Athletics

Athletics

images of Athletics

Olympic Sports

Athletics

  • Track
  • Field
  • Road
  • Decathlon and Heptathlon

Athletics is the largest single sport at the Games, with the programme divided into track, field and road events. The concept of running faster than your rivals is simple but every aspect of an athlete's performance must be perfect to win gold.

Overview

The Athletics track at the Olympic Stadium is a 400-metre oval – for all track events the finish line is in the same place, at the end of the ‘home straight’.

The track programme comprises sprints, middle-distance and long-distance events for men and women; hurdles and steeplechase races; and relays. Most events start with heats, with the fastest athletes or teams progressing to semi-finals and then the final.

To become the fastest human being at a particular distance requires not only speed but also supreme fitness, strength and the ability to conquer challenging techniques, such as the start in sprints and clearing the barriers in hurdles and steeplechase events.

Short-distance sprint races are the 100m, 200m and 400m. These six men's and women's events, along with four men's and women's hurdles events, employ a crouching start using starting blocks.

The 100m, which determines the fastest human being and is one of the most eagerly awaited event at any Games, is run on a straight course. The distance was covered in 12 seconds at the Athens 1896 Games while Jim Hines (USA) became the first Olympian to dip below 10 seconds at Mexico 1968. Since then, the world record has been lowered primarily by American and Jamaican athletes.

The current men's 100m world record is 9.58 seconds, set by the greatest sprinter in history, Usain Bolt (Jamaica), at the IAAF World Championships in 2009. Remarkably, any athlete running the distance in under ten seconds covers ten metres in less than one second.

International Federation: International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF)(Open in a new window)

Event Programme

  • 100m (Men/Women)
  • 200m (Men/Women)
  • 400m (Men/Women)
  • 800m (Men/Women)
  • 1,500m (Men/Women)
  • 5,000m (Men/Women)
  • 10,000m (Men/Women)
  • 110m Hurdles (Men)
  • 100m Hurdles (Women)
  • 400m Hurdles (Men/Women)
  • 3,000m Steeplechase (Men/Women)
  • 4 x 100m Relay (Men/Women)
  • 4 x 400m Relay (Men/Women)
  • 4 x 400m Mixed Relay

ESSENCE OF THE SPORT!

Tactics and technique

Track And Field Athletes

Middle- and long-distance events range from 800m to 10,000m. In the shortest of these, athletes must stay in separate lanes for the first 100m, after which they are free to use any lane. In the 1500m and longer races, athletes stand along a crescent-shaped start line and all lanes are open to run in.

Middle-distance athletes often need to find a scintillating last spurt of speed to cross the finish line first, while endurance and running efficiency allied to flexible tactics can prove decisive in the longer races.

The 3000m steeplechase poses the additional challenge of jumping over barriers placed at five points around the track. The height of these obstacles is fixed at 36 inches (91.4 centimetres) for men and 30 inches (76.2cm) for women. One of the five consists of a water jump which further saps the energy and can be tricky to manoeuvre.

There are four hurdles events: women's 100m, men's 110m, and the men's and women's 400m. The shorter events are run on a straight track, the longer races over one lap, all with ten hurdles to overcome.

In four-person relay events, victory is not simply a matter of getting together the athletes with the fastest times. As the Japanese team competing in the men's 4×100m relay at Rio 2016 proved, technique can count for more.

In a race crowded with athletes capable of running 100m in less than ten seconds, the Japanese team didn't have a single athlete at that level yet still placed second to powerhouse Jamaica. How? Japan utilised an underhand baton pass, a technique that is very efficient but difficult to execute. The team thoroughly researched the method then practised it relentlessly.

A new event at Tokyo 2020 will be the mixed 4×400m relay. The order in which the two men and women in each team run could be a key factor in what promises to be an exciting and intriguing spectacle.

OUTLOOK FOR THE TOKYO 2020 GAMES

Legendary stars and new names

Track And Field Athletes

Athletes from north and central America tend to dominate in short-distance races, while middle- and long-distance events are usually the preserve of African athletes.

The retirement of the iconic Usain Bolt has left a space on the men's sprint podium, while from that same generation are female stars such as Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce (Jamaica), who won the 100m gold at London 2012, and six-times gold medallist Allyson Felix (USA).

In their stead have emerged Jamaican sprint sensation Elaine Thompson, who completed the 100m/200m double at Rio 2016; and Wayde van Niekerk from South Africa, who smashed all-time great Michael Johnson's 17-year-old world record to win the Rio 2016 400m gold at the age of only 24.

At Rio 2016, runners from Ethiopia and Kenya captured every medal in the women's 5000m and 10,000m. Ethiopia's Almaz Ayana won gold in the latter event with a spectacular new world record, more than 14 seconds faster than the previous best.

TRIVIA

Question

In track events, an athlete is deemed to have finished when which part of their body has reached the finish line?

Answer

A:Their trunk.
Regardless of whether their head, hands or feet reach the line first, the athlete has not finished until their trunk does so.

Athletics is the largest single sport at the Games, with the programme divided into track, field and road events. In the field, jumping or throwing a greater height or distance than your rivals is the key to winning gold.

Overview

Track and field Athletics at Tokyo 2020 will take place in the Olympic Stadium. Within and around the track are the fields of play for the field events – High Jump and Pole Vault landing areas, Long Jump and Triple Jump pits, Discus Throw, Hammer Throw and Shot Put circles, and Javelin Throw runways.

Unlike track events, athletes do not compete at the same time in field events. Each competitor takes their turn, and standings are determined by the height or distance they achieve. Field events start with a qualification stage, with the best athletes qualifying for the final.

The men's programme has been unchanged since the Javelin Throw was added at London 1908. The women's programme is now identical to the men's, after the Triple Jump was added at Atlanta 1996 and the Pole Vault and Hammer Throw at Sydney 2000.

International Federation: International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF)(Open in a new window)

Event Programme

  • High Jump (Men/Women)
  • Pole Vault (Men/Women)
  • Long Jump (Men/Women)
  • Triple Jump (Men/Women)
  • Shot Put (Men/Women)
  • Discus Throw (Men/Women)
  • Hammer Throw (Men/Women)
  • Javelin Throw (Men/Women)

ESSENCE OF THE SPORT!

Track And Field Athletes

Jumping events
In the High Jump, athletes seek to clear a bar, with the action hotting up around 2 metres 40 centimetres for men and above 2m for women. Various styles of jump have been employed in the past but most competitors have relied on the ‘Fosbury Flop’, in which the athlete clears the bar head first, since the technique was pioneered by Dick Fosbury (USA) to win gold at Mexico 1968. Athletes are eliminated from the competition after three consecutive missed jumps.

The introduction of glass fibre poles at Tokyo 1964 led to a dramatic improvement in performances in the Pole Vault compared to previous Games where wooden poles had been used. Now, competitors use reinforced plastic poles made with glass fibre or carbon fibre to give the desired degree of stiffness and lightness. Again, three consecutive missed vaults lead to elimination.

Long jumpers and triple jumpers both seek accuracy on the take-off board to maximise the length of their jump without incurring a foul. Speed during the run-up and controlled movement in the air are keys to success in both events.

The USA has traditionally dominated the Long Jump, and the event has generated a series of star performers like Carl Lewis, who won four successive gold medals from Los Angeles 1984 to Atlanta 1996.

Jeff Henderson (USA) won the Rio 2016 men's Long Jump competition by just one centimetre with a leap of 8.38m, typical of the small margins that can decide the horizontal jump medallists. Caterine Ibarguen was victorious in the Rio 2016 women's Triple Jump, earning Colombia's first ever Olympic gold medal in Athletics.

Throwing events
In the Shot Put, athletes seek to throw a metal sphere weighing 7.26 kilograms (men) or 4kg (women) as far as possible with one hand. Distances in excess of 20m are common among leading male throwers. New Zealand's Valerie Adams won gold at Beijing 2008 and London 2012 but had to settle for silver at Rio 2016 behind Michelle Carter (USA), who took the title with the last of her six throws.

The Discus Throw requires athletes to spin around in a circle with a diameter of 2.5m and use the resulting rotational energy to throw a disc weighing 2kg (men) or 1kg (women). The circle used in the Hammer Throw is slightly smaller at 2.135m, with athletes hurling a metal ball attached by wire to a grip. The total weight of the hammer is the same as the ball used in the Shot Put, but this time distances thrown approach 80m.

The Javelin Throw is the only throwing event preceded by an approach run. One of the most spectacular events on the Athletics programme, leading contenders can achieve distances of 90m with the men's 800 gram implement and 70m with the women's 600g spear. Finland has a long tradition in this event, winning a total of 22 Olympic men's Javelin medals – three times more than any other nation.

TRIVIA

Question

In the Javelin Throw, an athlete may be given a foul even if the javelin lands inside the marked area and he or she exits the approach area properly after the throw. Why?

Answer

A:Because the tip of the javelin did not land first. Attempts in which another part of the javelin lands prior to the tip are not measured.

Athletics is the largest single sport at the Games, with the programme divided into track, field and road events. On the road, athletes require both physical and mental endurance to compete over gruelling distances.

Overview

The Olympic Marathon and race walking events are held on public roads, with spectators lining the route to cheer the athletes.

Legend has it that the Marathon can be traced back to a young soldier in the fifth century BC who ran from the battlefield of Marathon to Athens to announce that the Persian army had been defeated, exclaiming "we have won" before collapsing and dying. The event takes its name from the battlefield. It has been part of every Games since Athens 1896, with the women's Marathon added at Los Angeles 1984, and is one of the most iconic Olympic events.

The Marathon event in the earliest modern Olympic Games was about 40 kilometres (25 miles) in length, roughly the distance from Marathon to Athens. The standard distance (42.195 km/26 miles 385 yards) was set by the IAAF in 1921, directly from the length of the race at London 1908.

Race walking is distinguished from running races in that one foot must always be in contact with the ground. In addition, the knee cannot be bent from the time the front foot comes into contact with the ground until the vertical upright position. Race walking was held as a track event on a 3500m course at the London 1908 Games, and has been held on roads since Los Angeles 1932.

As well as coping with the distance, athletes in the Marathon and race walking events must also deal with the road surface, the gradient, water stations and the weather, among other factors. Tokyo in August is likely to have temperatures in excess of 30°C and humidity levels above 70 per cent. Competitors and their coaches must ascertain which variables will determine victory and develop a strategy accordingly.

Psychology also plays a part as athletes try to unsettle their fellow competitors. They might seek to ‘slipstream’ others in a headwind, speed up on a gruelling uphill section or hide their expression behind sunglasses. In addition, some athletes may work together against a rival. Such tactics are entirely legitimate and add to the attraction for spectators.

International Federation: International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF)(Open in a new window)

Event Programme

  • 20km Race Walk (Men/Women)
  • Marathon (Men/Women)
  • 50km Race Walk (Men)

Maps of the marathon events

Maps of the marathon events

The race walk events will take place in the Outer Gardens of the Imperial Palace; there will be a 1km loop course for the 20km events and a 2km loop course for the 50km event. Tokyo Station is nearby and its west-side plaza has recently been renovated. It is connected by a beautiful promenade to the Imperial Palace gardens.

Marathon Course Time - lapse

Maps of 50km and 20km race walk events

Maps of 50km and 20km race walk events

ESSENCE OF THE SPORT!

Setting the pace

Track And Field Athletes

The men's Marathon has a long history but only two athletes have won back-to-back Marathons at the Games: Ethiopia's Abebe Bikila, who took gold at Rome 1960 and Tokyo 1964, and Waldemar Cierpinski (East Germany), who finished first at Montreal 1976 and Moscow 1980. No woman has yet won back-to-back Marathon gold medals.

Recent winning men's times have been just below 2 hours 10 minutes, several minutes slower than the world record. Most records are set on level courses in optimum conditions with the benefit of pacemakers, rather than in the height of summer without the aid of pacing. All Olympic Marathons since Athens 2004 have been held in August, and Tokyo 2020 will be no exception. Experience of running in heat is one factor in the recent dominance of African athletes from countries like Kenya and Ethiopia.

Staying hydrated is essential and athletes must take advantage of the water stations provided. However, they can be fraught with difficulties. Japan's Hiromi Taniguchi was considered a potential winner of the men's Marathon at the Barcelona 1992 Games, but another runner stepped on the heel of his shoe at a water station and caused him to fall. He went on to finish eighth having lost a significant amount of time due to his unfortunate accident.

OUTLOOK FOR THE TOKYO 2020 GAMES

Walk, don't run

Track And Field Athletes

Race walking judges watch carefully to ensure that both of an athlete's feet do not leave the ground at the same time. They issue red cards in the event of clear violations. If an athlete receives red cards from three or more judges, he or she is disqualified. In this way, race walking is a competition not only against other athletes and the conditions, but against demanding rules.

The Olympic race walking events are 20km and 50km for men, and 20km for women. Even though athletes must walk, their speed is remarkable: an elite race walker covering the 50km distance in around 3 hours 35 minutes would have walked at an equivalent pace to a three-hour Marathon.

European countries have traditionally dominated race walking. However, Asian athletes have come to the fore at recent Games. China won gold and bronze medals in the men's 20km event at London 2012 as well as gold and silver medals at Rio 2016, where Japanese race walker Hirooki Arai took bronze in the men's 50km. China also won gold and bronze medals at Rio 2016 in the women's 20km event.

TRIVIA

Question

In an Olympic Marathon, how far apart are the water stations?

Answer

A:Every 5km.
In race walking, there is a water station every lap. Athletes in road events are allowed to consume their own special drinks at water stations.

The men's Decathlon and women's Heptathlon are gruelling two-day tests to find ‘the ultimate athlete’.

Overview

The desire to discover the greatest all-round athlete dates back to the ancient Olympic Games in Greece. A five-event ‘pentathlon’ was first held at the 18th Ancient Olympiad around 708 BC. It comprised the long jump, discus, javelin, sprint and wrestling.

The modern ten-event men's Decathlon and seven-event women's Heptathlon (known as ‘combined events’) derive from this competition. Both contests are designed to cover the whole range of athletics disciplines over two days, including sprints, middle-distance and long-distance track races as well as jumping and throwing events. Women first competed in the pentathlon – five disciplines – at the Tokyo 1964 Games. This became the heptathlon, with the addition of the javelin and 800m, at Los Angeles 1984.

The events also exemplify the celebrated Olympic spirit. The athletes' shared experience creates a bond of solidarity that goes beyond victory and defeat.

Men's Decathlon
Day 1: 100 metres, long jump, shot put, high jump, 400 metres
Day 2: 110 metres hurdles, discus throw, pole vault, javelin throw, 1500 metres

Women's Heptathlon
Day 1: 100 metres hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200 metres
Day 2: Long jump, javelin throw, 800 metres

Competitors earn points for their performance in each discipline, based on scoring tables that determine how many points a performance is worth. The overall winner is the athlete who accrues the most points.

International Federation: International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF)(Open in a new window)

Event Programme

  • Decathlon (Men)
  • Heptathlon (Women)

ESSENCE OF THE SPORT!

Challenging both body and mind

Track And Field Athletes

Because the disciplines bring such different challenges, posting top results in all of them is a task of gargantuan difficulty. Athletes must approach the events strategically: some seek to maintain a high level of performance across the full programme, others are gifted in certain disciplines and use superior results in these to counter weaker efforts elsewhere. Many of the world's leading decathletes and heptathletes are capable of competing individually at an elite level in one or more of the disciplines.

A special feature of both competitions is the longest track race: the 1500m for the Decathlon and 800m for the Heptathlon. This is not only because they conclude the energy-sapping schedule on day two and can have a significant influence on the final standings, but also because they are usually followed by an uplifting display of camaraderie. The finish line is the scene of smiles, handshakes, embraces and a shared lap of honour, while spectators in the stadium shower the exhausted athletes with loud applause and cheers.

OUTLOOK FOR THE TOKYO 2020 GAMES

Seeking multi-event glory in Tokyo

Track And Field Athletes

European and American athletes are consistently strong performers in the Decathlon. Ashton Eaton (USA) proved unassailable at both London 2012 and Rio 2016, retiring in 2017 as the world and joint Olympic record holder in the event. Eaton is one of a very small number of men to have achieved a total points score of more than 9,000.

In the Heptathlon, a total points score of more than 7,000 is exceptional. Having taken the silver medal at Los Angeles 1984, Jackie Joyner-Kersee (USA) won gold at Seoul 1988 and Barcelona 1992. She retired having posted the six best Heptathlon marks of all time including the world record of 7,291, set when winning her first Olympic title. Joyner-Kersee was also a world-class long jumper, winning gold at Seoul 1988 together with bronze medals at Barcelona 1992 and Atlanta 1996.

More recently, European heptathletes including Great Britain's [link to: https://www.olympic.org/jessica-ennis] Jessica Ennis-Hill, who triumphed at London 2012, have dominated the rankings. Belgium's Nafissatou Thiam won the gold medal at Rio 2016 and is one of the most exciting talents in Athletics.

TRIVIA

Question

Which item of kit do competitors in Decathlon and Heptathlon need in greater variety than any other athlete?

Answer

A:Spiked shoes.
The range of disciplines all require specialised shoes, which means that the kitbags of athletes competing in combined events are overflowing with spikes!

Competition Venues

  • Olympic Stadium
  • Imperial Palace Garden

Olympic Sports

Paralympic Sports