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  • There is evidence that organized running took place as long ago as 3800 BC in Egypt.

  • In the thirtheenth century BC, Greece staged the first Olympic Games, and it was in Athens, the capital of Greece, that the first Olympic Games of the modern era were held in April 1896, when a sparse 59 athletes from a 10 mere nations competed. Gradually numbers grew.

  • The international governing body is the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF), which was formed in 1912. In 1928 women’s events were admitted to the Olympics for the first time.


  • The standard track is an oval shaped 400 metres, made out of a red artificial surface. It is divided into eight lanes to keep the competitors separate in the shorter events. The athletes run anti-clockwise.

  • The same finishing line is used for all events; the 100 – and 110 – metres sprint are run on a straight course. For races that starts on a bend, the 200 and 400 metres have a staggered start, giving those on the outside an advantage over the inner lanes to equalize the distance each competitor runs.


  • Special shoes are needed for track running with spikes which, with more expensive shoes, can be screwed in and out. The spikes should be no longer than 2.5 cms, but on the track they would usually be much less.

  • Both men and women wear shorts and vests.

  • For the sprint events, starting blocks are used, which can be screwed or nailed into the track just behind the start line. These give the runners something to bounce off at the start. The foot plates are adjustable and angled to the individual athlete.


  • Races are started with a gun. If there is a false start, the starter fires the gun again immediately and recalls all the runners, warns the runner concerned and sets about re-starting the race. If the same runner jumps the start again he or she is disqualified.

  • All sprint races are run in lanes. In the 4x100 metres relay, teams of four run against each other and have to pass a baton after the completion of each lap in a 20-metre-long zone. Failure to keep to the handover zone means disqualification.


  • Over the years two distances have captured the public’s imagination: the 100-metres sprint and the 1500-metres race over four laps. Both have produced heroes.

  • America’s Carl Lewis was born in July 1961 in Birmingham, Alabama. At his first Olympics in Los Angeles in 1984 he won no less than four gold medals in the 100 metres, 200 metres, long jump and sprint relay. At the Seoul Olympics in 1988 he won the 100 metres again, after the disqualification (because of drug taking) of Ben Johnson, and repeated his gold medal long-jump victory. At Barcelona’s Olympics in 1922 he again won the long-jump and added an eight gold medal by winning the sprint relay.

  • Sebastian Coe, born in Chiswick, London in September 1956, was a superb middle-distance runner and won the Olympic gold in the 1500 metres in 1980 and 1984. He was known for his wonderfully flowing style of running, as if no effort was being made at all; the mark of true champion.


  • In late April 1941, 25-year-old Greg Rice was declared unfit for service with the US Army because of a triple hernia. Earlier that year, in February, he had set two world records for the two miles (the second record stood for 24 years) and, at the beginning of April, when he was voted America’s foremost athlete, he set a world record for the three miles.

  • The Eastern Europeans were often noted for starting young in sport, especially in gymnastics and swimming. One of the most extraordinary starts belongs, however, to American Mary Etta Boitano who was entered for the first marathon at only six!

  • After three false starts in the two hundred metres at the Olympic Games at St Louis, Michigan, USA in 1904, the judge told the runners he would punish them and started the four finalists a metre behind the starting line. This unique 201-metre final was won by American Archie Halm.

  • What happened before the start of the 1924 Olympics 400-metre final was as unique as the outcome. The Scot, Eric Liddelll (later featured in the Oscar winning film Chariots of Fire) was piped to his place with eight bars from ‘Scotland the Brave’. He went on to win the gold medal. He was fated to die in a Japanese prison camp in China in 1945.

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