Athletics is the largest single sport at the Games, with the programme divided into track, field and road events. In field, the aim is to jump or throw higher or further than your rivals.
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.
In the high jump, athletes seek to clear a bar, with the action hotting up around 2.4m 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.
In the shot put, athletes seek to throw a metal sphere weighing 7.26kg (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 800g 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.
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.
The men’s pole vault competition may see Rio 2016 gold medal winner Thiago Braz da Silva (BRA) competing against new world record holder Armand Duplantis of Sweden, the 2017 and 2019 world champion Sam Kendricks of the USA, as well as the 2012 Olympic champion and former world record holder Renaud Lavillenie of France.
History could be made in the men’s high jump as Mutaz Essa Barshim aims to land Qatar’s first ever Olympic gold medal, having picked up silver and bronze at previous Olympic Games.
Intense rivalries will be renewed in the men’s shot put. At the world championships in Doha in 2019, one of the most thrilling field events ever took place with the gold, silver and bronze medallists separated by a single centimetre, after Joe Kovacs (USA) equalled the third-longest throw in history to win gold. The women’s competition may see the return of Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Olympic champion and four-time world champion Valerie Adams (NZE), who is competing again following the birth of her second child.
The women’s javelin will likely feature world record holder Barbora Špotáková of the Czech Republic, who has two Olympic gold medals and three world championships to her name.
Poland has dominated the hammer competitions in recent years, with four-time world champion Paweł Fajdek hoping to succeed in Tokyo 2020 having missed out on the medals in previous editions of the Games. In the women’s competition Anita Włodarczyk , the world record holder and first woman in history to throw over 80m, is the favourite to win gold having triumphed at Rio 2016 and London 2012.
In the men’s discus competition, it’s hard to look beyond the talents of Daniel Ståhl (SWE) or Fedrick Dacres (JAM), after the pair finished first and second respectively in the 2019 World Athletics Championships in Doha. Croatia’s Sandra Perković will be going for her third consecutive Olympic gold medal in Tokyo but will need to find a way past the formidable Cuban squad, who count among their ranks the reigning world champion Yaime Perez and Denia Caballero who finished second in Doha.
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.