Athletics is a collection of sports which involves competitive running, walking, jumping, and throwing. It’s considered to be the oldest sport. To be clear, sporting event existed for thousands of years. However, athletic events were the first ones to be organised by countries.These were competitions in which competitors from all over the world took place.

Athletics Intro
Welcome to Athletics

The most common types of athletics competitions are track and field, road running, cross country running, and race walking. However, with time several more events were added. The ones we already mentioned date back to the first Olympic games. Nevertheless, in that one, only running competitions were held. The jumping and throwing events were added in the years that followed. Keep reading to learn more about athletics and it’s history.

Athletics History

As we mentioned above, all sports that are based on running, walking, jumping and throwing belong to athletics. In fact, their roots can be tracked to prehistoric times. Athletics events were drawn in the Ancient Egyptian tombs in Saqqara. There were illustrations that showed running and high jumping on tombs that are from 2250 BC. These events kept improving until 776 BC when the first Olympics were held in Greece. At that time it was held at a round track called a stadium. It had only running events. Nevertheless, it later expanded to include throwing and jumping events within the ancient pentathlon. Athletics competitions also took place at other Panhellenic Games. They were founded later around 500 BC.


In modern times, athletic events emerged at the Cotswold Olympic Games. It was a sports festival held in England in the 17th century. They had sledghammer throwing contests. This was considered an athletics discipline. Other competitions with similar events were held all across England up to the 19th century. They even established the AAA (Amateur Athletic Association). With time, the US joined and they started their own competitions.

However, in 1912 it all came together with the forming of an international governing body. It was named the International Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF). This federation started organizing sporting events all around the world. In these championships, athletics events were the most important ones.

Track and Field

Competitions in track and field emerged in the 19th century. These competitions were usually between two rival sporting organizations. The athletes who took part were allowed to compete in one or more events.
Track and field comes in both indoor and outdoor formats. Most indoor competitions are in winter, while outdoor events are held in summer. The sport is defined by the venue in which the competitions are held. Usually that’s the track and field stadium.

Track and FIeld
Track and Field

As part of athletics, track and field holds several different running events. They are divided in three categories: sprints, middle-distance, and long distance events. Additionally, there are relay events in which racers race in a team of four. Each one has to run a certain distance and then pass a baton to the next teammate. The team who does this the fastest and finishes first, wins the race. Last but not least, track and field also has the hurdles races. In them, racers jump over obstacles while they run.

All of the above mentioned athletics events are part of track. However, there are a couple of sporting events that are field events. There are two types of field events: jumping and throwing competitions. Throwing events consist of athletes throwing implements. They are measured by how far they can throw them. The most common events are the shot put, discus, javelin, and hammer throw.

In jumping events, there are four main categories. The long jump and triple jump contests are measured by the horizontal distance an athlete can jump. On the other hand, the high jump and pole vault events are measured by the achieved height.

Road Running

Road running competitions are running events which are mainly conducted on courses of paved or tarmac-roads. Nevertheless, the major events often finish on the track of a main stadium. The elite level of this athletics sport are the marathon races. However, road racing events can be of virtually any distance. The most common and well known are the marathon, half marathon, 10 km and 5 km.

Athletics Road Running
Road Running

The marathon is featured in all the World Championships in athletics as well as the summer Olympics. Additionally, the World Marathon Majors are held every year. It includes the five most prestigious marathon competitions at the elite level. The Berlin, Boston, Chicago, London, and New York City marathons.

Cross Country Running

Cross country running is the most naturalistic sporting event when it comes to athletics. All the competitions are held outside on surfaces like grass, woodland trails, and earth. It is both an individual and team sport. The runners are judged on an individual basis. For the teams, a points scoring method is used. Competitions are typically long distance races of 4 km or more, usually held in autumn and winter. Cross country’s most successful athletes often compete in long-distance track and road events as well.

Cross country running was a part of the Olympics for several years; however, they were removed from the program. The highest level of competition in cross country are the IAAF World Cross Country Championships.


Racewalking is a form of competitive walking that usually takes place on open-air roads, although running tracks are also occasionally used. This is the only only sport in athletics in which judges monitor athletes on their technique. Athletes must always have a foot in contact with the ground and their advancing leg must be straightened, not bent at the knee. If these rules are not followed, disqualification can occur.

The highest level racewalking competitions occur at the IAAF World Championships. They are also present at the Summer Olympics, although the sport also has its own separate major competition. Its known as the IAAF World Race Walking Cup – which has been held since 1961.

Athletics Organisations and Tournaments

The international governing body for athletics is known as IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations). It was founded in 1912 and it was initially known as an international amateur federation. The sport moved from amateurism to professionalism somewhere around 1970.

The IAAF has 215 member nations and territories, which are divided into six continental areas. The six association areas are Asia, Africa, Europe, Oceania, North America and South America. However, the sports within athletics do not have their own independent governing bodies. They all fall under the athletics authorities. To learn more about IAAF, check their official website. There are national level organisations as well. They are in charge of the athletics competitions within their countries.


International Association of Athletics Federations Logo

When it comes to competitions, they can be divided in three types. International competitions, national competitions, and annual meetings and races. Nevertheless, these competitions usually refer to just one sport in athletics. However, there are major international competitions which are multi-sport events. They feature a combination of track and field, road running and racewalking events.


The biggest and most important competition in athletics are the Olympic Games. All of the four above mentioned main sports are a part of summer Olympics. It was first held in 1896 and has been growing strong ever since. There are 47 athletic events within the Olympics. Keep in mind that these competitions are divided in men’s and woman’s divisions. For instance, out of the 47 events in the Olympics, 24 are men’s and 23 are women’s.

Other than the Olympics, the second biggest competition in athletics are the World Championships. They are the primary events organised and held by the IAAF. The first time they were held was in 1983. These tournaments have a program similar to the one in the Olympics.

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