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This article refers to the British English definition of Athletics that is limited in scope to sporting events that in American English are known as "Track and Field". Thus, Track and Field redirects here. If you are looking for the American English definition of the word "athletics", which is used to categorise all sports, please see the article entitled Sport.

Athletics, also known as track and field or track and field athletics, is a collection of sport events. The word is derived from the Greek word "athlos" meaning "contest". It is a collection of sport events, which can roughly be divided into running, throwing, and jumping.



Athletics was the original sport at the first Olympics back in 776 BC where the only event held was the stadium-length foot race or "stade". The earliest recorded win was at these games in the stade race.

There were several other "Games" held throughout Europe in later eras:

  • The Pythian Games (founded 527 BC) held in Delphi every four years
  • The Nemean Games (founded 516 BC) held in Argolid every two years
  • The Isthmian (founded 523 BC) held on the Isthmus of Corinth every two years (one year being that which followed the Olympics)
  • The Roman Games — a direct imitation of the Greek Olympics, however was a much more popularized spectacle, with most competitors likely to have been professional athletes (the Greek Olympics was more a common-man's fare). Many themes of the Roman Circus (chariot races, gladiatorial combats and wild animal displays) were incorporated into the Roman Games asides from athletic sports.

Other peoples enjoyed athletic contests, such as the Celts, Teutons and Goths who succeeded the Romans. However these were often related to training to war, and were not very well organized. 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. Many athletic sports have found favour in Europe throughout the ages. However, at least in Britain, they fell out favour between the 13th and 16th centuries due to government restrictions on sports aiming to reduce the practice of archery. After this ban was lifted in the 17th century sports began to flourish once more, but it was not until the 19th century that organization began to appear. 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 CT Robinson who was a pupil there from 1838 to 1841.

Modern athletic events are usually organized around a 400 metre running track, on which most of the running events take place. Field events (jumping and throwing) often take place in the field in the centre of the running track.

Many athletic events have an ancient origin and were already conducted in competitive form by the ancient Greeks. Athletics was included in the first modern Olympic Games in 1896 and has been part of the program ever since, providing the backbone of the Olympics. Women were not allowed to participate in track and field events in the Olympics until 1928. An international governing body, the IAAF was founded in 1912. The IAAF established separate outdoor World Championships in 1983. 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 and Field (USATF or USA T&F). An additional, less structured organization, the Road Runners Club of America (RRCA) also exists in the USA to promote road racing. Both organizations allow athletes to receive money for racing putting an end to the "shamateurism" that existed before.

Indoor track and field

There are two seasons for track and field. There is an indoor season, run during the winter and an outdoor season, run during the summer. Most indoor tracks are 200 meters, however, less frequently, there are smaller and larger tracks that measure from between 180 to 300 meters. The indoor track consists of four to six lanes instead of the eight to ten on an outdoor track. Often an indoor track will have banked turns to compensate for the tight bends.

In an indoor track meet athletes contest the same events as an outdoor meet with the exception of the 100 m and 110 m/100 m hurdles (replaced by the 60 m sprint and 60 m hurdles at all levels), and the 10,000 m run and 3,000 m steeplechase. Indoor meets also have the addition of a 3,000 m run (at both the collegiate and elite level).

In the field events, indoor meetings only feature the high jump, pole vault, long jump, triple jump and shot put. The longer throws of javelin, hammer and discus are reserved for outdoor meetings, as there is normally not enough space in an indoor stadium to house these events.

For multi-event athletes there is the Pentathlon for women (consisting of 60m hurdles, high jump, shot put, long jump and 800m) and heptathlon for men (consisting of 60m, long jump, shot put, high jump, 60m hurdles, pole vault and 1000m).

Outdoor track and field

The outdoor track and field season begins in the spring and may last through the summer. Usually the tracks are 400 meters, however, some old tracks are still measured in yards, so they measure 440 yards. The track consists of 6-10 lanes and for the bigger collegiate tracks, a steeplechase lane with a water pit. This can be inside or outside the track, making for a tighter turn or a wider turn. Often schools will place a field in the middle of the track, usually football/soccer/lacrosse, due to their size and shape. Recently these fields have been made out of astro turf or field turf instead of grass.

Field events consist of the high jump, pole vault, long jump, triple jump and shot put. They also consist of the javelin, hammer and discus throws; however, often these are outside of the stadium because they take up a large amount of space.


There are other variations besides the ones listed below but races of unusual length (e.g. 300 m) are run much less often. 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 meters.

Men and women do not compete against each other. 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 events - running events conducted on a 400 meter track.
    • Sprints: events up to and including 400 m. Common events are 60 m (indoors only), 100 m, 200 m and 400 m.
    • Middle distance: events from 800 m to 3000 m, especially 800 m, 1500 m, mile and 3000 m.
      • steeplechase - a race (usually 3000 m) in which runners must negotiate barriers and water jumps.
    • Long distance: runs over 5000 m. Common events are 5000 m and 10000 m.
    • Hurdling: 110 m high hurdles (100 m for women) and 400 m intermediate hurdles (300 m in high school).
    • Relays: 4 x 100 m, 4 x 400 m, 4 x 200 m, 4 x 800 m, etc. Some events, such as medley relays, are rarely run except at large relay carnivals.
  • Road running: conducted on open roads, but often finishing on the track. Common events are half-marathon and marathon.
  • Race walking: usually conducted on open roads. Common events are 10 km, 20 km and 50 km.
  • Field events
  • Composite events

World records


Event Record Athlete Date Place
60 m (Indoor) 6.39 s Maurice Greene (USA) February 3, 1998 Madrid, Spain
100 m 9.77 s Asafa Powell (Jamaica) June 14, 2005 Athens, Greece
200 m 19.32 s Michael Johnson (USA) August 1, 1996 Atlanta, GA, USA
400 m 43.18 s Michael Johnson (USA) August 26, 1999 Seville, Spain
800 m 1:41.11 Wilson Kipketer (Denmark) August 24, 1997 Cologne, Germany
1000 m 2:11.96 Noah Ngeny (Kenya) September 5, 1999 Rieti, Italy
1500 m 3:26.00 Hicham El Guerrouj (Morocco) July 14, 1998 Rome, Italy
Mile 3:43:13 Hicham El Guerrouj (Morocco) July 7, 1999 Rome, Italy
2000 m 4:44.79 Hicham El Guerrouj (Morocco) September 7, 1999 Berlin, Germany
3000 m 7:20.67 Daniel Komen (Kenya) September 1, 1996 Rieti, Italy
Two miles 7:58.61 Daniel Komen (Kenya) July 19, 1997 Hechtel, Belgium
5000 m 12:37.35 Kenenisa Bekele (Ethiopia) May 31, 2004 Hengelo, Netherlands
10,000 m 26:17.53 Kenenisa Bekele (Ethiopia) August 26, 2005 Brussels, Belgium
20,000 m 56:55.6 Arturo Barrios (Mexico) March 30, 1991 La Flèche, France
Half marathon 59:06 Paul Tergat (Kenya) March 26, 2000 Lisboa, Portugal
One hour 21.101 km Arturo Barrios (Mexico) March 30, 1991 La Flèche, France
25,000 m 1:13:55.8 Toshihiko Seko (Japan) March 22, 1981 Christchurch, NZ
30,000 m 1:29:18.8 Toshihiko Seko (Japan) March 22, 1981 Christchurch, NZ
Marathon 2:04:55 Paul Tergat (Kenya) September 28, 2003 Berlin, Germany
3000 m
7:53.63 Saif Saaeed Shaheen (Qatar)
(born Stephen Cherono, Kenya)
September 3, 2004 Brussels, Belgium
110 m hurdles 12.91 s Colin Jackson (UK)
Liu Xiang (China)
August 20, 1993
August 27, 2004
Stuttgart, Germany
Athens, Greece
400 m hurdles 46.78 s Kevin Young (USA) August 6, 1992 Barcelona, Spain
High jump 2.45 m Javier Sotomayor (Cuba) July 27, 1993 Salamanca, Spain
Pole vault 6.14 m Sergei Bubka (Ukraine) July 31, 1994 Sestriere, Italy
Long jump 8.95 m Mike Powell (USA) August 30, 1991 Tokyo, Japan
Triple jump 18.29 m Jonathan Edwards (UK) August 7, 1995 Göteborg, Sweden
Shot put 23.12 m Randy Barnes (USA) May 20, 1990 Los Angeles, CA, USA
Discus 74.08 m Jürgen Schult (E. Germany) June 6, 1986 Neubrandenburg, E. Germany
Hammer 86.74 m Yury Syedikh (USSR) August 30, 1986 Stuttgart, W. Germany
Javelin * 98.48 m (New style)
104.80 m (Old style)
Jan Železný (Czech Rep.)
Uwe Hohn (GDR)
May 25, 1996
20 July 1984
Jena, Germany
Berlin, Germany
Decathlon 9026 pts Roman Šebrle (Czech Rep.) May 27, 2001 Götzis, Austria
10.64 s (100 m), 8.11 m (long jump), 15.33 m (shot put), 2.12 m (high jump), 47.79 s (400 m), 13.92 s (110 m hurdles), 47.92 m (discus), 4.80 m (pole vault), 70.16 m (javelin), 4:21.98 min (1500 m)
20 km walk (road) 1:17:21 Jefferson Pérez (Ecuador) August 23, 2003 Paris, France
30000 m walk (track) 2:01:44.1 Maurizio Damilano (Italy) October 3, 1992 Cuneo, Italy
50000 m walk (track) 3:40:57.9 Thierry Toutain (France) September 29, 1996 Héricourt, France
50 km walk (road) 3:36:03 Robert Korzeniowski (Poland) August 27, 2003 Paris, France
4x100 m
37.40 s Mike Marsh, Leroy Burrell, Dennis Mitchell, Carl Lewis (USA)

Jon Drummond, Andre Cason, Dennis Mitchell, Leroy Burrell (USA)

August 8, 1992

August 21, 1993
Barcelona, Spain

Stuttgart, Germany
4x200 m
1:18.68 Mike Marsh, Leroy Burrell, Floyd Heard, Carl Lewis (USA) April 17, 1994 Walnut, CA, USA
4x400 m
2:54.20 Jerome Young, Antonio Pettigrew, Tyree Washington, Michael Johnson (USA) July 22, 1998 New York City
4x800 m
7:03.89 Peter Elliott (athlete), Garry Cook, Steve Cram, Sebastian Coe (UK) August 30, 1982 London, England
4x1500 m
14:38.8 Thomas Wessinghage, Harald Hudak, Michael Lederer, Karl Fleschen (W. Germany) August 17, 1977 Cologne,
W. Germany
4x110 m
hurdles relay
54.40 s University of Tennessee (USA) May 22, 1981 Knoxville, TN, USA

Note : Two record distances are given for the men's javelin event ; this is because in the 1980s, the men's event was throwing at distances which caused many "flat landings" and judges at the event were having trouble discerning the exact point at which the javelin had landed and whether the throw was legal. In 1985, the specs of the javelin were changed by moving the centre of gravity forward by 4 cm.


Event Record Athlete Date Place
100 m 10.49 s Florence Griffith Joyner (USA) July 16, 1988 Indianapolis, IN, USA
200 m 21.34s Florence Griffith Joyner (USA) September 29, 1988 Seoul, S. Korea
400 m 47.60 Marita Koch (E. Germany) October 6, 1985 Canberra, Australia
800 m 1:53.28 Jarmila Kratochvílová (Czechoslovakia) July 26, 1983 Munich, W. Germany
1000 m 2:28.98 Svetlana Masterkova (Russia) August 23, 1996 Brussels, Belgium
1500 m 3:50.46 Qu Yunxia (China) September 11, 1993 Beijing, China
Mile 4:12.56 Svetlana Masterkova (Russia) August 14, 1996 Zürich, Switzerland
2000 m 5:25.36 Sonia O'Sullivan (Rep. Ireland) July 8, 1994 Edinburgh, Scotland
3000 m 8:06.11 Wang Junxia (China) September 13, 1993 Beijing, China
5000 m 14:24.68 Elvan Abeylegesse (Turkey) June 11, 2004 Bergen, Norway
10,000 m 29:31.78 Wang Junxia (China) September 8, 1993 Beijing, China
One hour 18.340 km Tegla Loroupe (Kenya) August 7, 1998 Borgholzhausen, Germany
20,000 m 1:05:26.6 Tegla Loroupe (Kenya) September 3, 2000 Borgholzhausen, Germany
Half Marathon 1:06:44 Elana Meyer (RSA) January 15, 1999 Tokyo, Japan
25,000 m 1:27:05.8 Tegla Loroupe (Kenya) September 21, 2002 Mengerskirchen, Germany
30,000 m 1:45:50.0 Tegla Loroupe (Kenya) June 7, 2003 Warstein, Germany
Marathon 2:15:25 Paula Radcliffe (UK) April 13, 2003 London, England, UK
3000 m
9:01.59 Gulnara Samitova, (Russia) July 4, 2004 Heraklion, Greece
100 m hurdles 12.21 s Yordanka Donkova (Bulgaria) August 20, 1988 Stara Zagora, Bulgaria
400 m hurdles 52.34s Yuliya Pechenkina (Russia) August 8, 2003 Tula, Russia
High jump 2.09 m Stefka Kostadinova (Bulgaria) August 30, 1987 Rome, Italy
Pole vault 5.01 m Yelena Isinbayeva (Russia) August 12, 2005 Helsinki, Finland
Long jump 7.52 m Galina Chistyakova (USSR) June 11, 1988 Leningrad, USSR
Triple jump 15.50 Inessa Kravets (Ukraine) August 10, 1995 Göteborg, Sweden
Shot put 22.63 Natalya Lisovskaya (USSR) June 7, 1987 Moscow, USSR
Discus 76.80 Gabriele Reinsch (E. Germany) July 9, 1988 Neubrandenburg, E. Germany
Hammer throw 77.06 m Tatyana Lysenko (Russia) July 15, 2005 Moscow, Russia
Javelin ** 71.70m (New style)
80.00 m (Old style)
Osleidys Menéndez (Cuba)
Petra Felke (E. Germany)
August 14, 2005
September 9, 1988
Helsinki, Finland
Potsdam, Germany
Heptathlon 7291 pts Jackie Joyner-Kersee (USA) September 24, 1988 Seoul, S. Korea
12.69s (100 m hurdles), 1.86 m (high jump), 15.80 m (shot put), 22.56s (200 m), 7.27 m (long jump), 45.66 m (javelin), 2:08.51 (800 m)
Decathlon 8366 pts Austra Skujytė (Lithuania) 14 April 2005
15 April 2005
Columbia, MO, USA
12.45 s (100 m), 46.19 m (discus), 3.10 m (pole vault), 48.78 m (javelin), 57.19 s (400 m), 14.22 s (100 m hurdles), 6.12 m (long jump), 16.42 m (shot put), 1.78 m (high jump), 5:15.86 (1500 m)
5000 m walk (track) 20:02.60 Gillian O'Sullivan (Rep. of Ireland) July 13, 2002 Dublin, Ireland
10000 m walk (track) 41:56.23 Nadezhda Ryashkina (USSR) July 24, 1990 Seattle, WA, USA
20000 m walk (track) 1:26:52.3 Olimpiada Ivanova (Russia) September 6, 2001 Brisbane, Australia
20 km walk (road) 1:25:41 Olimpiada Ivanova (Russia) August 7, 2005 Helsinki, Finland
4x100 m Relay 41.37 Silke Gladisch, Sabine Rieger, Ingrid Auerswald, Marlies Göhr (E. Germany) October 6, 1985 Canberra, Australia
4x200 m Relay 1:27.46 LaTasha Jenkins, LaTasha Colander-Richardson,
Nanceen Perry, Marion Jones (USA)
April 29, 2000 Philadelphia, PA, USA
4x400 m Relay 3:15.17 Tatyana Ledovskaya, Olga Nazarova, Mariya Pinigina, Olga Bryzgina (USSR) October 1, 1988 Seoul, S. Korea
4x800 m Relay 7:50.17 Nadezhda Olizarenko, Lyubov Gurina, Lyudmila Borisova, Irina Podyalovskaya (USSR) August 5, 1984 Moscow, USSR

Note: As with the men's event, the specification of the women's javelin has been changed. On April 1, 1999 the IAAF moved the centre of gravity forward by 3 cm in order to ensure a greater number of legal throws and to allow for more accurate distance measurement.

The two tables above are mainly Outdoor world records. Indoor world records are available at

See also

External links

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