London 2012

Guide to Athletics

Athletics perfectly embodies the Olympic motto of Citius, Altius, Fortius as each event requires competitors to run faster, throw further or jump higher than their rivals in the quest for physical superiority.

In total there are 47 gold medals up for grabs - 24 for men and 23 for women - making it the largest single sport at the summer Olympics.


  • James Connolly went down in history as the first modern Olympic champion by winning gold in the triple jump on April 6 1896 in Athens.
  • Halina Konopacka was the first woman to win an Olympic gold medal in athletics with victory in the 1928 discus.
  • American Jim Hines became the first athlete ever to break the 10-second barrier when he clocked 9.95 to win gold at the Mexico City Olympics of 1968. He later embarked on a brief career in the NFL but was nicknamed 'oops' due to his lack of skill.
  • Mike Dobriskey, who is the father of Great Britain's 1500m medal hope Lisa, helped build the Olympic Stadium in London.
  • The United States have always been the dominant force in athletics with more than 700 medals claimed in modern Olympic history. No other nation has yet reached 200.

Apart from three exceptions, the men's and women's events mirror each other. There is no 50km race walk for the women, who also compete in the heptathlon rather than the decathlon, while the men's sprint hurdles is over 110 metres instead of 100m.

The full list of events are: Men's: Track (100m, 200m, 400m, 800m, 1,500m, 5,000m, 10,000m, 110m hurdles, 400m hurdles, 3,000m steeplechase, 4 x 100m relay, 4 x 400m relay); Jumping (high jump, pole vault, long jump, triple jump); Throwing (shot put, discus, hammer, javelin); Combined (Decathlon - 10 disciplines); Road (Marathon, 20km walk, 50km walk).

Women's: Track (100m, 200m, 400m, 800m, 1,500m, 5,000m, 10,000m; 100m hurdles, 400m hurdles, 3,000m steeplechase, 4 x 100m relay, 4 x 400m relay), Jumping (high jump, pole vault, long jump, triple jump); Throwing (shot put, discus, hammer, javelin); Combined (Heptathlon - seven disciplines); Road (Marathon, 20km walk).

Competitors in the running events must negotiate a number of heats en route to the final although there are more of these in the sprints than the long distance races. However the energy-sapping 10,000m, marathons and walks are all one-offs.

In the throwing and jumping events, athletes must first compete in a qualifying round, with the best 12 reaching the final - although more can progress if they achieve the automatic qualifying mark or there are ties.

Athletes involved in the combined events - decathlon for men and heptathlon for women - athletes accrue points over a number of disciplines across two days. The 10 events which make up the decathlon are the 100m, long jump, shot put, high jump, 400m, 110m hurdles, discus, pole vault, javlin and 1500m. The seven-event heptathlon is comprised of the 100m hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200m, long jump, javelin and 800.

Men and women also compete in two relays each - the 4x100m and the 4x400m.


Athletics has been the integral sport of the Olympics in both ancient and modern times and it is so often the gold medallists from the track and field that provide the iconic moments at each Games.

Running events of various lengths are comparable, though not identical, to disciplines at the ancient Olympics - which began back in 776BC - while the javelin, discus and long jump were part of an early pentathlon.

Marion Jones was stripped of her medals

Only men competed when the modern Olympics began in 1896 and it wasn't until the 1928 Games in Amsterdam when the first athletics events for women were held.

Back then the only disciplines available to them were the 100m, 4x100m relay, 800m, high jump and discus but now, following the inclusion of the 3000m steeplechase to their schedule in 2008, the number of events for women has increased to 23, just one behind the men who also contest the 50km walk.

Some of the most glorious stories from athletics over the years include Jesse Owens in 1936, Carl Lewis' four golds in 1984, Michael Johnson's 200m and 400m double in 1996 and Usain Bolt's record-breaking exploits in Beijing.

One of the most infamous moments from track and field was Ben Johnson's steroid-fuelled gold in 1988 - the highest-profile example of a drug problem which has often plagued the sport.

More recently sprinter Marion Jones was stripped of her record haul of five golds from the 2000 Sydney Olympics when she admitted - in 2007 - to taking steroids before the Games.