Learn More About Track & Field Events
Photo: Kate Frame
100 Meters: This 100m is the domain of absolute speed. Athletes of all builds can do well at this distance. Being fast means being able to transmit the orders needed for muscular contraction instantly from the brain. When the gun fires, athletes must react with adrenaline-charged urgency. The 100m demands exceptional reflexes at the start and great explosive power. In the first few strides sprinters must have perfect control of movement and balance without "tightening up". Then they must use their acceleration skills to reach top speed. Since it is difficult to maintain top speed after 6 to 7 seconds of effort, sprinters need to learn to relax. Maintaining the right balance between frequency and length of stride is the key to sprint technique. The 100m can be broken down into basic phases of start, acceleration and relaxation (speed maintenance.) The right blend gets results.
200 Meters: The 200m goes beyond absolute speed and focuses more on speed maintenance. Good distribution of effort and running the curve effectively are the keys to this sprint. Athletes should not start too slowly, yet if they squander too much energy they will not last the whole distance without slowing. The start is less important here than in the 100m, but relaxation while under duress is still very important.
400 Meters: The toughest sprint, the 400m can seem both short in time and long in distance. The 400m runner needs to be a courageous sprinter. Willpower battles against pain as muscles become ever-heavier at the end of a race. Alone in his or her lane, the athlete must start fast, at ninety per cent of maximum effort and control the pace so as not experience the figurative brick wall that awaits those who are not prepared. After 30 to 35 seconds of fast running, physiological realities of oxygen debt and lactic acid build-up in the muscles begin to take effect. The mind receives signals telling the body to stop, but the athlete must ignore them, trusting the training they have undergone.
Photo: Wolfgang Beck
800 Meters: Here the athletes challenge their rivals around two laps of the track: Unlike the sprints, which are run in lanes, there can be contact in this race. Everyone, big or small, has a chance in this event, where anaerobic effort can unleash a final sprint to snatch victory. The 800m runner must embody boldness, strategy in movement, positional sense and anticipation. Together they can enable the athlete to beat stronger opponents. The 800m is a race in which anything can happen, where the prolonged speed of the 400m meets the endurance of the 1600m.
1600 Meters: This is considered a marquee race, in which the athlete must strike a balance between oxygen supply and oxygen debt. Here stamina begins to really count, but speed matters too, given the frequent participation of 800m specialists. The great 1600m pioneers never set themselves limits, and so they continually surpassed themselves. Tenacity, energy and mental strength are important factors.
3200 Meters: Here, runners with endurance begin to take over from those with strength. The skill lies in keeping up a sustained pace for a long time, effortlessly and efficiently. Pace is king in the 3200m, where the best keep their hearts beating under control. A long distance spirit is needed; you do not run these races without lengthy, painstaking preparation. Nevertheless, these events are not exclusive to those with the most endurance. Speed often comes into play in the last lap, so much so, that 800m and 1500m specialists are sometimes outstanding at this event also.
Photo: Dallas Edge
Sprint Hurdles: Modern sprint hurdlers are first of all sprinters. They must possess the characteristics of speed specialists - reflexes, power and strength. To this must be added the right physique - hurdlers should be tall, or have proportionally long legs to ease hurdle clearance, and have solid hurdling technique. Maintaining speed over the 10 hurdles (39” high over 110 meters for men and 33” over 100 meters for women) is the goal. Hurdlers must always search for a fluidity and rhythm. This event combines the speed and necessary training of a running event and the coordination and precision of a field event.
Long Hurdles: The ¾ lap hurdler starts as a good 200 meter or 400 meter flat runner who is supple and has a good sense of rhythm as well as hurdling skill. Speed and strength alone are not enough. Negotiating 8 hurdles (36” high for men, 30” for women) in the 300m demands smooth hurdling and control of stride patterns between hurdles. For the 300m hurdler, drilled rhythms and competitive fire compete to govern running form. The 300m hurdler therefore needs mental, emotional, and physical strength.
Photo: Lucas Strong and Garrett Steuk
4x100 Meter Relay: Relays involve passing a baton. The 4x100m, which is run in lanes from start to finish, calls for the utmost precision, and at times juggling skills, for the baton must be handed over, at top speed, in a zone of limited distance. To early or too late and the team is disqualified. For men, the change-over may have to be made in less than two seconds.
4x400 Meter Relay: The 4x400m baton exchange is not as high stakes as the 4x100 exchange because of the slower speeds, yet it is no less dramatic due to the extreme physical exhaustion the incoming runner often experiences. The first three turns of this race (1 ¼ laps) are run in lanes, and it is upon exiting the third turn that all runners can break for lane 1 for the remainder of the race. Once the runners have broken from lanes the race resembles an 800m, but at much greater speed! Often, dramatic passes take place on the backstretch while some choose to keep their reserves for a charge in the homestretch. The lead changes that result and the raw passion exhibited by competitors make this one of the most entertaining events for spectators. For that reason, it is always the last, culminating event of the meet.
4x200 Meter Relay (Girls Only): This event combines the speed of the 4x100 with the entertaining aspects of the 4x400. Originally, it was included in the canon of high school event to even things out...because girls were thought to weak to triple jump or pole vault! We know better now, but the 4x200 has remained as a fun tradition for girls.
Photo: Courtney Jost
High Jump: The high jump, as practiced in modern times, was invented in the late 1960’s by Oregon State product and 1968 Olympic Gold Medalist Dick Fosbury. His method of running a curve and jumping head first with his back to the bar has become the most efficient technique. Prior, athletes cleared stomach first and relied more on brute jumping ability, but the “Fosbury Flop” technique, while difficult to master, has been shown to be the most efficient. The curved approach is monotonously practiced until it is incredibly consistent, and the jumper must have steely nerves to deal with the “psych” of increasing heights. Good jumpers refuse to jump towards the bar at all, instead relying on the centripetal force generated by the curve to “pull” them over the bar after jumping straight up. Three misses in a row at any height and the jumper is eliminated from the competition.
Pole Vault: The pole vault, a jump for height achieved with the aid of a pole, demands a high jumper's skills of relaxation and coordination, a sprinter’s speed and a gymnast’s control. Every vault includes a fast run-up, a driving of the pole into a recessed plant box, a swing phase where the pole is loaded with energy, then an unloading phase where the athlete attempt to get inverted for maximum hip height and bar clearance. A pole vaulter must have very strong arms and shoulders, as well as boldness and a taste for risk. Three misses in a row and they are eliminated from the competition.
Photos: Justin Browne
Long Jump: The Long Jump, along with the 100 meters and the Shot Put, is one of the truly explosive events in track and field. The best athletes combine the speeds that top sprinters attain with the coordination and gravity defying grace of the best high jumpers. Yet, proper technique is a must. An accurate approach is needed so that after a full sprint from a fair distance away, the jumper ideally takes off within just a fraction of an inch from the foul line on the take-off board. If the athletes foot crosses that line by any margin prior to take-off, the jump is a foul. The jump is measured from the foul line to the farthest mark back in the pit.
Triple Jump: One of the most obscure and least understood events, the triple jump consists of a run up similar to the long jump, but with the take-off board two or three times further away. The jumper can jump from either leg, but then is required to land on that leg and jump again, then switch legs for a final jump into the pit. The pattern ends up being either LEFT-LEFT-RIGHT or RIGHT-RIGHT-LEFT. Height is discouraged in the same way that the best way to skip a rock is to throw it in a low, fast trajectory. The jump is measured from the foul line to the farthest mark back in the pit.
Shot Put: Shot putters must be explosive. The only event that compares to the explosiveness required in the shot put is the 100 meters. Shot putters must summon the dynamic power to propel a heavy, metal ball (12 pounds for men, 4 kg or 8.8 pounds for women) as far as possible. Performance improvement will depend more on proper technique than raw power. The very best combine strength, quickness, grace, and precision to incorporate the entire body into the throw, rather than just the arm.
Discus: Like the shot put, it is a misconception that this event is all about the biggest and the strongest. Discus has been called a ballet without music, and has fascinated since remote antiquity, when great sculptors used the discus thrower to symbolize athletics. The discus thrower must add a wide reach, speed on the turn and a sense of rhythm to the shot putter's sturdy skills. Success means taking advantage of the centrifugal force created by whirling inside a concrete circle 2.50 meters in diameter before the final release. The lower body is just as important as the upper in achieving success.
Javelin: The javelin was originally a weapon for hunting and for war. It is lighter than the other classic throwing implements, but demands special technical skills. The javelin thrower must develop smooth acceleration with a run-up. The throwing arm must be fast and supple with a super-flexible elbow, while incredible precision is necessary to release the javelin at the optimal angle. All this must be achieved without ignoring the considerable power required from the back, legs and arms during the whole movement. The javelin throwing action can be compared to that of a whip: the thrower's body becomes the handle, the javelin the lash.