient Olympic games, there was only one event; the stadion race, in the first 13 editions of the games. It was a race from one end of the stadium to the other.

The athletes who run the sprints remain as the focus of the events. They have to attain and sustain the speed possible for them.

Now three sprinting events: 100m, 200m, and 400m are conducted in the Olympics and outdoor World Championships.

The sprinters begin races from a starting point and they will be in a crouching position to start with. Then they move forward and go into the upright position as the game progresses.

Athletes remain in the same track for the sprints. Interestingly, the study of the game revealed that the top speed can be maintained up to 20 meters only.

So, in 100m races, the focus is on attaining the maximum possible speed for the athletes. For other sprints like 200m and 400m, the focus will be on the endurance of the participating athletes.

The event also includes races with varying distances. Among them, 60m is a common indoor event. And less common events include 50metres, 55 meters, 300metres, and 500metres.

Middle distance

athletes at a starting position in a track and field event

The 800m and 1500m races come under the middle distance track events and are very common. Moreover, the 3000m event also comes under the middle distance category.

The 800m race originated from the 880-yard run or half a mile and had its roots in the United Kingdom in the 1830s. Similarly, the 1500m race originated from continental Europe, in the 20th century. And it was a result of running three laps of a 500 m track.

After hearing the gunshot, the athletes start to run and will head towards the innermost track to follow the quickest route to the finish. But in the 800m races, the runners start in a staggered start position and they must remain in their lanes for the first 100m of the race.

For running the middle distance events, the athletes should have good aerobic and anaerobic energy producing systems and also they should have commendable speed endurance.


athletes at the starting point in a track and field event.

The long-distance running events include competitions for 3000m, 5000m and 10,000m.

The 5000m and 10,000m races are included in the Olympic and World Championship events. But the 3000m event was women’s long-distance event and entered into World Championship program in 1983 and the Olympic program in 1984,

In rules and fitness demands, long-distance track races have much in common with middle-distance races. But speed, stamina, and race tactics are the factors that decide the performance in the race.

Relay races

athletes running a relay race in a track and field event.
Image source: https://www.bornoffireusa.com

In relay races, teams of runners compete with each other and it is the only team event in track and field events.

A team consists of four members of the same sex. While running, each member has to cross a specified distance before handing over the baton to a teammate.

There is a designated area to hand over the baton and not handing over the baton in the area or dropping the baton during the race results in disqualification.

Relay races originated from charity races played between firemen, who would hand a red pennant on to teammates every 300 yards. And there were two very common relay events: the 4×100 meters relay and 4×400 meter.


athletes running a hurdle race in track and field event.

Races with hurdles as obstacles became popular in England in the 19th century. The first event was held in the year 1830 and it was a variation of the 100-yard dash with heavy wooden obstacles.

A modification occurred in the year 1864, in the competition between the Oxford and Cambridge Athletic. In the 120 – yard race, ten hurdles of 3-foot and 6 inches height were placed 10 yards apart. But the first and last hurdles were placed at 15 yards distance from the start and finish.

The steeplechase is the other track and field event with obstacles. It originated from students’ competition in Oxford, England.

In English championships in the year 1879 and in the Summer Olympics in the year 1900, a steeplechase event was held on a track for the men’s 2500m and 4000m.

Until the 1920 Summer Olympics, the event was held with various distances. Then the 3000m steeplechase became the standard event.

In the year 1954, the IAAF set the standards of the event. The women’s steeplechase gained World Championship status in the year 2005 and it first appeared in the Olympics in the year 2008.


Long jump

young boy running for long jump in a track and field event

It dates back to ancient Greece and is one of the oldest track and field events. It was a part of the pentathlon contest played in ancient Greece.

In the long jump, after taking a short run-up, the athletes jumped and aimed to get a higher distance. They jumped into an area of dug up earth. The participant who got the farthest distance became the winner.

Athletes also held small weights in their hands, which they will drop at the end, for gaining extra momentum and distance.

In the year 1860, it was standardized in England and the United States. The modern long jump resembles the ancient sport but the athletes don’t use weights.

Interestingly, there exists another version of the long jump, which is a standing long jump. This event requires no sprinting and the athletes have to jump from a standing position.

Triple jump

triple jump in track and field event

Triple jump also takes place on a track heading towards a sandpit. In the initial version, the athletes hop on the same leg before jumping into the pit. But, from the year 1900 onwards, it was changed to the current “hop, step and jump” pattern.

The presence of a triple jump event in ancient Greece is in dispute. The athletes took part and played men’s event in the modern Olympics. But the women’s event gained World Championship status in 1993 only.

High jump

man bending his body over the bar  in track and field event.

The first recorded instances of high jumping competitions happened in Scotland in the 19th century. Further competitions were organized in 1840 in England and in 1865 the basic rules of the modern event were standardized there.

In the event, the athletes do a short run up and then take off from near a horizontal bar and fall back onto a cushioned landing area.

The event got its entry into the Olympics in the year 1896 and in the year 1928, women’s event also got the entry.

Pole vault

In a track and field event, a man crossing the bar in a pole-vault.

Evidence is available for using poles for vaulting distances in the Frisian area of Europe. And during the 1770s, vaulting for height began to take part in gymnastics competitions in Germany. In England, the earliest recorded event was in the year 1843 in Cumbria.

The basic rules and playing techniques originated in the U.S. The athletes should not move the hands along the pole. They first cleared the pole with their feet first and twisted so that the stomach faces the bar.

In the 20th century, athletes began to use Bamboo poles and using the metal box in the runway for planting the pole came into practice. Then, they began to use landing mattresses to protect the athletes.

From the year 1896, pole vault for men has been part of the Olympic events. Later in the 1997 IAAF World Indoor Championships, the first women’s world championship competition began.

Throwing event

Shot put

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The origin of the shot put dates back to prehistoric competitions with rocks. And in the middle ages, people in Scotland played a similar game named stone put.

Then in the 17th century, military people in England held cannonball throwing competitions, which became a precursor to the modern shot put.

In the year 1860, the game began to follow the modern rules. Then the competitors started to take legal throws within a square throwing area of seven feet.

Then it became a circle area of seven-foot diameter in the year 1906 and the standard weight of the shot became 16 ponds. Rules of the sport also scripted the ways to throw the shot.

The game found its place in the Olympics in the year 1896. It was a men’s game. Then only in the year 1948, women’s game entered the Olympics.

Discus throw

In this sport, the athletes throw a heavy flat disc. In standard competitions, they throw the disc from a circular arc area and they take a set number of throws in turns. The athlete who has thrown the farthest distance becomes the winner.

The history of discus throw dates back to 708 BC, where it was a part of ancient pentathlon. In ancient times, athletes threw a heavy disc in a standing position from a small pedestal.

In the year 1907, 2 kg in weight and 22 cm in diameter became the standard for the discus implement. By the 1912 Olympics, the ancient throwing style became obsolete and contestants started to throw by turn and spin method from within a 2.5 m squared throwing area.

Javelin throw

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The origin of the game dates back to prehistoric times, as warriors and hunters used javelin in their profession. It was a part of ancient pentathlon and was a second throwing game after discus throw.

From the records in the year 708 BC, it was clear that two javelin throwing competition coexisted; the athletes either threw the javelin to a target or to get a higher distance.

In ancient times, athletes used thin leather strip around the javelin and used it as a sling to get an extra distance.

In the late 19th century, the sport became most popular in Scandinavia. Consequently, the region still produces dominant throwers in the game.

Initially, people made javelins from various types of woods. But in the year 1950, hollow javelin and metal javelin came into use. Another javelin; rough-tailed javelin came into use later and it reached great distance, in excess of 100m.

Subsequently, the regulator IAAF decided to reduce the distance. Due to this, the organization banned rough-tailed designs in the year 1991. Similarly, it redesigned the women’s javelin in the year 1999.

Presently, the specifications for the javelin are 2.6 to 2.7 m in length and 800 grams in weight for men, and 2.2 to 2.3 m and 600 g for women.

The javelin throw entered the Olympic in the year 1908 and it was an event for men. Following it, women’s events entered in the year 1932.

Hammer throw

The games played in ancient Ireland like throwing a weight attached to a rope, a large rock on a wooden handle, or even a chariot wheel on a wooden axle would be the precursors to the modern hammer throw.

While several games like these took place, throwing of actual sledgehammer also happened in the 16th century England.

Then standardization of the implements followed in the year 1887. As per the standards, the weight of the metal ball was 16 pounds while the wire had to measure between 1.175 m and 1.215 m.

After the year 1950, the athletes began to throw greater distances as a result of using improved denser materials, concrete throwing areas and advanced training methods.

Initially, strong and sturdy athletes played hammer throw. But, nowadays hammer throwing requires techniques, speed, and flexibility as the legal throwing area is 34.92 degrees instead of 90 degrees.

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Combined events

In the combined track and field events, the athletes participate in many events. And they score points in each event, which when added later gives them total points.

In outdoor games, men’s decathlon and women’s heptathlon are common. But in indoor games, men’s heptathlon and women’s pentathlon are common. ( due to shortage in space)

The pentathlon played in the ancient Olympics was the inspiration for the later combined track and field events. The event was restored in the year 1904 Summer Olympics.

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