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Olympic Track and Field Events

By: Scott McBride - Updated: 4 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
Track Field Athletics Olympic Games

In many ways, track and field athletics epitomises the Olympic Games. It is the original Olympic sport, dating back to the first recorded ancient Games in 776BC, and it is the embodiment of the Olympic motto 'Citius, Altius, Fortius' - faster, higher, stronger.

Until the 13th Olympiad in 728BC, the Games consisted of one running event - the stade race over the length of the stadium (192.27m). In 724BC the double stadium race appeared, and then came a long race held over seven, 12 or 20 lengths of the stadium. In 708BC, the pentathlon first appeared. Its five trials were discus, stade race, javelin, long jump - performed with a weight in each hand - and wrestling.

Most of the failed attempts to revive the ancient Games in the late 1700s and throughout the 19th century focused on track and field events, and when the Games were reincarnated in 1896 it was with athletics at their heart.

Early Events Dropped

All the competitors were men at the first modern Olympics in Athens and, although women participated at Paris in 1900, women's athletics was not introduced until the 9th Olympiad at Amsterdam in 1928. Some of the track and field events contested at early Olympiads, such as the 60metres, 200m hurdles, cross country and standing high jump, were dropped and by Los Angeles in 1932 the men's programme was more or less standardised.

Women were restricted to only a few events initially, but now there are very few differences between the track and field events for men and women. The women's steeplechase was introduced in Beijing, although there is still no women's 50-kilometre walk and women's high hurdles is over 100m as opposed to 110m for men. Also, women compete in the heptathlon rather than the decathlon.

Going for Gold

There were 47 track and field titles won in Beijing: the 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m, 1500m, 5,000m, 10,000m, sprint hurdles, 400m hurdles, 3,000m steeplechase, 4x100m relay and 4x400m relay for men and women on the track; the long jump, triple jump, high jump, pole vault, shot, discus, javelin and hammer for men and women in the field; the decathlon (100m, long jump, shot, high jump, 400m, 110m hurdles, discus, pole vault, javelin and 1500m) for men and heptathlon (100m hurdles, high jump, shot, 200m, long jump, javelin, 800m) for women; and the marathon and 20km walk for men and women and 50km walk for men on the road.

In the ancient Games, the first stade race - a short, sprint race - was the most prestigious and the winner gave his name to the Olympiad. Koroibos was the first champion in 776BC and Leonidas of Rhodes was the greatest, winning four times between 164 and 152BC. Little has changed in many respects and the men's 100m - to find the fastest man in the world - is still one of the most prestigious events at the Games.

Track and field enjoys unwavering popularity, despite doping scandals, and creates more Olympic legends than any other sport. At the first modern Games, USA's men dominated and they have done since, although African nations now dominate the distance races. Soviet and East German women were all conquering until those two nations dissolved, and now the USA face a strong challenge from Caribbean nations.

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