Athletics, also called track-and-field sports or track and field, a variety of competitions in running, walking, jumping, and throwing events. Although these contests are called track and field (or simply track) in the United States, they are generally designated as athletics elsewhere. This article covers the history, the organization, and the administration of the sports, the conduct of competitions, the rules and techniques of the individual events, and some of the sports’ most prominent athletes.
Track-and-field athletics are the oldest forms of organized sport, having developed out of the most basic human activities—running, walking, jumping, and throwing. Athletics have become the most truly international of sports, with nearly every country in the world engaging in some form of competition. Most nations send teams of men and women to the quadrennial Olympic Games and to the official World Championships of track and field. There also are several continental and intercontinental championship meets held, including the European, Commonwealth, African, Pan-American, and Asian.
Within the broad title of athletics come as many as two dozen distinct events. These events, generally held outdoors, make up a meet. The outdoor running events are held on a 400-metre or 440-yard oval track, and field events (jumping and throwing) are held either inside the track’s perimeter or in adjacent areas.
In many parts of the world, notably the United States, Canada, and Europe, the sport moves indoors during the winter; because of limited space, some events are modified and several are eliminated altogether.
Also within the general scope of track-and-field athletics come separate but related competitions that are not contested on the track. Cross-country running competition is carried out on various types of countryside and parkland. Marathons and races of other long distances are run on roads, and the long-distance race walks are contested on measured road courses. The rules followed by all organized competitions are established and enforced by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and its member body from each nation. The IAAF also ratifies all world records.
Origin and early development
There is little in the way of definitive records of athletics’ early days as organized sport. Egyptian and Asian civilizations are known to have encouraged athletics many centuries before the Christian era. Perhaps as early as 1829 bc, Ireland was the scene of the Lugnasad festival’s Tailteann Games, involving various forms of track-and-field activity. The Olympic Games of Greece, traditionally dated from 776 bc, continued through 11 centuries before ending about ad 393. These ancient Olympics were strictly male affairs, as to both participants and spectators. Greek women were reputed to have formed their own Heraea Games, which, like the Olympics, were held every four years.
Athletics as practiced today was born and grew to maturity in England. The first mention of the sport in England was recorded in 1154, when practice fields were first established in London. The sport was banned by King Edward III in the 1300s but revived a century later by Henry VIII, reputed to be an accomplished hammer thrower.
The development of the modern sport, however, has come only since the early 19th century. Organized amateur footraces were held in England as early as 1825, but it was from 1860 that athletics enjoyed its biggest surge to that date. In 1861 the West London Rowing Club organized the first meet open to all amateurs, and in 1866 the Amateur Athletic Club (AAC) was founded and conducted the first English championships. The emphasis in all these meets was on competition for “gentlemen amateurs” who received no financial compensation. In 1880 the AAC yielded governing power to the Amateur Athletic Association (AAA).
The first meet in North America was held near Toronto in 1839, but it was the New York Athletic Club, formed in the 1860s, that placed the sport on a solid footing in the United States. The club held the world’s first indoor meet and helped promote the formation in 1879 of the National Association of Amateur Athletes of America (NAAAA) to conduct national championships. Nine years later the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) took over as national governing body, amid reports that the NAAAA was lax in enforcing amateurism.
Athletics was well established in many countries by the late 1800s, but not until the revival of the Olympic Games in 1896 did the sport become truly international. Although begun modestly, the Olympics provided the inspiration and standardizing influence that was to spread interest in athletics worldwide. In 1912 the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) was founded, and by the time that organization celebrated its 75th anniversary in 1987 it had more than 170 national members. Its rules applied only to men’s competition until 1936, when the IAAF also became the governing body of women’s athletics.
Major international competitions before World War II included the Olympics, the British Empire Games, and the European Championships, but after the war athletics experienced its greatest period of growth, taking root especially in the developing countries. By the 1950s world-class athletes from African, Asian, and Latin American nations were enjoying great success at international meets.
Track and Field History and the Origins of the Sport
The ancient Olympic Games began in the year 776 BC, when Koroibos, a cook from the nearby city of Elis, won the stadium race, a foot race 600 feet long. According to some literary traditions, this was the only athletic event of the games for the first 13 Olympic festivals.
Other evidence, both literary and archaeological, suggests that the games may have existed at Olympia much earlier than this date, perhaps as early as the tenth or ninth century BC. A series of bronze tripods have been found at Olympia, some of which appear to be dated at about the ninth century BC, and it has also been suggested that these tripods may in fact be prizes for some of the early events at Olympia.
The marathon was not an event of the ancient Olympic Games. The marathon is a modern event that was first introduced in the Modern Olympic Games of 1896 in Athens, a race from Marathon—northeast of Athens—to the Olympic Stadium, a distance of 42.195 kilometers. The race commemorates the run of Pheidippides, an ancient “day runner” who carried the news of the Persian landing at Marathon of 490 BC to Sparta (a distance of 149 miles) in order to enlist help for the battle. According to the fifth-century BC ancient Greek historian Herodotus, Pheidippides delivered the news to the Spartans the next day. The distance of the modern marathon was standardized as 26 miles and 385 yards or 42.195 kilometers in 1908 when the Olympic Games were held in London. The distance was the exact measurement between Windsor Castle, the start of the race, and the finish line inside White City Stadium.
From 776 BC, the games were held in Olympia every four years for almost twelve centuries. Additional athletic events were gradually added until, by the fifth century BC, the religious festival consisted of a five-day program. The athletic events included three foot races (stadion, diaulos, and dolichos) as well as the pentathlon (five contests: discus, javelin, long jump, wrestling, and foot race), pugme (boxing), pale (wrestling), pankration, and the hoplitodromos. Additional events, both equestrian and for humans, were added throughout the course of the history of the Olympic Games. Equestrian events, held in the hippodromos, were an important part of the athletic program of the ancient Olympic Games and by the fifth century BC included the tethrippon and the keles.
Track-and-field athletics in the United States dates from the 1860s. The Intercollegiate Association of Amateur Athletes of America, the nation’s first national athletic group, held the first collegiate races in 1873, and in 1888 the Amateur Athletic Union (which governed the sport for nearly a century) held its first championships.
As track and field developed as a modern sport, a major issue for all athletes was their status as amateurs. For many years track and field was considered a purely amateur sport and athletes could not accept training money or cash prizes.
If charged with professionalism, athletes could be banned from competition for life. In 1913, American Jim Thorpe was stripped of his 1912 Olympic victories in the decathlon and pentathlon and banned from further competition after it was learned he had played semiprofessional baseball. (In 1982, the International Olympic Committee [IOC] posthumously restored both Thorpe’s amateur status and his two Olympic medals.)
Beginning in the 1920s, track and field’s scope widened. The first NCAA national championships were held for men in 1921, and women’s track and field became part of the Olympic Games in 1928. In 1952, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) sent its first Olympic team ever to the Summer Games in Helsinki, Finland, where the squad captured several track-and-field medals. Over the next 30 years, the U.S. and Soviet teams battled in one of the sport’s longest and most competitive rivalries. Women’s track struggled for widespread acceptance until the 1970s, when track and field as a whole enjoyed a boom in popularity. During that time, the U.S.-based International Track Association (ITA) organized a professional track circuit. The venture, although popular among fans, went bankrupt after several years. Few athletes wanted to participate in ITA competitions because athletes were actually receiving larger illegal payments for appearing at amateur meets than legitimate professionals were making on the new circuit. Many athletes also turned away from ITA competition because it disqualified them from participating in future Olympic Games. The Athletics Congress now regulates the sport in the United States; the International Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF) sanctions international competition. Track and field has been the centerpiece of the Summer Olympic Games since their revival in 1896. International professional running, initiated in the 1970s, has had limited success.
NCAA Track-and-Field Scholarships
Eligibility Test for Overseas Athletes
Azusa Pacific University Sports Recruiting.
Auburn University Montgomery Sports Recruiting.