Track and Field

Learn about this Summer Olympic sport

April 27, 2012

Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt races to the finish line to win the gold in the men's 200-meter final at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

Track and field is one of the oldest and most popular sports at the Summer Olympic Games. It’s also the largest sport. The sport (also called “athletics”) debuted at the first Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, in 1896. What started as a handful of foot races has since expanded into 47 different events (24 men’s and 23 women’s events).

Rules of the Game

Olympic track and field competitors fully embrace the Olympic motto: faster, higher, stronger. They are among the fastest runners, highest jumpers and strongest throwers in the world.

Most running events take place on the track. These include sprints, mid-distance runs like the 1500-meter race, and longer runs. There are also hurdling events and the steeplechase, a long-distance race where runners must jump hurdles and leap over a pool of water.

Out in the field, athletes defy gravity, launching themselves into the air for the long jump, high jump, triple jump and pole vault competitions. Others test their strength in the shotput, discus, hammer and javelin throws.

Runners hit the road for the 26.2 mile-long marathon. Walking races also make tracks outside of the stadium. At the 2012 London Games, road events will occur on the streets of Central London, ending in The Mall, an iconic outdoor location near Buckingham Palace.

The women's heptathlon and the men's decathlon are the ultimate tests of speed and strength. Over the course of two days, athletes participate in a series of events. Women compete in seven overall, while men compete in 10. The better the athlete performs at each event, the more points he or she earns. At the end of the two days, the athlete with the most points wins a gold medal.


Click here to read about water polo at the Olympic Games.

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