Athletics: Running, Jumping, Throwing, and Combined Events

Athletics is one of the 26 sports in the London 2012 Olympic Games programme and features running, jumping, throwing and combined events.

There will be 510 adjustable hurdles used througout the Athletics competition.
At the London 1948 Games, the USA’s Guinn Smith became the last pole vaulter to win a gold medal using a bamboo pole.
America’s Ray Ewry won 10 gold medals between 1900 and 1908 in the Standing Long Jump, High Jump and Triple Jump. As a child, Ray was confined to a wheelchair due to polio. He exercised his legs until he could walk, and then strengthened them through jumping.
The Marathon race commemorates the run of a Greek soldier, Pheidippides, who had to deliver a message from a battlefield near the town of Marathon to Athens in 490BC. Legend has it that he collapsed and died after running 171 miles in just two days.
The Marathon distance was changed from 24 miles to 26.2 miles at the London 1908 Olympic Games, so that the race could finish in front of the Royal family’s viewing box.

Key facts

Venue: Olympic Stadium
Dates: Friday 3 August – Saturday 11 August; Marathon: Sunday 5 and Sunday 12 August; Race Walk: Saturday 4 and Saturday 11 August
Gold medals up for grabs: 47
Athletes: 2,000 (1,200 men, 800 women)

Athletics: a history of the sport

Athletics is the perfect expression of the Olympic motto: Citius, Altius, Fortius – Faster, Higher, Stronger. It requires athletes to run faster, throw further, jump higher and longer than everyone else.

People have taken part in such contests since the start of recorded history. The first official athletics competitions took place at the ancient Olympic Games, and the sport developed through public fairs and festivals around the world.

For more information on the history of the sport visit the IOC website.

How the competition runs

In total, 46 events are held on the track or in the field. They involve running, walking, throwing or jumping.


Running and walking races are held over distances ranging from 100 metres to 50 kilometres. Apart from the Marathon and Race Walk events, which take place on the road, running events are held on a 400m oval track inside the stadium.

Most of the racing is done on the flat, but Hurdles and Steeplechase competitions require athletes to jump over barriers on the way to the finish line.

To succeed takes speed, strength and stamina – as well as a good race strategy.

In High Jump, you have to get over a bar that is raised each time you succeed. You get three attempts at every height, and the winner is the one who clears the bar at the greatest height.

Pole Vault follows the same rules, but athletes use a long pole to help launch themselves into the air.

In Long Jump, athletes sprint down a runway before jumping as far as they can into a sand pit.

Triple Jump looks very similar, but you have to complete a hop and step before you make your jump. All these events require a combination of speed and smooth technique.


The throwing disciplines are Shot Put, Javelin, Discus and Hammer. Competitors get six attempts to throw the object as far as they can into a field. Speed, strength and technique are needed.

Combined events

In Decathlon competitions for men and Heptathlon competitions for women, athletes take part in a range of different running, jumping and throwing events – 10 for men, seven for women.

They win points according to the times they run and the distances they throw and jump. Competition takes place over two days; the winner is the one with the most points at the end.

Athletics at the Games

Athletics and the Olympic Games go together hand in hand. Ever since the first ancient Games were held in 776BC – with events such as the 192.27m race – Athletics has been a part of the programme.

When the first modern Games took place in Athens 1896, there were 10 events – all for men.

It was not until Amsterdam 1928 that women first took part. Five women’s events were held: the 100m, 800m, 4 x 100m Relay, High Jump and Discus.

Athletes’ performances have improved with every Games, thanks, in part, to developments in sports science and technology.

Jargon Buster

  • Anchor: The last runner in a relay race.
  • Heat: An early race of an event, with the top finishers going forward to the finals or semi-finals of the competition. 
  • Sprint: A race of 400m or less.
  • Fosbury flop: A style of high-jumping – named after its inventor, American Dick Fosbury – where the athlete clears the bar facing upwards, and lands with his/her back on the mat.
  • Hurdles: A running race in which athletes have to leap over set obstacles on the track.
  • Track: Running events within the stadium.
  • Field: Jumping and Throwing events.
  • Road races: Marathon and walking races that take place outside the stadium.

~ by superbowlnyc on January 30, 2011.

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