The Basics of Track and Field

Home & Family, Outdoors, People, Sports
on September 21, 2011

The U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association reports that more than 7.6 million high school athletes participated in track and field in 2010. With more than 16,000 high schools having a track and field team, the sport is second in popularity only to basketball. Here are the most popular track and field events.

Track events. When most people think of track and field, they think of track. Track consists of any event that involves running on a track. Events cover distances ranging from 60 meters to 10,000 meters, include relay events, and sometimes incorporate hurdles or steeples. The most popular are:

  • 100-meter dash — The 100-meter dash world champion is considered the fastest man or woman in the world. It is the most prestigious and the most popular running event. The event covers one-quarter of one lap of a standard track and takes place on a straightaway.
  • 400-meter sprint — The 400-meter sprint is the longest of the sprint distances in a track and field competition. It incorporates one entire lap around the track. Because each lane of an oval track covers a different distance, race starters begin in a staggered formation with the man or woman in lane eight starting in front and the man or woman in lane one beginning in back.
  • 1500 meters — The 1500-meter run, just short of a mile, is the premier middle distance in track and field. A 1500-meter runner must rely on cardiovascular endurance and sprinting ability. The race incorporates three and three-quarter laps around a standard track.

Field events. Field events are those that take place inside the track oval. These incorporate throwing events and jumping events. The most popular include the following:

  • Shot put — The shot put involves the throwing of a heavy metal ball as far as possible in the appropriate direction. The weight of the ball requires a special throwing motion that calls for resting the shot on the shoulder, spinning and launching the shot without crossing the foul line. Shot put edges out the discus as the premier Olympic throwing event. Other throwing events include the javelin and the hammer throw.
  • Long jump — As the name implies, the person who jumps the longest wins this event. The participant sprints down a runway and takes off, usually from a wooden board flush with the runway surface, and jumps into a sandpit. Each participant gets three jumps. The individual with the longest single jump wins the competition, regardless of the distance of his or her other two jumps.
  • High jump — The high jump and the long jump reign supreme as the premier field events in track and field. High jumpers take off from a runway and leap over a bar, set at a predetermined height, onto a pad. A contestant is eliminated after three failed attempts. The participant who clears the bar at its greatest height is declared the winner.

Combinations of track and field. Some track and field events combine both track and field disciplines. These include the pentathlon, heptathlon and decathlon.