What is Sprinting?

Sprinting is a segment of track and field that focuses on a runner covering a distance over a short period of time. Unlike marathon races, sprinting races are short and less than a minute long. Sprinting is a common component of track and field teams across the world at all age levels. It is also a competition in the Olympics with sprinters from around the world. You may recognize some famous sprinters like Usain Bolt or Carl Lewis.

How To Sprint

Although it sounds simple, there are a few technicalities to sprinting. Sprinters start on a starting block at one end of the track. Starting blocks are foot frames that the runners use to set themselves up prior to the race. Each runner has their own lane where they perform their sprint until they reach the finish line. Sprinters typically wear their track uniform with a number on it, so others are able to identify the players. Since races are so short, many can be fit into one track and field meet.

Not many people are successful at sprinting because of the intensity of the sport. It requires a lot of practice and speed that can not be acquired easily. Muscular strength is also essential as all of the leg muscles are completely used in every race.

Track and Field Sprint Events

There are three main events for sprinting in track and field:

1. The 100 m

2. The 200 m

3. The 400 m

The 100 Meter

The 100 m is the shortest foot race held at the international level. It is one of the most popular and prestigious events in track and field, and the champion of the 100m at the Olympics is typically referred to as ""the fastest man in the world"".

The 200 Meter

The 200 m is the second shortest foot race held at the international level. Many competitors of the 100 m often participate in the 200 m event as well, in hopes of winning both titles. This is called ""doubling up,"" or simply, ""the double""

The 400 Meter

The 400 m is the longest distance in the category of sprints. Compared to the 100m and the 200 m events, it places a stronger emphasis on endurance rather than pure speed, and thus requires a slightly different energy-use strategy.

Sprinting Terminology

  • Sprint
  • Dash
  • Standard Competition Area
  • Arena
  • Track
  • Straight
  • Field
  • Infield
  • Start Line
  • Finish Line
  • Stagger Start
  • Home Straight
  • Back Straight
  • Lane
  • Inside Lane
  • Heat
  • Starting Block
  • Crouch Start
  • Set Position
  • Four Point Start
  • Starter's Gun
  • Starter
  • False Start
  • Straightaway
  • Drive Phase
  • Fully Automatic Timing System
  • Photo Finish
  • Chief Photo Finish Judge

The 100 m Start Line

All competitors in the 100 m race begin side-by-side on the same straight starting line located on the straightaway.

The 200 m and the 400 m Start Lines

While the 100 m sprints use a straight start line, the 200 m and the 400 m sprints feature a staggered start, in which the start lines in each lane are progressively moved further up, beginning with the lane closest to the field.

This is to account for the oval geometry of the track, which causes the diameter of the outer lanes to be greater than the diameter of the inner lanes. Having a stagger start ensures that all competitors in the 200 m and the 400 m sprints are running the same distance around the curved oval track.

Lane Preferences

Although every sprinter will be running the exact same distance, no matter which lane they are assigned to, lane 4 is the most popular position to run a sprint in, as it provides the runner with a good view of all the competitors around him.

With regard to the 200 m and the 400 m, lane 4 is also widely considered by many to strike the best balance between a good view of the competition and the gentlest curve, which allows the runner to maintain the flow of his stride when going around the track. The outside lanes have a wider turn, which may be disadvantageous for runners with shorter strides, while the inner lanes have a much tighter turn, which is generally considered harder to run quickly.

The Call

Every sprinting event begins with the call from the starter, instructing all competitors to make their way into their assigned lanes and to assume their positions in front of their starting blocks. The starting block is located behind the starting line, and consists of two adjustable footplates, attached to a rigid frame, against which the competitor must brace his feet before the start of the race.

On Your Mark

At the starter's command, On your mark, all competitors must assume the crouch start position. Both feet must be placed in the starting block, and the athlete's hands, feet, and rear knee must all be in contact with the ground. The hands must also be shoulder width apart, and the head should be mostly level with the back.


At the starter's second command, Set, all competitors must assume the set position, or the four-point start position. The knee of the rear leg rises to an angle between 120 and 140 degrees while the knee of the front leg bends to a 90 degrees. The hips are also held at a higher level than the shoulders, and the majority of the body weight must be between the hands and the front leg.

Running in the Lanes

Every competitor is assigned to a specific lane in which he or she must remain in for the entirety of the race. This is defined as staying within the boundaries of the lane lines, and applies to all parts of the competitor's body and clothing.


Note that an athlete who simply steps on the white lane line is considered as having left his lane, and will therefore be automatically disqualified. Furthermore, obstructing or crossing over into another competitor's lane is considered a serious offense, and will also result in immediate disqualification.

Racing Strategies

For the 100 m and the 200 m, the competitor's focus is largely on accelerating to his top speed as fast as possible, and maintaining that speed for as long as possible until the end of the race. Due to the relatively short distances of the 100 m and the 200 m, pacing is generally not a factor in the competitor's running strategies.

For the 400 m, however, things get a little different. Many elite athletes typically race the 400 m using the positive split strategy, in which the first half of the race is run at a faster pace than the second half.

Dispute Resolution

The likelihood of two or more competitors finishing the race with the exact same time is so rare that there is, in fact, no official policy in place to resolve such situations. However, during the 2012 US Olympic trials for the 100 m event, athletes Allyson Felix and Jenebah Tarmoh both finished the race in third place with a time of 11.068 seconds.

After nearly 24 hours of deliberation, it was decided that the athlete's choice of the same option determines the tiebreaker. If there is a disagreement among the athletes, a runoff will be used for the tiebreaker.

A coin toss is used in the tiebreaker if the athletes do not choose an option.