What is Track And Field (Athletics)?

track and field

Track and Field is a popular sport around the world that tests athletes' speed, strength, endurance, and skill. As a whole, track and field combines running, jumping, and throwing events all into one sport. In the Olympic Games, there are 48 medal events just in the sport of track and field, split between men and women. In addition to these events, there are even some more events that take place, just not at the Olympics. Finally, track and field is a sport that is able to be played by people of all ages. In most events, there is very little equipment required and the best means of training is simply running, jumping or throwing.


Track and Field History

Records of track and field date all the way back to 776 B.C. in Ancient Greece. Back then and for a long time, only men were allowed to compete officially. These were some of the most popular events of the ancient Olympic Games, but lost popularity when the Games were banned. It was not until the mid 1800s that organized track and field began its epic comeback.

It was in Great Britain that schools began to hold inter-class track meets, which gained popularity over time. In the United States, the sport began rapidly developing in the late 1800s, and women began to compete in 1921. In 1896, the modern Olympic Games resumed, and track and field experienced an exponential international growth.

Playing Surface

Track and Field Playing Surface

Track and field athletes compete on an oval shaped track exactly 400 meters around. All running events take place on the running track. However, field events require a very different playing surface. The jumping events are done in a sand pit at the end of a long straight. The straight is used for the running before the jump and is the same material as the running track. Pole vault takes place on a similar set up, except a large mat or pit is used to brace the jumper's fall. High jump has a similar bracing mat. Finally, the throwing events require a ring or designated throwing area with protective netting that opens into a large space, typically a marked field for measurements.


Track and Field Equipment List

For most running events, there is not too much equipment needed to compete in a race. However, many of the field events and unique running events do require a unique set of equipment to properly compete. Here are just some of the equipment one may need for participating in track and field:

  • Running Shoes / Racing Spikes
  • Track uniform
  • Hurdles
  • Cross bars
  • Javelin
  • Discus
  • Shot put
  • Steeplechase barrier
  • Jumping mats
  • Sand pit
  • Water
  • Baton
  • Starting blocks


Track and Field Gameplay

While track and field boasts a number of different events, there is generally a particular sequence that the running or types of field events follow. Running events are the most straightforward, where the race starts when the starting gun is fired and finished when the athletes cross the finish line. Relays are split between 4 runners, and a baton is transferred between athletes after each leg is run.

For throwing and horizontal jumping events, each athlete typically gets three attempts to jump or throw as far as they can. The best jump or throw is counted for scoring or placing. In the vertical jumping events, athletes get three attempts at a certain height, and get to move up in height if they make a successful jump. The athlete to jump or vault the highest wins.

Positions and Roles

Track and Field Positions and Roles

While there is team scoring involved in track and field, there are not really specific positions and roles that athletes play in the sport. However, there are different types of athletes that compete in certain types of events. In fact, there are 5 different kinds of track and field athletes. These include sprinters, distance runners, hurdlers, jumpers and throwers. The first 3 of the 5 compete in races on the track, while the jumpers and throwers make up the field events.

Rules and Regulations

track and field rules and regulations

A big plus for track and field is that the rules are mostly straightforward and self-explanatory. For running events, whoever's chest crosses the finish line first is the winner, so long as there are no false starts. For throwing events, whoever throws the farthest wins the event, so long as they do not scratch. In jumping events, the farthest jump wins, so long as it is not a scratch. In hurdling events, there are always 10 flights of hurdles in each lane for each athlete. In races that do not allow moving into the inner lane, hitting another hurdle or stepping into another lane results in disqualification from the race.

At most track meets the events are spaced out in a particular order so that the meet is run as punctually and efficiently as possible. This order helps space out similar events so that runners get adequate rest between events they are likely to run. The field events are also spaced out similarly or simply done apart from the running events.

Track meets can be won by teams according to a team scoring system, typically split between men and women and sometimes by division. When an athlete finishes in the top 6 or 8 of an event, they earn points for their team. First place gets the most points, and relays are often worth double the regular amount of points. This makes relays one of the most exciting events in track and field.

Referees and Officials

Track and Field Referees and Officials

To ensure fairness in competitions, there are several appointed referees and officials at track and field meets. In the highest level of professional track and field, there are 10 types of officials that work to create smoothly run and fair events. Some notable areas covered by these officials include organization, medical, race walking, starters, photo finishes and a jury of appeal. All officials should be wearing proper attire to be refereeing at a track meet.

Lingo and Terminology

Track and Field Lingo and Terminology

There are many terms within the sport of track and field that people unfamiliar with the sport may not understand. Much of this lingo and terminology is used only by track and field athletes and coaches, and does not have much relevance outside of the sport. Here is some useful track and field slang.

Anchor: The last leg or runner in a relay

Blocks: Officially called starting blocks, these are used in sprints of 400m or less to give athletes a quicker start to the race; athletes place both feet onto the blocks and assume a three-point stance

Fartlek: A workout in which the athlete trades between fast intervals and a resting pace

Final Call: The last call to athletes before an event begins, comes after a first and second call

Heat: Events are split into "heats" when there are several athletes competing so that a race is not overcrowded

Kick: A burst of speed an athlete uses at the end of a race

Leg: In a relay, this refers to the distance that each runner runs; hence there are 4 "legs" in any relay

Prelims: Races run before the finals to determine participants and seeding in the event final

Scratch: A jump or throw that is not counted because the athlete crossed the line or made a foul

Split: The time elapsed for a particular distance during a race, often 200, 400, 800, or 1600m

Waterfall: A type of start to a race involving more athletes than there are available lanes


Track and Field Coaching

Having a good coach is crucial to be a successful track and field athlete, even if that coach ends up being yourself. To coach track and field well, it is very important to have a fundamental understanding of at least the basics of all events or have extremely niche knowledge of a specific event or type of event. Most track and field coaches have considerable experience within the sport themselves, and use this knowledge to propel their athletes to success.

Skills and Techniques

In track and field, while speed and strength may be most important, the skill and technique involved are often overlooked. Using good technique during a race can be a huge difference maker, and skill is even more important in field events. A common technique used in racing is planning and executing a plan for splits during a race. Some runners will try to negative split, where they save some energy to have a quicker second half of the race. Others will attempt a positive split, in which they get out fast to establish a lead, and then hold onto it to finish the race. Generally, sprints take great speed, distance requires endurance, throwing calls for great strength and jumping takes skillful technique.


While it may simply be running the fastest or throwing the farthest, there are some strategies that track and field athletes often employ to gain an advantage over their competition. For example, especially on a windy day, distance runners often draft their opponents by running closely behind them on the windy straights. This causes the leader to break the wind, doing the hard work for the other runners.

In relays, the most common strategy used is having the fastest runner be the anchor leg so that the team finishes as fast as possible. This comes after having the slowest runner run the third leg. Many teams also choose to "front load," putting their fastest runners first.

In field events, there are many technicalities involved with perfecting the throw or the jump. One example is with the discus, where it is best to focus on holding it correctly as opposed to just throwing it as far as you can. Discus throwers should be sure to release from the front of their hand and off the first finger.


To be a great track and field athlete takes rigorous practice and dedication to getting better and better. Since there are so many events in the sport, it is important to practice the right drills corresponding to your particular event. Here are some good drills for various types of events in track and field.

  • Intervals: These are great for distance or mid-distance runners. Intervals are repeats of a distance usually run at goal race pace or a little slower. Common interval workouts include 200, 400, 800 or 1600m repeats.
  • Tempo Run: Tempo runs are typically only braved by long distance runners, and are designed to increase pace throughout the workout. These runs are usually a few to several miles long, and runners must drop their pace after each successive mile.
  • Block Starts: For sprinters, getting a good start off the block is key to running a fast race. So, a great drill to practice involves several short sprints of as little as 40m, with the focus being on timing and perfecting the start.
  • A-Skips: Often done during warm ups, A-skips best help jumpers master preparing for take-off and landing contact in the sand. This active stretch drill involves driving the knee up to propel yourself forward, switching between the left and right legs.

Olympic Track and Field

Track and field at the Olympic Games dates back to 776 B.C., and the sport has been crowning champions ever since then. Beginning in 1896, the modern Olympic Games has always featured track and field, known officially as athletics. In 1928, women's track and field debuted at the Olympics in Amsterdam and has since developed to be almost identical to the men's sport. The United States is the most successful nation in Olympic track and field; however, many African countries are dominant in the distance events and Caribbean countries have excelled in sprinting events, especially Jamaica.

Track and Field Brands

Having the right equipment and gear is important if you want to perform at your best ability in track and field. There are some brands that make very high quality apparel and equipment that is best suited for track and field. Here are some of the top track and field brands, whether it comes to spikes, clothes, accessories, and more.

NikeShoes, Sprinting Spikes, Clothes
BrooksDistance, Training Shoes
Dick's Sporting GoodsShot Put, Discus, Javelin, other Equipment
AAE SportsHurdles

Track and Field Youth Organizations

In the United States, the youth scene for track and field is chiefly run by the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) and USA Track & Field (USATF). Both organizations along with some others (New Balance, Footlocker, Nike, etc.) provide national championships for track and field every year. Youth track organizations take on the role of providing the opportunity for athletes of all ages and abilities to grow in the sport.

Amateur Athletic Union (AAU): North America

USATF: United States

Track and Field Coaches

Coaching track and field is not an easy task, and coaches must have an excellent combination of knowledge and experience to best instruct their athletes. Coaches must have an understanding of the fundamentals of running, jumping, and throwing to be able to coach an entire track and field team. Listed below are some of the greatest track and field coaches of all time.

Roy GriakUniversity of Minnesota
Bill BowermanUnited States
Ed Temple USA, Tennessee State University
Beverly KearneyUSA, University of Texas
Glen MillsJamaica

Track and Field Players

To be the best in the sport of track and field, you need to either run the fastest, throw the farthest or jump the highest. Track and field's simplicity makes it one of the most fair sports, and everything is decided in one race or a few jumps or throws. The best of the best of track and field have dedicated their lives to the sport, spending countless hours perfecting their speed, strength and endurance. Here is a short list of some of the greatest track and field athletes of all time.

Carl LewisUnited States
Jesse Owens United States
Usain BoltJamaica
Paavo NurmiFinland
Florence Griffith-JoynerUnited States
Shelly-Ann Fraser-PryceJamaica

Track and Field Leagues

Across the world there are many organizations that serve the role of providing a form of seasonal competition for the best track and field athletes. These track and field leagues range from all ages, with fine lines drawn between youth and adult competitions. There are several leagues made for track and field in the US and around the world.

IAAF Diamond LeagueProfessional International
Amateur Athletic Union / Junior Olympics YouthUnited States
USATFYouth & Pro United States
NCAA Collegiate United States

Track and Field Teams

To be one of the best teams in track and field, your team must be very well rounded and have talented athletes for every discipline. Since track and field has so many different events, it is not easy to gather such an elite group of athletes to represent one team to score for at the big meets. However, at various levels, some teams have created a dominance within the sport for many years. Here are some of the best track and field teams and their level of competition.

Team USAInternational
Team JamaicaInternational
University of FloridaCollegiate
Texas Tech UniversityCollegiate
Miami Gardens Xpress Track ClubYouth

Track and Field Events

Track and Field is one of the most diverse sports in the world, boasting over 50 events between men and women. Within all of these events, there are 5 main categories between track and field events, which of course could be split up even further. To keep things simple, we have divided all events into sprints, distance, jumping, throwing and multi-events. Listed below are the 5 categories and some example events of each type.

Sprints100m, 200m, 400m, 110m hurdles, 400m hurdles
Distance1500m, 3000m, 10000m, road races
Jumping Long jump, high jump, triple jump, pole vault
ThrowingDiscus, shot put, javelin, hammer
Multi-EventsDecathlon, heptathlon

Track and Field Tournaments

On the global stage, the most renowned track and field tournament is hosted by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) through their Diamond League competitions. However, perhaps the most watched of track and field tournaments is the Olympic Games, which brings in millions of viewers for just single events alone. There are also highly anticipated collegiate and youth tournaments for track and field that bring together thousands of athletes for intense competition.

IAAF Diamond LeagueInternational
Summer Olympic GamesInternational
NCAA Track and Field ChampionshipsCollegiate, Domestic
Junior Olympic Games Youth, Domestic
Youth Olympic Games Youth, International

Track and Field Books

Learning about the great sport of track and field does not have to stop here. There are countless numbers of books written about track and field whether they consist of records, stories, statistics, training or just everything. Track and field books can help offer a deeper insight into the diverse sport. Here are some great track and field books that will teach you more about the sport.

Best Efforts: World Class Runners and RacesKenney Moore
The Perfect Mile: Three Athletes, One Goal, and Less Than Four Minutes to Achieve ItNeal Bascomb
Once a RunnerJohn L. Parker, Jr.

Track and Field Websites

When getting into the fine details about track and field, it is important to look to the right sources and databases for these nitty gritty facts. Some of the prominent track and field organizations around the world have their own websites, some of which are provided here.



What is Track and Field?

Track and Field, also known as Athletics, is one of the world's most popular sports due to its innate simplicity and competitive nature. Track and field combines a wide variety of events covering multiple disciplines such as running, jumping and throwing.

Track and field is one of the most popular sports on the planet, but the most successful countries in the sport are the United States, Russia, Kenya, Ethiopia and Jamaica.

Is Track and Field an olympic sport?

Yes, track and field is an Olympic sport and takes place every four years at the Summer Olympic Games.