Olympic Preview: Track & Field

Updated February 21, 2017 | Factmonster Staff

First Olympic Appearance: 1896

by Gerry Brown and Mark Zurlo

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The marquee sport at any Olympics is track and field, or athletics, as it is more widely known outside the United States. In fact, track and field is the group of events that comprised the core of the very first Olympics in ancient Greece. Today, while it might sound contradictory, track and field is more than just track and field.


Did You Know?
A sprint, hurdle, long jump or triple jump will not be recognized as a world record if the wind strength behind the athlete exceeds two meters a second (11.6 miles per hour).


The sport involves the three major themes of running, throwing, and jumping and can be divided into four disciplines: track, field, road, and combined. The track events are all measured in meters and consist of the following: the sprints (100m, 200m, 400m), the middle-distance running (800m and 1500m), long-distance running (5000m and 10,000m), hurdling (100m for women, 110m for men and 400m for both), relay racing (4x100m and 4x400m) and finally the men's 3000m steeplechase.

The field events are the long jump, triple jump, high jump, pole vault, shot put, discus, javelin, and hammer throw. The Sydney Games marked the Olympic debut of women's pole vault and hammer throw. The road events are the separate men's and women's marathons, the women's 10km race walk and the men's 20km and 50km race walks.

The combined events are held over two days. The women's heptathlon consists of seven events (200m, 100m hurdles, high jump, shot put, long jump, javelin and finally the 800m) and the men's decathlon is made up of 10 events (100m, 400m, 110m hurdles, long jump, shot put, high jump, discus, javelin, pole vault, and finally the 1500m).

Since there are such a wide variety of events under the umbrella of track and field, athletes, about 2000 of them in fact, of all shapes and sizes will compete in track and field at the 2008 Summer Games-from the oversized weight throwers to the slightly built marathon runners.

In the 2000 games, Australia's own Cathy Freeman, who had dramatically lit the cauldron at the opening ceremony, earned the 400m. For the men, American Michael Johnson became the first man to win the Olympic 400m twice and then went on to anchor the winning 4x400m relay team.

At the Beijing Games, the majority of track and field events will take place at the Beijing National Stadium, site of the opening and closing ceremonies. The marathon will begin at Tiananmen Square and finish at the National Stadium, while the race walking events will begin and end at the National Stadium, but will also lead competitors outside the stadium and onto a boulevard circling the Olympic Green.

Note: All references to Marion Jones have been removed from this page. This follows the decision made by the International Olympic Committee to erase her record and strip her of her medals.

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