Sprints are short running races in athletics. They are roughly classified as events in which top runners will not have to "pace themselves", but can run as fast as possible for the entire distance.
Starting blocks are used for all sprint and relay events. The starting blocks consist of two adjustable footplates attached to a rigid frame. Races commence with the firing of the starter's gun. The starting commands are "On your marks" and "Set" or "Get Set". Once all athletes are in the set position, the starter's gun is fired, officially starting the race. For the 100m, all competitors are lined up side-by-side. For the 200m and 400m, which involve curves, runners are staggered for the start.
If a sprinter commences his or her starting motion from the set position before the starter's gun is fired, it is deemed a false start. The first false start of a race results in a warning to the offending runner, but any athlete in that race who thereafter commits a false start will be disqualified.
For all Olympic sprint events, runners must remain within their pre-assigned lanes, which measure 1.22 meters (4 feet) wide, from start to finish. The lanes are numbered 1 through 8, starting with the inside lane. Any athlete who runs outside the assigned lane is subject to disqualification. If the athlete is forced to run outside of his or her lane by another person, and no material advantage is gained, there will be no disqualification. Also, a runner who strays from his or her lane in the straightaway, or crosses the outer line of his or her lane on the bend, and gains no advantage by it, will not be disqualified as long as no other runner is obstructed.
The first athlete whose torso (as distinguished from the head, neck, arms, legs, hands or feet) reaches the vertical plane of the closest edge of the finish line is the winner.
- The 60 metres is normally run indoors, on a straight section of an indoor athletic track. Since races at this distance can last around six or seven seconds, having good reflexes and thus getting off to a quick start is more vital in this race than any other.
- This is roughly the distance required for a human to reach maximum speed and can be run with one breath. It is popular for training and testing in other sports (e.g. speed testing for American football, although 40 yards is more common there).
- The World record in this event is held by American sprinter Maurice Greene with a time of 6.39 seconds.
- 60 metres is used as an outdoor distance by younger athletes when starting in sprint.
- The 100 metres sprint takes place on one length of the home straight of a standard outdoor 400 m track. Often, the world-record holder in this race is considered "the world's fastest man/woman." The current world Record of 9.69 seconds is held by Usain Bolt of Jamaica and was set on 16 August 2008, at the Beijing Olympics. The women's world record is 10.49 seconds and was set by Florence Griffith-Joyner.
- The 4x100 m relay is another prestigious event, with an average speed that is quicker than the 100 m, as the runners can start moving before they receive the baton. The World record in this event is 37.10 seconds, held by the Jamaican team as set 22 August 2008 at the Beijing Olympics.
- The 200 metres begins on the curve of a standard track (where the runners are staggered in their starting position, to ensure they all run the same distance), and ends on the home straight. The ability to "run a good bend" is key at this distance, as a well conditioned runner will be able to run 200 metres in an average speed higher than their 100 m speed.
- Indoors, the race is run as one lap of the track, with only slightly slower times than outdoors.
- A slightly shorter race (but run on a straight track), the stadion, was the first recorded event at the Ancient Olympics and the oldest known formal sports event in history.
- The world record in this event is 19.30 seconds, held by Usain Bolt and was set on 20 August 2008, at the Beijing Olympics.
- The 400 metres is one lap around the track on the inside lane. Runners are staggered in their starting positions to ensure that everyone runs the same distance. While this event is a sprint (according to some), there is more scope to use tactics in the race; the fact that 400 m times are considerably more than four times a typical 100 m time demonstrates this.
- The world record is currently held by Michael Johnson with a time of 43.18 seconds.
- The 4x400 m relay is often held at track and field meetings, and is by tradition the final event at major championships.
- Common tactics include exploding out of the blocks and continuing to run hard through the curve, relaxing in the middle 200 meters and kicking hard on the homestretch.
- This informal distance can be used to work on a 100 m runner's stamina, or a 200 m runner's speed, and has been used as an exhibition distance. The distance was used in a race between 1996 Olympic champions, the 100 m gold medalist Donovan Bailey (Canada) and 200 m gold medalist Michael Johnson (USA). It was to decide who of the two, was really the 'fastest man on earth' (see Bailey-Johnson 150-metre race).
- Another informal distance, which could be used to aid a 200 m runner's stamina, or a 400 m runner's speed. This is usually run indoors by high school athletes.
- More common than 300 m and 150 m, because this is half a kilometre. This could aid 400 m runners in their stamina, or help a middle-distance runner to gain speed. The borderline distance between sprints and middle distance. This is usually run indoor by high school athletes and on occasion collegiate athletes.
- This race is a CIS (Canadian Universities) indoor-only event only and run at all Canadian indoor track and field races because it is a recognized event at the Canadian University Championships. It is often run by 400 m runners looking to build endurance, or 800 m runners looking to build speed. It is a demanding race, with many athletes running at a pace just below their 400 m pace. The 600 m is sometimes considered a middle distance event.
Biological factors for runners
Some biological factors that determine a sprinter's potential are:
- The most common distance for rowing races is 2 kilometres. Races may be held at less than 1 km, which are known as dashes.
- Horse Racing and Hamster racing have sprint distance events.
- Track cycling features a sprint event, in which usually two riders compete over a distance of 1000 metres, though only the final 200 m may be timed. However, the time is normally immaterial - the aim is to be first across the line and win two races in a 'best of three races' match.
- The term sprinting can be applied in any racing sport, such as swimming.
- A 90 m beach sprint is held in surf lifesaving carnivals in Australia.