Brief History of Track and Field: Characteristics and Specifications

Categories: Olympic Games

Since the Olympic Games began in Ancient Greece 776 BC, athletics, or track and field, has been a prestigious and popular sport to compete in. The true development of track and field as a modern sport started in England during the 19th century. In 1849, the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst held the first organized track and field meet of modern times. In 1896, the first modern Olympic Games were staged. Although initially of limited appeal, the Olympics captured the imagination of athletes and grew steadily, making track and field an international sport for the first time.

The first NCAA national championships were held for men in 1921, and women's track and field became part of the Olympic Games in 1928. Recently, participation by women has grown rapidly in the United States, where most schools have added women's track and field to their athletic programs. Track and field have been the centerpiece of the Summer Olympic Games since their revival in 1896.


Bib - a piece of paper with a number assigned to each runner as a way to sort times and places for accurate race results.

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Leg sticker - sticker with each runner's assigned lane that is to be put on the left thigh or on the bottom left of the athlete's running shorts.

False Start - the athlete moves either before or within 0.1 seconds after the starting pistol has fired.

Foul - any time an athlete steps on or over a boundary line, failure to complete a jump, or overstepping on the runway for a jump or on the throwing field.

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Lane - specific runway on the track designated for one runner at a time.

Lap - completion of one full circle around the track. Lengths may vary depending on location and season.

Relay - a set number of stages (legs), usually four, each leg run by a different member of a team. The runner finishing one leg is usually required to pass on a baton to the next runner while both are running in a marked exchange zone.

Race - the event a track athlete competes in to see who is the fastest at running a specific distance.

PR - a personal record.

Scratch - when an individual fails to check-in for their race OR when an official declares a jump or throw is deemed not legal in the field events.

Starting Blocks - a device that usually consists of two blocks mounted on either side of an adjustable frame and that provides a runner with a rigid surface against which to brace the feet at the start of a race.

Sprint - short distance race; generally 100, 200, or 400-meter races in outdoor track but can be shorter on an indoor track.

Mid Distance - middle distance race; generally 800 to 1600 meter races.

Long Distance - long-distance race; generally any race over 3000 meters or roughly two miles.

Meet - track and field competition between two or more teams.


  • 100/110 Meter High Hurdles;
  • 300 Meter Low Hurdles;
  • 100 Meter Dash;
  • 200 Meter Dash;
  • 400 Meter Dash;
  • 800 Meter Run;
  • 1600 Meter Run;
  • 3200 Meter Run;
  • 4x100 Meter Relay;
  • 4x200 Meter Relay;
  • 4x400 Meter Relay;
  • Steeplechase;
  • Long Jump;
  • Triple Jump;
  • High Jump;
  • Discus;
  • Shot Put;
  • Pole Vault;
  • Hammer Throw;
  • Javelin Throw;


  • Track;
  • Appropriate shoes and attire;
  • Hurdles;
  • Sand Pit;
  • High Jump Pit;
  • Pole Vault Pit;
  • Baton;
  • Starter Gun;
  • Starting Blocks;
  • Stopwatches/Timers;
  • Tape Measure;
  • Uniform;
  • Spikes;
  • Discus;
  • Shot Put;
  • Javelin;
  • High Jump Pole;
  • Pole Vault Pole.

Safety Considerations

Safety for any sport is always a priority but track and field have specific guidelines to follow. You should always look at both directions before crossing the track or any runways. Never walk across the infield while field events are occurring. Be extremely careful when anywhere near the shot, discus, or javelin areas. If you are in or around these areas, you risk getting hit. Only athletes competing in these events should be in these areas. If you are participating in field events you should be aware that all throws can be dangerous if the correct technique is not used. You should always go around the outside of the track to get from one side to the other when either track or field events are happening. Athletes should check their equipment prior to a start, jump or throw, and must not allow equipment to lie around.

List of Necessary Skills

  • Running;
  • Breathing techniques;
  • Good diet;
  • Endurance;
  • Speed;
  • Strength;
  • Specialized jumping;
  • Specialized throwing;
  • Rules.

For sprinters and distance runners, each racer gets an individual starting lane. While some lanes are staggered to compensate for additional circumference found on the track, short sprints have racers line up at the same point on the track. Any athlete who runs outside the assigned lane is subject to disqualification. If the athlete is forced to run outside of his or her lane by another person, and no material advantage is gained, there will be no disqualification. Also, a runner who strays from his or her lane in the straightaway, or crosses the outer line of his or her lane on the bend, and gains no advantage by it, will not be disqualified as long as no other runner is obstructed. A starting line is clearly marked and cannot be crossed until a starter gun goes off. A false start can only happen once; furthermore, if a racer double faults, he is disqualified from the race. The finish line is often marked by a line on the ground as well as a piece of ribbon or tape. The racer who crosses the finish line first is the winner. The first athlete whose torso reaches the vertical plane of the closest edge of the finish line is the winner.

In hurdle races, any competitor who trails a foot or leg below the horizontal plane of the top of any hurdle at the instant of clearance will be disqualified.

Basic relay race rules require racers to use one type of baton during their races. As a result, no grip tape or foreign material can appear on the baton to give racers an unfair advantage during the race. Another relay race rule involves the way in which racers receive the baton from other racers. If you drop the baton, you can pick it up and continue on during your race. However, if you grab the baton from a racer at an unsanctioned point on the race track, your team will be disqualified.

High Jump: Athletes must take off from one foot. A failed attempt occurs when the crossbar does not remain on the supports after the jump because it was touched by the athlete.

Pole Vault: Athletes are allowed to place a substance on their hands or the pole to obtain a better grip, but are not permitted to use tape on their hands or fingers except to cover an open wound. Athletes may use their own poles during competition. The poles may be made of any material and can be of any length and diameter. If the pole is broken during the attempt, it isn't considered a failure and the vaulter gets another attempt.

Long Jump: All jumps are measured from the take-off line to the nearest break in the landing area made by any part of the body. The athlete must not touch the ground beyond the take-off line upon executing the jump; the take-off line is the edge of the take-off board (roughly 8 inches wide) closest to the landing pit. The athlete must not take off from outside either end of the take-off board. When landing, he/she must not touch the ground outside the landing area closer to the take-off line than the nearest break made in the sand.

Triple Jump: The triple jump consists of a hop, a step, and a jump. It is not considered a failure if, while jumping, the athlete touches the ground with the non-jumping or 'sleeping' leg. All other scoring rules are the same as the rules for the long jump.

Throws: shot put, discus, and hammer throw are all thrown from the throwing circle. The javelin is thrown from a runway. If the athlete steps out of the throwing circle or runway during the act of throwing, the throw is considered a failed attempt. A valid throw must fall completely within the marked landing area. The athlete must not leave the circle or runway until the object they are throwing has touched the ground.


Points are given in individual events as follows: First place 10 points, second place 8 points, third place 6 points, fourth place 4 points, fifth place 2 points, sixth place 1 point. Points for relays are given as follows: first place 20 points, second place 16 points, third place 12 points, fourth place 8 points, fifth place 4 points, sixth place 2 points.

Teaching Progressions

  • Have the child walk normally and pay attention to their arms and legs.
  • They should notice that their arms move opposite of their legs.
  • Next, have them move the right arm and leg together and the left arm and left leg together.
  • They should notice how awkward it feels to do it incorrectly.
  • Establish a lead leg/standing start.
  • The coach/teacher gives a slight push from the back, forcing the athlete to step forward.
  • The athlete leans forward until off balance, forcing them to take a step forward.
  • Teach the three command start.
  • Runners take your mark.
  • Runners set.
  • Gunshot/""Go!""
  • Have students practice the above skills on their own until they are more comfortable performing them.
  • Teach them the concept of changing pace and accelerating while they run.

Teaching Strategies (for skill development, offensive, and defensive strategies and gameplay)

When teaching skills to beginners the skill is first introduced with an overview of the skill and a demonstration of the skill. Demonstration of track and field skills should be completed by an experienced athlete, the coach can focus on showing how the body moves during the skill and can make sure the athletes learning the new skill are engaged in the activity. Make sure to explain why learning each skill is important. In addition to talking about new skills and demonstrating the skills, coaches can provide written materials and provide access to videos to help beginners learn a new skill. To introduce a new skill: Name the skill, show the skill, talk about the skill, explain why the skill is important, watch experts performing the skill, and execute the skill.

Gameplay Strategies

Even-splitting is a strategy in which the racer attempts to hit the same split in every lap of the race. The racer tries to run an 'even' pace during the entire race. In long-distance events, this can often be an optimal strategy.

Positive-splitting is a racing strategy that involves completing the first half of a race faster than the second half. Typically, the runner goes out at a pace faster than he or she can maintain for the entire race, leading to a more slow end of the race. Positive-splitting can be employed as a tactic, or can simply be a byproduct of an overambitious early pace.

Negative-splitting is a racing strategy that involves completing the second half of a race faster than the first half. The racer runs slow in the beginning, and gradually runs faster as the race progresses. This is typically seen as a conservative racing strategy, but in distance events, many world records have been run with a slight negative split.

Sit-and-kick, a related strategy to negative-splitting, is one in which the runner typically sits in the pack of the race, not taking the lead or going very fast, and then attempts to 'kick' or sprint by the other racers during the last laps of the race. The sit-and-kick can be employed by individual runners or, in the case of many championship races, the entire field may attempt to sit-and-kick, thus leading to drastically slow times for the first few laps and faster than normal times for the last laps.


Updated: Feb 02, 2024
Cite this page

Brief History of Track and Field: Characteristics and Specifications. (2024, Feb 08). Retrieved from

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