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 Guide to Track and Field Events

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Click here for a table of track-and-field events at both AAU and USATF sanctioned meets broken down by age divisions.

Field events include the following events: long jump, triple jump, high jump, pole vault, javelin, discus, shot put and hammer.  Track events include dashes, runs, hurdles, race walk, steeplechase and relays.  Details on each event listed below.

Select Event: <Dashes> <Hurdling> <Middle Distance Runs> <Distance Runs> <Relays> <Steeplechase> <Walks> <High Jump> <Pole Vault> <Long Jump> <Triple Jump> <Discus Throw> <Hammer Throw> <Javelin Throw> <Decathlon and Heptathon> <Olympic Events>


The shortest and swiftest running events are dashes, or sprints. Indoor dashes are run over distances of 50 and 60 m (about 55 and 65 yd). Outdoors, the distances are 100, 200, and 400 m (about 110, 220, and 440 yd). In running the dashes, the athlete crouches at the starting line, leaps into full stride at the crack of the starter's pistol, and races to the finish line at top speed. A fast start is especially important in sprinting. Sprinters gain traction by placing their feet against wood or plastic starting blocks located behind the starting line. The chief characteristics of efficient sprinting style are high knee lift, free-swinging arm movements, and a forward lean of about 25.
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During a typical 400-m contest a runner achieves top speed in the first 200 m, "coasts" or "floats" for another 150 m (164 yd), then finishes the race in a final burst of speed. Some runners prefer to sprint at top speed for the first 200 or 300 m (328 yd), then coast through the remaining distance. In coasting, runners conserve energy by relaxing, lengthening their stride, and then allowing their momentum to carry them along close to top speed. As runners became stronger and used new and better training techniques, they have run this race from start to finish at close to top speed, with less "coasting" or "floating" than in the past.


Hurdling events are dashes in which competitors must clear a series of ten barriers called hurdles. The most popular outdoor hurdling events for men and women are the 110-m (120-yd) high hurdles and the 400-m intermediate hurdles; 200-m low hurdles are also run. In the U.S., national indoor championships are run over 60-m (about 66-yd) hurdles. In addition, women run a 100-m event. High hurdles are 107 cm (3 ft 6 in), intermediate hurdles 91 cm (3 ft), and low hurdles 76 cm (2 ft 6 in) in height. In the women's 100-m hurdles, the height is 84 cm (2 ft 9 in).
At all distances up to and including the 110-m hurdles, the first hurdle is 13.72 m (15 yd) from the starting line and the remaining hurdles are 9.14 m (10 yd) apart; the distance from the last hurdle to the finish line is 14.02 m (15 1/3 yd). At distances greater than 110 m but not exceeding 200 m, the first hurdle is 18 m (20 yd) from the starting line and the remaining hurdles are 18 m apart. At 400 m, the first hurdle is 45 m (49 1/4 yd) from the starting line and the remaining hurdles are 35 m (38 1/4 yd) apart, leaving 40 m (43 3/4 yd) to the finish line.

In the women's 100-m hurdles, the first hurdle is 13 m (about 14 yd) from the starting line, the remaining hurdles are 8.5 m (9.3 yd) apart, and the last hurdle is 10.5 m (11.5 yd) from the finish line.

Good hurdling form consists of leaning well forward and clearing each barrier smoothly without breaking the rhythm of the running stride. The first leg to clear the hurdle is brought down to the track sharply. The trailing leg meanwhile clears the hurdle at almost a right angle to the body. Running speed, gymnastic ability, and superior coordination are important prerequisites of success.<Go To Top>

Middle-Distance Runs

Races ranging from 600 m (about 656 yd) indoors to 3000 m (about 2 mi) are known as middle-distance events. The most popular distances are the 800-m (about 875-yd), 1500-m (called the metric mile) or 1-mi, and 3000-m runs. The most popular of these middle-distance events is the mile, which has been run in less than 3 min 50 sec several times in recent years. The first runner to break the so-called 4-min barrier was the British physician Sir Roger Bannister, who achieved a time of 3 min 59.4 sec in 1954.

Competitors in the longer middle-distance runs must regulate their speed carefully, in order to avoid exhaustion. Some middle-distance runners change their speed several times during a race, while others strive to maintain an even pace throughout. The great Finnish runner Paavo Nurmi (1897-1973) carried a stopwatch during races as a means of checking on his pace. The running form that is best suited to middle-distance events differs from that employed in the sprints. Knee action is much less pronounced, the stride is shorter, and the lean forward is less extreme.
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Distance Runs

Runs longer than 3000 m are considered distance events. Distance running is especially popular in Europe, where races of 5000 to 10,000 m (about 3.1 to 6.3 mi) are commonplace. In the running style employed by champion distance runners, all waste motion is avoided. The knee action is slight, arm movements are reduced to a minimum, and the strides are shorter than those used in sprinting or middle-distance running.

Among the most grueling distance runs are the cross-country and marathon races. Unlike other distance races, which are contested on flat tracks of varying composition, cross-country races are run over rough, rolling terrain. Because of the varying conditions and sites, no world records are kept for cross-country racing. Marathons are usually run on paved roads. Runners in both events must learn to ascend hills with short, efficient strides and to descend hills rapidly without jarring themselves. On level surfaces, cross-country running requires an erect carriage. It is essential to maintain a steady, even pace. A cross-country run is also one of the events of the modern pentathlon.

Cross-country races seldom exceed 14.5 km (9 mi). The marathon, in contrast, is an exacting race over a course of 26 mi 385 yd. In the U.S., marathons became very popular in the late 1970s. The Boston Marathon, which is traditionally run on Patriot's Day, has been sponsored since 1895 by the Boston Athletic Association. Other annual marathons include those run through the streets and parks of New York City and races sponsored by USA Track & Field. The event is also contested at the Olympic Games.<Go To Top>


Relay races are events for teams of four, in which an athlete runs a given distance, called a leg, then passes a rigid hollow tube called a baton to his or her successor. The pass must be accomplished within a zone extending 18 m (about 20 yd). In the 400- and 800-m relays the passer places the baton in the hand of the receiver, who is thus free to get under way while facing forward. In longer relays, where the passer is likely to be extremely fatigued, the receiver looks back and takes the baton. Ideally, receiver and passer should be in full stride and about 2 m (about 2.2 yd) apart when the baton is handed over. If the legs of a relay race vary in length, for example 800, 200, 200, and 400 m, the contest is called a medley relay. In so-called shuttle relays, the members of the competing teams shuttle back and forth along a single stretch of track. On completion of each leg the runner enters a zone that enables her or his successor to start running.<Go To Top>


The steeplechase is an obstacle race, run usually over a 3000-m course containing hurdles, water jumps, and other hazards. An extremely exhausting event, it is run at the Olympic Games.
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The walking events are usually contested at distances ranging from 1500 to 50,000 m (about 1 to 31 mi). They are contested in the Olympics and are popular at meets in the U.S. The cardinal rule of race walking is that the heel of the forward foot must touch the track before the toe of the trailing foot leaves the ground. The rule is designed to prevent running by the contestants.<Go To Top>

High Jump

The aim in high jumping is to leap over, or clear, a crossbar resting between two upright standards about 4 m (about 13 ft) apart. The contestant is allowed three attempts to clear each height. Most jumpers today employ one of two styles, the straddle or the Fosbury flop; the latter method is named for its originator, the American jumper Dick Fosbury (1947- ), who used it to win the event in the 1968 Olympics. With the straddle, the athlete runs toward the bar at a 45 angle and springs upward, combining a powerful kick of the outside leg with a leaping takeoff from the inside foot; the jumper clears the bar facedown in a prone position. To execute the flop, jumpers approach the crossbar nearly straight on; they twist on takeoff, go over the bar headfirst with their back to it, and land on their shoulders. All world class high jumpers today use the flop in international and Olympic competition.<Go To Top>

Pole Vault

In pole vaulting the athlete attempts to clear a high crossbar with the aid of a flexible pole, generally from 4 to 5 m (about 13 to 16 ft) long, and usually made out of fiberglass, which replaced bamboo or metal in the 1960s. Grasping the pole several feet from its top, the vaulter races down a short runway, digs the tip of the pole into a box or slot in the ground, and swings upward toward the bar. The abrupt conversion of forward speed into upward momentum enables the vaulter to project the body to heights greater than that of the pole. As the feet near the bar, the vaulter does a virtual handstand on the pole, thrusting the body across the bar facedown. The vaulter then drops into a soft pit below.

Contestants get three tries at each height set by the officials; the height is usually increased by 8 to 15 cm (about 3 to 6 in). Three misses at a given height disqualify vaulters; they are then given credit for the greatest height cleared. A miss is charged when an athlete dislodges the bar, passes to the side of or underneath it, touches the ground beyond with the pole, switches hands, or moves the upper hand on the pole after leaving the ground. Vaults are measured perpendicularly from the upper side of the bar to the ground. Vaulters usually possess above-average running speed, powerful shoulder muscles, and all-around gymnastic ability. In recent years, new advances in the makeup of the poles have allowed vaulters to go higher than ever. The new poles bend at almost a 90 angle under the weight of the vaulter, then help propel the vaulter over the bar as they straighten.
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Long Jump

In long jumping (formerly called broad jumping), the contestant dashes along a runway and springs into the air from a takeoff board, with the aim of covering the greatest possible distance. While still in the air the jumper throws both feet far forward of the body. Although adding distance to the jump, this maneuver will cause jumpers to topple backward unless they are successful in flinging the body forward upon landing. Competitors take three jumps for distance, after which the best seven performers get three more jumps. A jump is measured along a straight line extending from the front edge of the takeoff board to the mark made closest to the takeoff board by any part of the jumper's body as she or he lands. The athletes are rated on their longest jump. Long jumping requires strong leg and abdominal muscles, running speed, and leg spring.<Go To Top>

Triple Jump

The aim in the triple jump (formerly called the hop, step, and jump) is to cover the greatest distance possible in a series of three quick leaps. In the first phase of the sequence the jumper sprints along a running path, "hops" into the air from a takeoff board, and comes down on the takeoff foot. The jumper then springs or "steps" forward off the takeoff foot and lands on the opposite foot. In the same motion the jumper "jumps" into the air once more and lands on both feet, in a manner similar to the long jumper. <Go To Top>

Discus Throw

The discus, a steel-rimmed hardwood or metal platter, measures--for men--from 219 to 221 mm (8 5/8 to 8 3/4 in) across and 44 to 46 mm (1 3/4 to 1 7/8 in) in thickness; it weighs 2 kg (4 lb 6.547 oz). For women, the dimensions are 180 to 182 mm (7 1/8 to 7 1/4 in) across, 37 to 39 mm (1 1/2 to 1 5/8 in) in thickness, and 1 kg (2 lb 3.247 oz) in weight. The discus is thrown from a circle 2.5 m (8 ft 2 1/2 in) in diameter. The athlete holds the discus flat against the palm and forearm of the throwing arm, then whirls around rapidly and propels the discus outward with a whipping motion of the arm.

The circle is marked off by a metal rim or white line. Two straight lines extend from the center of the circle at a 90 angle, and all legal throws must land in the area between these lines. Once the athletes enter the circle and begin a throw, they must not touch the ground outside the circle until the discus has landed.

Throws are measured from the point of impact to the inside circumference of the circle, on a straight line through the center of the circle. In USA Track & Field meets each competitor gets three throws, after which the seven best throwers get three more. All throws are counted, and the athletes are placed according to their longest throw. The discus throw is a traditional event in U.S. track meets and at meets around the world, including the Olympic Games.<Go To Top>

Hammer Throw

Hammer throwers compete by hurling a heavy ball attached to a length of wire that has a metal handle. The ball, wire, and handle together weigh 7.26 kg (16 lb) for men and 4 kg (8 lb 13 oz) for women, and form a unit no longer than 1.2 m (about 4 ft). The action takes place in a circle 2.1 m in diameter. Gripping the handle with both hands, and without moving the feet, the athlete whirls the ball around in a circle passing above and behind the head and just below the kneecaps. As the hammer gains momentum, the athlete suddenly whirls the body around three times to impart even greater velocity to the ball. The hammer is then released upward and outward at a 45 angle. If it falls outside a prescribed 90 arc, the throw is invalid. Under USA Track & Field rules, each thrower gets three tries, after which the seven best performers are allowed three more tries. A foul, or violation, is called when any part of the competitor's body touches outside the circle, or the hammer itself touches the ground in or outside the circle before it has been fairly released. Hammer throwers are often tall and muscular, but success in the event is also dependent upon timing and coordination. Ratification of world records for women in the hammer throw began in 1995.<Go To Top>

Javelin Throw

The javelin is a steel-tipped wood or metal spear with a minimum length of 260 cm (8 ft 6 1/4 in) for men and 220 cm (7 ft 2 1/2 in) for women, and a minimum weight of 800 g (1 3/4 lb) for men and about 600 g (1 1/2 lb) for women. The javelin has a whipcord grip about 15 cm (about 6 in) long, which is located at the center of gravity.

Two parallel lines, 4 m (13 ft 1 1/2 in) apart, mark the javelin runway. The scratch, or throwing, line is a 7-cm (2 3/4 -in) wide strip, which is sunk flush in the ground and touches the front ends of the runway lines. The center of this strip is equidistant from and located between the runway lines. From this center point, two straight lines extend through the ends of the scratch line for a distance of 91.5 m (about 300 ft). All throws must land between these lines.

Throws are measured on a direct line from point of impact to the center point, but only the distance to the inner edge of the arc is recorded. Throwers must stay within the runway and not touch or cross the scratch line. The javelin must land tip first. In USA Track & Field meets contestants get three throws, and the seven best throwers are given three more. Competitors are placed according to their best throw.

As a prelude to the throw, the contestants grasp the javelin near its center of gravity and sprint toward a check line. As they near the line they twist to one side, draw back the javelin, and prepare to throw. Meanwhile, in order to maintain running speed while leaning back for the throw, they execute a hop or fast cross step. At the check line they pivot forward abruptly and hurl the javelin into the air. The throw is disallowed if they step across the line or if the javelin does not fall to earth point first.<Go To Top>

Decathlon and Heptathlon

The men's decathlon is a two-day, ten-event contest that places a premium on stamina and versatility. The events are, in order, the 100-m dash, long jump, shot put, high jump, 400-m dash, 110-m high hurdles, discus throw, pole vault, javelin throw, and 1500-m run. The athlete's performance in the various events is rated against an ideal score of 10,000 points. The highest point total determines the winner. The seven events in the women's heptathlon, usually completed in two days, are the 100-m hurdles, shot put, high jump, 200-m dash, long jump, javelin throw, and the 800-m run.<Go To Top>

Olympic Track and Field Events

Track and field events have always been considered the crown jewel of the Olympic Games. The following events are contested by both men and women: 100-m, 200-m, 400-m, 800-m, 1500-m, 5000-m, and 10,000-m runs; 20,000-m (about 12.4-mi) walk; 400-m hurdles; 400-m (4 x 100) and 1600-m (4 x 400) relays; marathon; and high jump, long jump, triple jump, pole vault, shot put, discus throw, javelin throw, and hammer throw. In addition, the men compete in the 3000-m steeplechase, the 50,000-m (about 31-mi) walk, the 110-m hurdles, and decathlon. The women also compete in the 100-m hurdles and heptathlon<Go To Top>