The original and only event at the first Olympics in 776 BC was a stadium-length foot race or "stade", run on a track.
There were several other "games" held in Europe in the classical era:
Other peoples, such as the Celts, Teutons and Goths who succeeded the Romans, enjoyed athletic contests. However, these were often related to combat training. In the Middle Ages the sons of noblemen would be trained in running, leaping and wrestling, in addition to riding, jousting and arms-training. Contests between rivals and friends may have been common on both official and unofficial grounds.
Annually, from 1796-1798, L'Olympiade de la République was held in revolutionary France, and is an early forerunner to the modern summer Olympic Games. The premier event of this competition was a footrace, but various ancient Greek disciplines were also on display. The 1796 Olympiade also marks the introduction of the metric system into sport.
In the 19th century the formal organization of the modern events accelerated - in France, Germany, and Great Britain in particular. This included the incorporation of regular sports and exercise into school regimes. The Royal Military College, Sandhurst has claimed to be the first to adopt this in 1812 and 1825, but without any supporting evidence. The earliest recorded meeting was organised at Shrewsbury, Shropshire in 1840 by the Royal Shrewsbury School Hunt. There are details of the meeting in a series of letters written 60 years later by C.T. Robinson, who was a pupil there from 1838 to 1841. The Royal Military Academy at Woolwich held an organised competition in 1849, but the first regular series of meetings was held by Exeter College, Oxford from 1850.
Modern athletic events are usually organized around a 400 metre running track on which most of the running events take place. Field events (vaulting, jumping, and throwing) often take place on the infield, inside the track.
Athletics was included in the first modern Olympic Games in 1896 and has formed their backbone ever since. Women were first allowed to participate in track and field events in the 1928 Olympics.
An international governing body, the International Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF), was founded in 1912; it adopted its current name, the International Association of Athletics Federations, in 2001. The IAAF established separate outdoor World Championships in 1983. There are a number of regional games as well, such as the European Championships, the Pan-American Games, and the Commonwealth Games. In addition there is a professional Golden League circuit, cumulating in the IAAF World Athletics Final, and indoor championships such as the World Indoor Championships. The sport has a very high profile during major championships, especially the Olympics, but otherwise is less popular.
The AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) was the governing body in the United States until it collapsed under pressure from advancing professionalism in the late 1970s. A new governing body called The Athletics Congress (TAC) was formed. It was later renamed USA Track & Field (USATF or USA T&F). An additional, less structured organization, the Road Runners Club of America (RRCA), also exists in the United States to promote road racing.
In modern times, athletes can receive money for racing, putting an end to the so-called "amateurism" that existed before.
There are two seasons for track and field. There is an indoor season, run during the winter and an outdoor season, run during the spring. Most indoor tracks are 200 metres and consist of four to six lanes. There are also some 150 metre indoor tracks, and others as small as 120 metres have been used. Some "oversize tracks" (larger than 200 metres) are popular for American collegiate athletics despite the fact that they are not considered valid for setting indoor records. Often an indoor track will have banked turns to compensate for the tight radius of the turns. The banking can help prevent injuries to the athlete, while also promoting higher speeds.
In an indoor track meet athletes contest the same track events as at an outdoor meet, with the exception of the 100 m and 110 m/100 m hurdles (replaced by the 55 or 60 m sprint and 55 or 60 m hurdles at most levels, or the 55 m sprint and hurdles at the high school level), the 10,000 m run, 3,000 m steeplechase, 400 m hurdles. Indoor meets also have the addition of a 3,000 m run normally at both the collegiate and elite level, instead of the 10,000 m. The 5,000 m is the longest event commonly run indoors, although there are situations where longer distances have been raced. In the mid 20th century, there was a series of "duel" races on Madison Square Garden's indoor track, some of which featured two men racing a marathon (42.2 km). However, this is an extremely rare occurrence, for obvious reasons. In some occasions, there may also be a 500 m race instead of the open 400 m normally found outdoors, and in many college championship races indoors both are contested.
In field events, indoor meets only feature the high jump, pole vault, long jump, triple jump, and shot put (weight throw). Due to space limitations, these events take place on the infield, within the circumferential track. The longer throws of javelin, hammer and discus are added only for outdoor meets, as there is normally not enough space in an indoor stadium to house these events.
Other events unique to indoor meets (especially in North America) are the 300 m, 600m, 1000 m, and weight throw. In some countries, notably Norway, standing long jump and standing high jump are also contested, even in the National Championships.
For multi-event athletes there is the Pentathlon for women (consisting of 60 m hurdles, high jump, shot put, long jump and 800 m) and heptathlon for men (consisting of 60 m, long jump, shot put, high jump, 60 m hurdles, pole vault and 1000 m) indoors.
The outdoor track and field season usually begins in the spring and lasts through the summer. Most tracks are ovals of 400 metres in circumference. Modern "tartan tracks" or more recently "mondo tracks" are made with a rubberized surface; older tracks were cinder-covered. Tracks normally consist of 6-10 lanes (up to 12 lanes on the 'front' straight) and many include a steeplechase lane with a water pit on one of the turns. This steeplechase pit can be placed either inside or outside the track, making for a tighter turn or a wider turn. It is common that tracks will surround a playing field used for American football, football (soccer), or lacrosse. This inner field is usually known as the infield and has a surface of either grass or artificial turf. All field events can be contested on the infield. However the javelin, hammer and discus throws are sometimes contested on fields outside of the track stadium because they take up a large amount of space, the implements may damage the infield, and the implements could end up landing on the track. However, some infields are used specifically for these events, and for the javelin, an athlete may have a longer run-up by starting it on the other side of the track, and crossing when there are no athletes passing.
There are other variations besides the ones listed below, but races of unusual length (e.g. 300 m) are run much less often. The unusual races are typically held during indoor season because of the shorter 200 m indoor track. With the exception of the mile run, races based on imperial distances are rarely run on the track anymore since most tracks have been converted from a quarter mile (402.3 m) to 400 m; almost all record keeping for imperial distances has been discontinued. However, the IAAF record book still includes the mile world record (currently held by Hicham El Guerrouj of Morocco for men and Svetlana Masterkova of Russia for women) because of its worldwide historic significance.
Men and women do not compete against each other, although they may sometimes run in the same races due to time constraints at high school meets. Women generally run the same distances as men although hurdles and steeplechase barriers are lower and the weights of the shot, discus, javelin and hammer are less.
Track and Field is the most accessible sport for anybody to participate in. It only takes two people to have a race, or one can simply race a stopwatch. In events called All Comers Track Meets, anybody who wishes to participate is welcome, there is no exclusion because you do not have a team or even equipment. Most such meets are low cost or even free. While races are usually seeded based on the entrant's expected level of ability, the most elite of athletes can and do use these meets as training grounds.
Running events conducted on a track (generally 400 metres, except indoors):
Sprints are events up to and including the 400 metres. Events commonly contested are:
Middle Distance Events are events longer than sprints and up to 3000 metres. Events commonly contested are:
Long Distance Events are events over 3000 metres. Events commonly contested are:
Hurdles events require the runner to run over evenly spaced barriers during the race. Events commonly contested are:
Relay races are events in which four athletes participate as a team, passing a metal baton in between. Events commonly contested are:
Some events, such as medley relays, are rarely run except at large relay carnivals. Typical medley relays include:
Road Races are events conducted on open roads, sometimes finishing on a track. Events commonly contested are:
Racewalking may be contested on either the track or on open roads. Events commonly contested are:
The following events also take place, but are uncommon:
Multiple event competitions include events from both the track (running) and field events.
Pentathlon: the Pentathlon includes the following five events:
Heptathlon: the Heptathlon includes the following seven events:
Outdoors (usually only women):
Indoors (usually only men):
Decathlon: the Decathlon includes the following ten events:
The rules of track athletics or of track events in athletics as observed in most international athletics competitions are set by the Competition Rules of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). The most recent complete set of rules is the 2008 rules.
Key rules of track events are those regarding starting, running and finishing.
The start of a race is marked by a white line 5 cm wide. In all races that are not run in lanes the start line must be curved, so that all the athletes start the same distance from the finish. Starting blocks must be used for all races up to and including 400 m (including the first leg of the 4 x 200 m and 4 x 400 m) and may not be used for any other race. No part of the starting block may overlap the start line or extend into another lane. All races must be started by the report of the starter's gun or approved starting apparatus fired upwards after he or she has ascertained that athletes are steady and in the correct starting position. An athlete may not touch either the start line or the ground in front of it with his hands or his feet when on his marks. At most international competitions the commands of the starter in his own language, in English or in French, shall, in races up to and including 400 m, be "On your marks" and "Set". When all athletes are "set", the gun must be fired, or an approved starting apparatus must be activated. However, if the starter is not satisfied that all is ready to proceed, the athletes may be called out of the blocks and the process started over.
False start: An athlete, after assuming a final set position, may not commence his starting motion until after receiving the report of the gun, or approved starting apparatus. If, in the judgment of the starter or recallers, he does so any earlier, it is considered a false start. It is deemed a false start if, in the judgment of the starter an athlete fails to comply with the commands "on your marks" or "set" as appropriate after a reasonable time; or an athlete after the command "on your marks" disturbs other athletes in the race through sound or otherwise. Any athlete making a false start must be warned.
In all races run in lanes, each athlete must keep within his allocated lane from start to finish. This also applies to any portion of a race run in lanes. If an athlete leaves the track or steps on the line demarking the track, he should be disqualified. Also, any athlete who jostles or obstructs another athlete, in a way that impedes his progress, should be disqualified from that event. However, if an athlete is pushed or forced by another person to run outside his lane, and if no material advantage is gained, the athlete should not be disqualified.
The finish of a race is marked by a white line 5 cm wide. The athletes must be placed in the order in which any part of their bodies (i.e. torso, as distinguished from the head, neck, arms, legs, hands or feet) reaches the vertical plane of the nearer edge of the finish line.
Ties between different athletes are resolved as follows: In determining whether there has been a tie in any round for a qualifying position for the next round based on time, a judge (called the chief photo finish judge) must consider the actual time recorded by the athletes to 1/1000th of a second. If the judge decides that there has been a tie, the tying athletes must be placed in the next round or, if that is not practicable, lots must be drawn to determine who must be placed in the next round. In the case of a tie for first place in any final, the referee decides whether it is practicable to arrange for the athletes so tying to compete again. If he decides it is not, the result will stand. Ties in other placings remain.