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
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
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
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
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
and Fast Facts
General Sports Links
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.