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Fan's Guide to Track and Field Page 2 of 5 (Track)

Track & Field1- History & Essentials
2- Track
3- Field
4- Diagram of Track
5- Special Events and Cross Country

Track events include running and hurdling events.


Running events prove which athletes are the fastest and have the greatest endurance. An outdoor track, usually dirt or all-weather material, has eight lanes, and races are run counterclockwise. Officials initiate races with a starter pistol, and time them with stopwatches or automatic timers with photo finishes. The winner crosses the finish line in the shortest amount of time. Races of different distances start at different places on the track, but all races end at the same finish line. There are several types of running events, including sprints, relays, and distance races.


Sprinting events include the 100 meter (m), 200 m, and 400 m. In all sprint races, athletes use starting blocks, placed one to three feet behind the starting line. The 100 m and 200 m are sprints demonstrating speed, while the 400 m combines endurance and speed. The 100 m is run on the straightaway, the 200 m starts on the curve, and the 400 m is one full lap around the track.


The relays are the 400 m (4 x 100), 1600 m (4 x 400), and 3200 m (4 x 800). Each relay team consists of the four fastest sprinters (four men or four women). The anchor, the last person to run, is the fastest; the lead runner is the second fastest. Each runner completes one-fourth of the total distance. The lead runner begins on a starting block with a baton. Once he nears the next runner on his team, that person begins to sprint. The baton must be handed off within a certain area marked by lines on the track, or an official waves a red flag to signify disqualification. If the baton is dropped, the entire relay team is disqualified.

Distance Running

Distance running includes the 800 m and 3200 m. Strategically, the athletes either keep the same pace throughout the race, or start quickly and try to maintain a reasonable pace to finish. They also usually try to save some energy for the “kick,” a sprint the last 100 m of the race.


Hurdling events are similar to sprints, except that obstacles, called hurdles, are placed on the track. There are 8 or 10 hurdles placed at certain distances and at certain heights, depending on the distance of the race and who is running. Men’s races include the 110 m high hurdles and 300 m intermediate hurdles. Women’s races include the 100 m high hurdles and 300 m low hurdles. The goal is to jump over the hurdle with the smallest clearance, since hitting the hurdle or jumping high causes the runner to slow down. The lead leg is usually straight, and the trail leg follows in a bent position. An athlete is disqualified if he tries to go around or purposely knocks over the hurdles. In the 100 m and 110 m races, the best hurdlers take only three steps between hurdles and use the same lead leg over every hurdle. In the 300 m race, the steps taken between hurdles usually range from 13 to 17.

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