Introduction of Athletics

Athletic events represent sport at its purest and are often the centrepiece of major international sporting games. They are the embodiment of the Olympic motto, Citius, Altuis, Fortius - or Faster, Higher, Stronger - with athletes pushing themselves to the limit against their opponents and the record books.

Athletic events can be split into four main categories: track events, field events, road events and combined events.

Track events are running races that take place on a 400m outdoor track in the main stadium. The sprint races provide instant excitement, but look out for clever tactics and fast finishing in the longer races.

Field events are throwing and jumping competitions that usually take place inside the track. Strength, speed and agility are key, while tactics also come in to play in the jumping events.

Road events are long running and walking races that take place on public roads, although they often finish on the track inside the stadium.


The word athletics comes from the Greek "athlos" meaning "contest". A track running race, known as the "stade", was the first and only event at the first ancient Olympics in 776BC.

Later, more running distances were added, along with the long jump and a pentathlon event which introduced the discus and javelin.

The end of the ancient Olympics in AD393 also saw the end of organised athletics for more than 1,400 years. Running, jumping and throwing competitions continued, however, on an informal basis in most civilised cultures, often as a part of military training.

Interest in the Olympics was revived when archaeologists excavated ancient Olympia towards the end of the 19th century. Baron Pierre de Coubertain founded the International Olympic Committee in Paris in 1894, and the first modern Olympics followed in Athens two years later.

Track and field athletics was a major part of Athens 1896, although women did not compete until the 1928 Amsterdam Games, and then only in five events. The men's programme has varied, but has become relatively standardised at all major games since 1928. Women's events, however, have gradually increased in number to almost match the men's.

The recent addition of women's pole vault, triple jump and 3,000m steeplechase means the only exclusively male event is now the 50km race walk, although the women run over a shorter distance in the sprint hurdles, over lower hurdles in both events, and take part in a seven-event heptathlon rather than a 10-event decathlon.

The International Amateur Athletics Federation was formed in 1912 as a world governing body. IAAF has staged its own World Championships since 1983, allowing prize money from 1982. In 2001, it changed its name to the International Association of Athletics Federations.

Athletics has been a part of every Asian Games, starting at New Delhi, India, in 1951.


Track events (classified by distance in metres):

100m, 200m and 400m: Sprint races where the athletes run as fast as they can in their own lane for the entire distance.

800m and 1500m: Middle distance events where athletes can't maintain top speed, so tactics come into play. Athletes are also permitted to run out of lane.

5000m and 10,000m: Long distance events run out of lane, where endurance is vital, in addition to tactics.

110m hurdles (100m for women) and 400m hurdles: Sprint races where the athletes also have to jump over 10 barriers equally spaced down the track. The men have higher hurdles and a slightly longer distance to cover in the shorter event.

3000m steeplechase: An endurance race over hurdles. After an obstacle-free first lap, the competitors tackle five hurdles, including a water-jump, on each successive lap. This is a men's event only at Doha 2006.

4x100m and 4x400m relays: Team sprint races where four athletes race in sequence, passing a baton to the next runner. Dropping the baton results in disqualification. The first team whose final athlete crosses the line with the baton is the winner.

Field events

High jump:

Competitors aim to jump the highest over a bar. They have three chances to clear the bar. If they clear it, then the bar is raised gradually until only the winner remains.

Pole vault:

Similar to the high jump, but competitors are allowed to use a long pole to help propel them over the bar and can therefore clear great heights.

Long jump:

Competitors aim to jump the furthest. They have three chances to run and jump from behind a line into a sandpit.

Triple jump:

Similar to the long jump, but competitors have to take a hop, a skip and a jump at the end of their run up.


Competitors throw a long spear, known as the javelin, as far as possible from behind a line. The javelin must stick into the ground on landing to count.

Shot put:

Competitors throw a heavy metal sphere, known as a shot, as far as possible, using a strictly controlled pushing motion from the shoulder.


Competitors throw a disc as far as possible using a straight arm and a swinging action.


Competitors throw a metal sphere on a chain, known as a hammer, as far as possible using a swinging action.

Road events


A long endurance road race, run over the traditional marathon distance of about 42 kilometres (26.2 miles).

20km race walk:

An endurance road race conducted under strict walking rules; competitors must keep one foot on the ground at all times to prevent running

Combined events


A men's event featuring 10 disciplines. On day one, competitors start with the 100m, followed by the long jump, shot put, high jump and 400m. Day two features the 100m hurdles, discus, pole vault, javelin and the final event, the 1500m. Scoring tables are used to give a final points total.


A women's event featuring seven disciplines. On day one, competitors start with the 100m hurdles, followed by the high jump, shot put and 200m. Day two features the long jump, javelin and 800m. Scoring tables are used to give a final points total.