Short distance running (sprints):
Sprints include the 60 metres (indoors), the 100 metres, the 200 metres, the 400 metres, the 4×100 metres relay and the 4×400 metres relay. They are run in lanes except for the 4×400 metres relay in which this rule applies only to the first 500 metres. The watch is stopped when a competitor's torso crosses the finish line. Competitors in the 100 metres run in a straight line and the 100 m champions boast the title of the fastest people in the world.
Until 1887 sprinters started from a standing position. Starting blocks used nowadays for the start of sprint races were developed between 1928 and 1929 by American coaches George Bresnahan and William Tuttle. Charles Sherrill is credited with utilizing the precursors of starting blocks, i.e. foot holes dug in the track. In 1938 IAAF decided that no official record can be ratified without a wind gauge measurement. A sprint is valid only if a tail wind does not exceed 2 m/s (this rule applies only to the 100 and 200 metres and the long jump). Official 200 metres runs take place on a semi-circle. In 1960 even the Americans decided not to run the 200 metres on a straight track. Apart from speed, technique is also significant because a sprinter needs to balance the centrifugal force. A sprint which requires endurance is the 400 metres, i.e. a distance equal to one lap around a contemporary stadium in the inner lane of the track. During the 400 metres the so-called "oxygen debt" occurs, since a runner is said to be able maintain the near-maximum speed for 30-35 seconds whilst 40 seconds are needed to cover this distance which is why athletes must acquire the ability to endure pain.
Middle distance track events:
They include runs at distances ranging from 800 to 1500 m. Running two laps around the stadium requires a skillful combination of speed and stamina. At first, runners used to start running at top speed, yet they were unable to maintain it throughout the race due to exhaustion. In 1932, a British runner Tom Hampson was the first to break the one minute 50 seconds record. Since then runners have been following his method of keeping the same pace during every lap. To avoid jostling at the start, the first 100 m is run in separate lanes. In the 1500 track event competitors start from a standing position on the line marked at the beginning of the opposite straight. Immediately after the start, they are allowed to assume positions in the inner lane. This track event is thought to be a combination of strength, endurance and tactics.
Long distance track events:
They include the 3000 metres (a non-Olympic event), the 3000 metres steeplechase, the five and ten kilometres, the half marathon (a non-Olympic event), the marathon as well as road running (up to 100 km) and cross-country running. Official events up to 10,000 metres are held on a stadium running track which is 400 m long. The track also provides the start and the finish for marathons, although a marathon route involves running through the streets. Probably only few people do not know where the name "marathon" comes from. It commemorates the Greek victory over the Persians in the year 490 BC and Pheidippides, a messenger who ran from Marathon to Athens. Legend has it that having announced the victory, he collapsed and died. In fact, the distance between those Greek cities is 37 km. Yet on account of the first modern Olympic games in 1896 the distance was changed to full 40 km. The distance was further increased by 2195 metres at the 1908 Olympic Games in London. The extra kilometres were added for the finish line to be right in front of the Queen's viewing box. As a result, the standard marathon distance is presently 42 km and 195 m. Another track event, steeplechase, is also worth mentioning. It originated in Oxford in the 19th C. In those days competitors ran the distance of 2 miles, i.e. 3218 metres. Like jockeys in horse racing, runners were assigned a weight handicap. It was not until 1954 that IAAF standardized the rules of steeplechase. The competitors run seven and a half laps. Each lap involves clearing five barriers which are spaced every 78 metres. All of the hurdles are 91.4 cm high (the height for women is 76.2 cm). Additionally, one of them is placed in front of a 3.66 m wide and 0.7 m deep water ditch usually located near the inner part of the track. Thus, in this run one lap is 390 m long. Interestingly, steeplechase for women did not become an Olympic event until the 21st C.
Hurdle races include the 60 metres (indoor events), the 100 metres (for women), the 110 metres (for men) and the 400 metres. Competitors run in separate lanes. Short distance events are held on the straight part of the track. Hurdling originated in England around 1830. Instead of hurdles, runners jumped over stable wooden barriers with a height of 106 cm. Hurdles which runners could knock down came into use in 1895, yet overturning more than three of them resulted in disqualification. Nowadays, however, it is not penalized. Women's hurdling made its Olympic debut over a distance of 80 m. Since 1972 women have run the distance of 100 m jumping over hurdles with a height of 80 cm. When the distance is four times longer, the hurdles in women's races are 76.2 cm high. Over a distance of 110 m men confront 106.7 cm hurdles. In 400-metre races they jump over hurdles which are 91.4 cm high. Each distance involves jumping over nine hurdles apart from the 60 metre indoor race with five hurdles.
The Olympic distances are 20 km for both men and women and 50 km for men only. The latter is the only track and field sport in which women do not take part! Robert Korzeniowski, a four-time Olympic champion (1996, 2000 and 2004), a three-time world champion (1997, 2001, 2003) and a two-time European champion (1998, 2002), has made race walking famous in Poland. The most important rules of the sport are keeping the advancing leg straight and making contact with the ground, i.e. both feet cannot leave the ground simultaneously. Failure to comply with these rules leads to disqualification.