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Track and Field

The basics of athletics-running, jumping, and throwing-are also the basics of every sport ever devised. Men and women in prehistoric times jumped because there were no bridges and ran to escape wild beasts. Sometimes they had to run after the beasts for food, and once drawing close enough, they would throw something, at first a stone, and then later a primitive wooden spear. By the time of the ancient Olympic Games in Greece, running, jumping, and throwing had become very competitive. Contestants from all over Greece made the trek to Olympia to display their athletic prowess.

Sprints: The very first race of the modern Olympics was the opening heat of the 100-meter dash. Also known as sprints, dashes are the shortest and swiftest running events. Distances are 100, 200, and 400 meters. A fast start is especially important in sprinting. The athlete crouches at the starting line, leaps into full stride at the crack of the starter's pistol, and races to the finish line at top speed. Sprinters usually attain speeds of roughly 27 miles per hour. Starting positions of the 200- and 400-meter dashes and the 4 x 100-meter relay are staggered to prevent runners in the outer lanes from having to cover a greater distance. Efficient sprinting is achieved by lifting the knees high, allowing free-swinging arm movements, and leaning forward about 25 degrees.

Middle-Distance Runs: Races ranging from 800 meters to 1,500 meters are often referred to as middle-distance events. The standard Olympic middle distance events are the 800- and 1,500- meter races for women and men. (The 3,000-meter race for women has been discontinued, and the men's 3,000 is a steeplechase.)

Distance Runs: The 10,000 meter is the longest race run on a track in the Olympic Games. To prevent exhaustion, any excess motion is avoided. The knee action is slight, arm movements are reduced to a minimum, and the strides are kept short. The most grueling distance run is the marathon. It is the ultimate test of endurance. Good marathoners learn how to maintain their rhythm, how to keep from trailing by too much or making their move too soon, and how to preserve their energy for the final stretch.

Relays: Relay races are events for teams of four individuals in which each athlete runs a prescribed distance, called a leg, then passes a hollow tube (called a "baton") to a succeeding team member. In the 4 x 100-meter relay each team member runs 100 meters, and in the 4 x 400-meter relay each member runs 400 meters.

Hurdling: Hurdling events are dashes in which competitors must clear a series of ten barriers called "hurdles." Hurdlers need to lean forward and clear each barrier smoothly without breaking the rhythm of the running stride. The first leg to clear the hurdle is brought quickly down to the track, while the trailing leg clears the hurdle at almost a right angle to the body. Running speed, flexibility, and superior coordination are important elements of success.

Racewalk: In the sport of racewalking, women compete in a 20-kilometer event, while men compete in the 20- and 50-kilometer events. Walking is defined as a succession of steps, during which there must be contact with the ground at all times. The heel of the forward foot must touch the track before the toe of the trailing foot leaves the ground. If a competitor's walking action breaks contact with the ground, the walker may be cautioned or even disqualified for succeeding infractions.

Steeplechase: The steeplechase is an obstacle race run over a 3,000-meter course. It contains hurdles and one water jump and replaced the men's 3,000-meter middle-distance run at Sydney.

The competitor has the option of jumping or "passing" during the high jump and pole vault competitions. Credit is given only for the height that has actually been cleared. With three missed attempts in a row at a selected height, the athlete is eliminated.

High Jump: The aim in high jumping is to leap over a bar resting between two upright standards. The contestant is allowed three attempts to clear each height. The "Fosbury Flop" is the most common style used today to clear the bar. This maneuver was named for its originator, the American Dick Fosbury, who used it to win this event in the 1968 Olympics. To execute the flop, jumpers twist on takeoff in front of the crossbar, rise above the bar headfirst, clear the bar with their backs facing the ground, and land on the foam pad with their shoulders.

Pole Vaulting: In pole vaulting, the athlete attempts to clear a crossbar with the aid of a long flexible pole. Grasping the pole near its top, the vaulter races down a runway, digs the tip of the pole into a box or slot in the ground, and swings upward toward the bar. The vaulter then drops onto a foam padding, called the pit.

Long Jump: Long jumping requires strong leg and abdominal muscles, running speed, and superior jumping ability. The athlete dashes down a runway, hits a takeoff board, and springs forward, attempting to cover the greatest possible distance.

Triple Jump: The aim in the triple jump is to leap the greatest distance possible in a series of three quick steps. In the first phase the jumper sprints along a running path, and "hops" into the air from a takeoff board. The jumper then springs or "steps" forward and then "jumps" into the air once more and lands on both feet, in a manner similar to the long jumper.

For a throw to be counted as fair and measured for distance, the object must land within a designated area, and the athlete must have thrown it while remaining within the throwing circle or behind the scratch line.

Shot Put: The object of shotputting is to propel a solid metal ball through the air as far as possible. The athlete holds the shot in the fingers of the throwing hand and rests the hand against the shoulder, under the chin. The competitor then bounds across the 2.135-meter circle in a half crouch, building up speed. Upon reaching the opposite side of the circle, the competitor puts the shot with an explosive uncoiling of the arm and body. The shot is pushed into the air, not thrown. The men's shot weighs 7.26 kilograms; the women's shot weighs 4 kilograms.

Discus Throw: The discus throw is one of the oldest of all Olympic events, clearly tracing its origins to the early Greeks. The discus thrower is the image most often depicted in Greek art. The discus is a steel-rimmed hardwood or metal platter that is thrown from a circle 2.5 meters in diameter. The athlete holds the discus flat against the palm and forearm, then whirls around, rapidly propelling the discus outward with a whipping motion of the arm. The men's discus weighs about 2 kilograms; the women's weighs about 1 kilogram.

Hammer Throw: Hammer throwers compete by hurling a ball attached to a length of wire that has a metal handle. Gripping the handle with both hands and keeping the feet in place, the athlete whirls the ball around in a circle passing above and behind the head and just below the kneecaps. As the hammer gains momentum, the athlete suddenly whirls the body around three times. The hammer is then released upward and outward at a 45-degree angle and must fall within a 45-degree sector. The hammer weighs 7.26 kilograms for men and 4 kilograms for women; the length for both is approximately 1.2 meters.

Javelin Throw: Contestants grasp the javelin, which is a steel-tipped metal spear, near its center of gravity and sprint toward a check line. Drawing back the javelin, they execute a hop or fast cross step. At the scratch line, they pivot forward abruptly and hurl the javelin into the air. The throw is "fouled" if they step across the line or if the javelin does not fall to earth point first, or does not land within the prescribed sector. The men's javelin weighs 800 grams and measures a minimum of 2.6 meters in length. The women's javelin weighs 600 grams and is at least 2.2 meters in length.

Decathlon and Heptathlon
Decathlon: The men's decathlon is a two-day, ten-event contest that places a premium on athleticism, stamina, and versatility. The events included are the 100-meter dash, long jump, shot put, high jump, 400-meter run, 110-meter high hurdles, discus throw, pole vault, javelin throw, and 1,500-meter run. The athlete's performance in the various events is rated against a complex scoring table. The highest point total determines the winner.

Heptathlon: The women's pentathlon began in the 1920s and was added to the Olympic Summer Games in 1964. Twenty years later, the heptathlon was introduced to the Olympic program at the Olympic Summer Games in Los Angeles, replacing the five-event pentathlon. This new combined event for women added two events-the javelin throw and an 800-meter run-to the five in the original pentathlon, which were the 100-meter high hurdles, shot put, high jump, long jump, and 200-meter run.

News, History, and Fast Facts

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Olympians will compete in dozens of sports this summer. Even though Gateway to the Summer Games can't feature them all, you can learn about each and every one by visiting the sites listed below.

Portions of the above text were excerpted from Share the Olympic Dream--Volume II.
© 2001 by Griffin Publishing Group/United States Olympic Committee.

For information on purchasing Griffin materials, please visit the Griffin Publishing Group Web site at http://www.griffinpublishing.com.


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