Historians point to the first Olympics in 776 B.C. in Greece as the birth of track and field. Since then, the sport of track has evolved and emerged as the standard bearer of running excellence, from the 50-meter race to the 26.2-mile marathon, along with the field events of jumping, throwing and vaulting, all of which make up the Decathlon.
From its origins at the Greek Olympics to its establishment within collegiate ranks, a worldwide, professional circuit and now a regular varsity sport for youth school teams, track and field is a mainstay in the sports world.
Beyond track and field's origins at the Olympics, the collegiate ranks were responsible for its increased worldwide popularity and competitions. The first modern college track meet occurred in England in 1864 between Oxford and Cambridge universities.
In the United States, the Intercollegiate Association of Amateur Athletes of America organized the very first college track and field meets in 1873. The association presided over U.S. track and field until 1980, when the Athletic Union/USA replaced it as the governing body. Finally, in 1992, the United States of America Track and Field (USATF), took over as the current governing body in America.
The running events for track consist of short sprint distances of 100, 200 and 400 meters, an 800-meter race and distance events of 1,600, 3,000, 3,200 and 5,000 meters.
In other events, competitors run and jump over hurdles, with women doing the 100 meters, men running the 110 meters and the 400-meter hurdles done by both sexes.
Relay events are run with four runners per team, with each doing one quarter of the total race distance. Relay team members carry a baton that is then passed off to their respective teammates.
The marathon distance of 26.2 miles/42.2 kilometers is generally reserved for the Olympics and international championships, as well as regional marathons.
Field Event Facts
The field events in track are the long-jump, triple-jump, pole vault, discus throwing, shot put and high jump. There are also two-day events called the Decathlon (The Latin "Dec" refers to the 10 events) and Heptathlon (seven events). Decathlon competitors do a 100-meter sprint, long jump, shot put, high jump and a 400-meter race on day one, and a 110-meter hurdle event, discus, pole vault, javelin and a 1,500-meter run on day two. Heptathlon competitors perform a 200-meter run, a 100-meter hurdle event, high jump and shot put during the first day, and then throw a javelin, long jump and race 800 meters on day two.
Track and Field Footwear
Most footwear for track and field events are known as spikes, which are very minimal in weight, with aggressive traction by using sharp metal spikes of various lengths screwed into the bottom of the shoe. Sprinters use spikes with no cushioning because all of their running is done on the ball of their foot. Middle distance runners use spikes with a small amount of cushioning under the heel, and distance competitors have cushioning from mid-foot to heel. Jumpers and vaulters use spikes similar to sprint spikes with a heel spike option. Throwers wear shoes with a smooth, soft rubber bottom with no spikes to enhance their spinning technique.
Track Distance and Design
Though the first Olympic race in Greece in 776 B.C. was 600 feet long, today's modern outdoor track is oval in shape with a distance set at 400 meters with eight lanes. In the United States, earlier tracks measured 440 yards.
The earliest tracks has a surface of dirt and cinders. Today's modern tracks are composed of synthetic, rubber composite surfaces that are durable and built for better traction for the athletes. The standard distance for today's indoor track is 200 meters, with four to eight lanes and banked turns because of the small turning radius. While most indoor tracks are constructed of synthetic materials, some are made of wood and hard fiber surfaces.