Track and field includes track events, measured in meters, and field events, where athletes jump, spin, or throw objects. Common events include dashes, relays, hurdles, long jump, and high jump. Combination events, such as the decathlon and heptathlon, combine multiple events into one using a points system. Unusual events include the steeplechase, marches, and wheelchair races. Discontinued events include the standing long jump, high jump from a standstill, team runs, two-handed throws, and tug of war.
Track and field is a sport that includes many events, most of which fall into one of two categories: track and field. Track events are those in which athletes compete by running. Field events are those in which athletes jump, spin, or throw an object. Some events, such as the decathlon and heptathlon, are made up of multiple other events. Common track and field events include dashes, relays, hurdles, long jump, and high jump, among others.
In most cases, track events are measured in meters, although some smaller levels of track and field, such as children’s competitions, might measure events in yards. The shorter track events are called dashes or sprints. Some of the common distances for dashes are 50, 55, 60, 100, 200 and 400 meters. On standard size tracks, one lap is 400 metres.
Races that are 800, 1,500, 1,600 or 3,200 meters long are often called middle distance races. The most common distance events, or long distance events, include the 5,000m and 10,000m runs. Some competitions may include even longer races. The marathon, measuring 26.2 miles (42.2 km), is considered a track and field event in some competitions, such as the Olympics.
Relays are events in which four teammates race, one at a time, passing a small baton from one runner to another. The three most common distances for relays are a total of 400, 800 or 1,600 meters. These races are often identified by the number of runners and the distance traveled by each, rather than the total distance in the race. So, for example, the 800m relay might be called a 4x200m relay, typically pronounced as “relay four by 200”.
Hurdle events are also held on tracks, and athletes must jump over equally spaced hurdles while running. Common distances include the 60, 110, 300 and 400 meter hurdles for boys or men and the 60, 100, 300 and 400 meter hurdles for girls or women. These races are sometimes identified by their distance and by “high hurdles”, “intermediate hurdles” or “low hurdles”. The shorter the race, the higher the height of the obstacles, in most cases. For example, the hurdles might be 42 inches (106.7 cm) tall for a men’s 110 hurdles race and 36 inches (91.4 cm) tall for a men’s 400 hurdles race.
Field events include four where athletes throw objects: discus, shot put, hammer, and javelin. The size of the objects – or tools – that are thrown can vary based on the age level and gender of the contestants. In discus, the athlete throws a heavy discus using a twisting motion, and in shot put, the athlete throws a heavy ball, usually by propelling it from his or her shoulder. The hammer is actually a heavy ball on the end of a string with a handle at one end, and is also thrown using a twisting motion. A javelin is a spear-like instrument – young people often use javelins that have been modified to be safer – that is thrown over the hand.
There are also four field events in which athletes jump or jump as high or as far as possible: high jump, long jump, triple jump, and pole vault. In the high jump and pole vault, the athlete starts with a running start and jumps over a bar that is raised after each successful attempt, and lands on a large pad. A pole vaulter uses a long, flexible pole to push himself over the bar. For the long jump and triple jump, the athlete starts with a running start and jumps as far as possible into a landing pit of soft earth, sand or sawdust. In the triple jump, as the name suggests, the lifter performs three consecutive jumps – sometimes referred to as a jump, a jump and a jump – and the distance is measured from the front line of the jump to where the lifter landed after its final skip.
There are also combination events, such as the decathlon and heptathlon, which combine multiple events into one using a points system to give competitors overall scores. The decathlon is usually spread over two days and comprises 10 events: four track events and six field events. The four events on the track are 100 dash, 400 dash, 1,500 run and 110 hurdles. The field events in the decathlon are the long jump, high jump, shot put, discus, pole vault, and javelin.
The decathlon is usually for boys or men. Girls and women typically compete in the heptathlon, which includes these seven events: 200 dashes, 800 runs, 100 hurdles, high jump, long jump, shot put, and javelin. Some track and field events, especially those for youth, may use non-standard combinations of events for the decathlon or heptathlon. Other competitions might include combined events made up of a different number of events, such as a pentathlon, which has five events.
Along with the marathon, which is not part of most track and field competitions, there are other events that are rarely included. In the steeplechase, which is usually 3,000 meters for men and 2,000 meters for women, contestants must clear large hurdle-like hurdles and jump through a shallow water pit as they race down the track. Marches are events in which competitors cover large distances, such as 20 or 50 kilometres, as quickly as possible but cannot run: one or both feet must be in contact with the ground at all times. Some competitions may also include wheelchair races for people using them.
There are also many events that were once standard in track and field competitions, but have been discontinued in most cases. Among these are the standing long jump; the high jump from a standstill; team runs in which four teammates run as a group; two-handed throws of the shot put, discus and javelin; and also tug of war. Some competitions may feature one or more of these events, perhaps as novelty events.