"Athletics" typically refers to athletic sports, including sports such as boxing, rowing or running. Dictionary.com points out that in the United Kingdom, "athletics" refers specifically to track-and-field events.
According to Wikipedia, the term "athletics" comes from the Ancient Greek word "athlos," which meant contest. The term now often refers to the range of competitive games and sports that require physical skill. Athletic contests typically allow the participants to test their physical skills, fitness and stamina in competition and performance. Most sporting activities are, in fact, athletic sports. Since the Industrial Revolution, athletics has gained increased importance in educational institutions, with skilled athletes often offered college scholarships due to their athletic prowess.