track and field athletics

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track and field athletics

track and field athletics or athletics, sports of foot racing, hurdling, jumping, vaulting, and throwing varied weights and objects. They are usually separated into two categories: track, the running and hurdling events; and field, the throwing, jumping, and vaulting events. “Meets” are traditionally conducted on an oval track that surrounds an infield for the field events; indoor meets may comprise all but a few of the field events.


Track events include the 100-, 200-, 400-, 800-, 1,500-, 5,000-, and 10,000-meter runs; the marathon race (26 mi 385 yd/42.19 km); the 100- (women), 110- (men) and 400-meter hurdles; the 4×100- and 4×400-meter relays; the 3,000-meter steeplechase (men); and the 20,000- and 50,000-meter (men) walks. Other foot racing that is not strictly track includes road running, longer race walking, and cross country racing. Such British-system equivalents as the 100-yd dash and the mile run may also be part of a meet. Field events include the shot put; the hammer throw; the discus throw; the javelin toss (less frequently); the high jump; the long jump; the triple jump (formerly the running hop, skip, and jump); and the pole vault. The ten-event decathlon is the major composite event for men, and the Olympic winner is traditionally acclaimed as the “world's greatest athlete.” The seven-event heptathlon (formerly the five-event pentathlon) is the women's major composite event.


Track and field athletics dominated the ancient Greek athletic festivals, and were also popular in Rome, but declined in the Middle Ages. In England they were revived sporadically between the 12th and 19th cent.; the first college meet occurred in 1864 between Oxford and Cambridge universities.

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. USA Track & Field, formerly (1979–92) the Athletics Congress, now regulates the sport in the United States; the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), formerly (1912–2001) the International Amateur Athletics Federation, 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.

Record-setting Achievements and Illegal Drugs

Continuous, and often astonishing, improvement characterized the sport in the 20th cent. Performances once considered unattainable, such as the 4-minute mile (first achieved in 1954 by Roger Bannister, the 8-ft (2.44-m) high jump (achieved by Javier Sotomayor in 1993), and the 20-ft (6.1-m) pole vault (achieved in 1994 by Sergey Bubka) are especially well known. Since the 1970s, many have questioned whether some record-setting achievements have been produced with the aid of performance-enhancing drugs or other unsanctioned techniques. Testing of athletes has therefore become standard, and results have occasionally been nullified, as when Canada's Ben Johnson lost his world record and 1988 Olympic gold medal for the 100-m race after tests detected anabolic steroids in his system.


See R. L. Quercetani, A World History of Track and Field Athletics, 1864–1964 (1964); C. Nelson, Track and Field's Greatest Champions (1986).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Track and Field Athletics


one of the most important and popular sports, combining walking and running various distances; long and high jumping; discus, javelin, and hammer throwing; the shot put; and such combined track and field events as the decathlon and pentathlon. There are more than 60 track and field events; the modern Olympic program includes 24 for men and 14 for women. Track and field events are included in the programs of the largest continental sports competitions—the European championships and the African, Asian, Balkan, Commonwealth, and Pan-American games.

Track and field is based on natural human movements and contributes to all-around physical development and better health. Its popularity is attributed to the general availability and great variety of events, the simplicity of the techniques involved, and the opportunity to vary the training load and perform the activities at any time of the year, not only on sports grounds but also under natural conditions. In the USSR and the other socialist countries, track and field is part of the state system of physical education; it is included in the physical education programs for schoolchildren at all types of educational institutions, the training programs for all types of sports, and the exercise lessons for older people. All levels of the all-Union athletic program “Ready for Labor and Defense!” use track and field events as a basic component. Track and field sections lead the activities of physical education groups, sports clubs, and voluntary sports societies.

Track and field events (first running, and later jumping, throwing, and so on) were included in the ancient Greek Olympic Games between 776 B.C. and a.d. 394; the pentathlon, consisting of running, long jumping, javelin and discus throwing, and wrestling, was added in 708. The development of modern track and field began in the 1830’s and 1840’s (the first competitions were held at Rugby School in England in 1837). In the 1880’s and 1890’s, amateur clubs and leagues were organized in many countries; in Russia, the first sports group was set up in 1888 in Tiarlevo near St. Petersburg. The extensive development of modern track and field is linked with the revival of the Olympic Games in 1896 as the largest international competition; national track and field championships began to be held (annually in Russia during 1908–16). The All-Russian Amateur Track and Field Union was founded in 1911, uniting approximately 20 sports leagues from St. Petersburg, Moscow, Kiev, and other cities. Russian athletes participated in the Olympics for the first time in 1912; that same year the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF), the guiding organization in the development of track and field and international competition, was founded.

The first Soviet track and field competition was held in Petrograd in 1918; in 1920 track and field was the main event in the Siberian (Omsk), Urals (Ekaterinburg), Middle Asian (Tashkent), and Northern Caucasian (Mineral’nye Vody) Olympics. The RSFSR track and field championship was held in Moscow in 1922, the first international meet (with athletes from Finland) in 1923, and the first All-Union Spartakiad in 1928.

Scientific methodological principles were established for a Soviet training system for track and field athletes in the 1930’s. The introduction in 1931 of the “Ready for Labor and Defense!” program made track and field one of the most popular sports. The development of Soviet track and field in the 1930’s and 1940’s is associated with such names as S. I. Znamenskii and G. I. Znamenskii, A. A. Pugachevskii, F. K. Vanin, E. M. Vasil’eva, M. I. Shamanova, T. A. Bykova, R. D. Liul’ko (running), N. G. Ozolin (jumping), and S. T. Liakhov (throwing), who by then were equal in ability to internationally known foreign athletes.

In 1948 the All-Union Track and Field Federation of the USSR joined the IAAF; as of Jan. 1, 1972, the national federations of 143 countries belonged to the IAAF. Soviet athletes have participated in the European championships since 1946 (held since 1934 in the even years between the Olympics) and in the Olympics since 1952. Track and field dual meets between Soviet athletes and those of other countries (the USA, the German Democratic Republic, France, Great Britain, Italy, Poland, and Czechoslovakia), international competitions dedicated to the memories of outstanding athletes (for example, the Znamenskii Brothers Memorial in the USSR, the J. Kusocinski Memorial in Poland, the E. Roŝicky Memorial in Czechoslovakia), and meets sponsored by organizations and newspapers (Pravda and Izvestiia in the USSR, L’Humanité in France), have been held regularly since 1958. European track and field championships for juniors began in 1964, the European Cup competition in 1965, and the European indoor track and field championships in 1966. The European Athletic Association (EAA) was founded in 1968, combining 35 national federations, including that of the USSR (1972); in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, track and field federations were organized in Asia, Africa, Latin America, New Zealand, and Oceania.

In the period between 1952 and 1972, Soviet track and field athletes won 35 gold, 31 silver, and 41 bronze medals at the Olympics and 61 gold, 46 silver, and 51 bronze medals at the European championships. The Olympic champions were N. V. Avilov, P. G. Bolotnikov, A. P. Bondarchuk, V. F. Borzov (twice), L. I. Bragina, V. N. BrumeP, V. S. Golubnichii (twice), R. I. Klim, V. S. Krepkina, V. P. Kuts (twice), la. V. Lusis, L. I. Lysenko, F. G. Mel’nik, E. A. Ozolina, N. A. Ponomareva (twice), I. N. Press (twice), T. N. Press (three times), V. V. Rudenkov, V. D. Saneev (twice), L. V. Spirin, Iu. A. Tarmak, T. A. Tyshkevich, V. S. Tsybulenko, R. M. Shavlakadze, N. V. Chizhova, and I. V. Iaunzem.

The European champions included E. A. Arzhanov, V. M. Bogdanova, E. N. Bulanchik, N. Ia. Dumbadze, A. V. Ignat’ev, M. L. Itkina, N. Z. Karakulov, K. Ia. Lapteva (Maiugaia), N. G. Otkalenko, S. K. Popov, T. N. Sevriukova, E. I. Sechenova, N. V. Smirnitskaia, V. V. Kuznetsov, I. A. Ter-Ovanesian, I. R. Turova, A. P. Chudina, T. S. Shchelkanova, and L. M. Shcherbakov. World, European, and All-Union records in various track and field events have been broken by E. E. Gorchakova, E. V. Gushchin, G. la. Klimov, G. I. Zybina, M. P. Krivonosov, lu. N. Lituev, and V. I. Trusenev.

Significant contributions to the theory and practice of track and field have been made by such scholars and coaches as V. I. Alekseev, V. M. D’iachkov, D. P. Ionov, G. V. Korobkov, D. P. Markov, N. G. Ozolin, V. V. Sadovskii, Z. P. Sinitskii, G. G. Suliev, L. S. Khomenkov, O. Ia. Grigalka, N. N. Den-isov, G. I. Nikiforov, I. P. Sergeev, A. L. Fruktov, and V. M. Iagodin.

The Spartakiads of the peoples of the USSR and the regular participation by Soviet athletes in the major international competitions have in many ways furthered the subsequent development of Soviet track and field in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Modern sports arenas are being built, the network of specialized sports schools for children and adolescents and track and field sections in sports clubs and societies is being expanded, and the scientific method of training coaches and teachers is being perfected. In 1972, 6 million people were involved in track and field in the USSR, including 1,700 masters of sports, 14,800 candidates for master of sports and first-class sportsmen, 96 international class masters, approximately 200 Honored Masters of Sports, and 58 Honored Coaches of the USSR in track and field.

Outside the USSR, track and field is most widely developed in the USA, the German Democratic Republic, the Federal Republic of Germany, Poland, Great Britain, Czechoslovakia, New Zealand, Australia, Finland, Rumania, and Kenya. Repeat winners at the Olympics and the other major international competitions include B. Cuthbert, S. De la Hunty-Strickland, and H. Elliott (Australia), A. Ferreira da Silva (Brazil), A. Bikila (Ethiopia), H. Kolehmainen, P. Nurmi, V. Ritola, and L. Viren (Finland), A. Hary and H. Rosendahl (Federal Republic of Germany), K. Balzer and R. Stecher (German Democratic Republic), D. Lowe (Great Britain), G. Zsivotzky (Hungary), P. O’Callaghan (Ireland), A. Pamich (Italy), Kip Keino (Kenya), F. Blankers-Koen (the Netherlands), P. Snell (New Zealand), J. Schmidt and I. Szewinska-Kirszenstein (Poland), I. Balas and V. Viscopoleanu (Rumania), and R. Beamon, R. Mathias, A. Oerter, J. Owens, B. Richards, W. Rudolph, and W. Tyus (USA).


Shkola legkoi atletiki, 2nd ed. Edited by A. V. Korobkov. Moscow, 1968.
Legkaia atletika dlia iunoshei. Edited by P. L. Limar’. Moscow, 1969.
Legkaia atletika (textbook for physical education institutions), 2nd ed. Edited by N. G. Ozolin and D. P. Markov. Moscow, 1972.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.