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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 Games (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 popularised 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.

Modern athletic events are usually organised around a 400 m 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 & field

There are two seasons for track & 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 (consiting 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).


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.