Olympic track and field events, also known as Athletics, have been around since the inception of the Olympic Games. There’s actually recorded evidence dating back to 776 BC of a “stadium” race at the ancient Olympics where athletes competed in an approximately 192-meter sprint.
As society evolved, so did the sports, and things like javelin throwing, longer runs and the long jump were introduced.
Today, Olympic track and field events are a highlight of the games. Held during the last ten days, over 2000 athletes from 200 countries will compete in 47 separate events, all chasing the coveted gold medal.
Your Ultimate Guide to Rio 2016 Olympic Track and Field Events
Most of the Olympic track and field events happen in the Olympic Stadium, which also house the 2017 Pan American Games beginning on August 12. With multiple events happening at once — some athletes on the track while others are competing on the field — the atmosphere is dynamic, explosive and a can’t miss experience. Here’s what you’ll see athletes competing in at the Stadium.
- 10,000m Men and Women
- Men and women compete individually in this running event that includes 25 laps around the Olympic track and totals just over 6.2 miles.
- As this is considered a long-distance running event, second in length only to the marathon, the event is done as a one-time winner take all event, rather than in qualifying heats like most of the other running events during the week.
- The US has some notable athletes competing in Rio in 2016, including the current American record holder Galen Rupp.
- 100M Men and Women
- A sprinting event, the 100m run is one of the most prestigious events at the Games.
- World record holder and two-time gold medalist Usain Bolt will be back to defend his title.
- 110m Hurdles Men
- Men compete in this 110m sprint event where they negotiate 10 separate 3-foot 7-inch hurdles over the distance.
- In Rio, Oregon wide receiver Devon Allen will compete for the US men, qualifying in early July with a finish time of 13.03 seconds.
- 100m Hurdles Women
- Just like the men, the women hurdle 10 barriers, theirs 2 feet 9-inches tall over the distance of 100 meters.
- Brianna Rollins, Kristi Caslin and Nia Ali will compete for Team USA in Rio.
- New world record holder Kendra Harrison broke the 100M Hurdle record just after missing out on an Olympic slot for team USA at the qualifier.
- 200m Men and Women
- Similar to the 100m sprint, in this event men and women complete individually to clock the fastest time over a distance of 200m on the track.
- Also held as an elimination event, runners will compete in heats with the fastest advancing through semi-finals and finals before the medals are awarded.
- For the US, Justin Gatlin is a top competitor, finishing second just behind Usain Bolt at the 2015 World Championships.
- On the women’s side, 200m U.S. Champion at the 2015 Games Jenna Prandini is one to watch.
- 3,000m Steeplechase Men and Women
- Steeplechase is kind of like the original obstacle course race. The seven-loop course consists of four barriers — three hurdles (measuring 36 inches tall for men and 30 inches tall for women), and one water jump that includes a barrier with a pit of water after the jump.
- Unlike hurdles, the barriers are solid and won’t fall over. Athletes can negotiate them however they please, including by stepping on them.
- Over the course of the race, athletes will clear 28 of the ordinary barriers and 7 jumps over the water, making this one messy and really fun to watch.
- Current American record holder (who has actually broken the record twice) Evan Jager is returning to the 2016 Games in Rio in search of a Steeplechase gold medal.
- Five-time national champion and the Women’s American Record Holder Emma Coburn is also returning to the Games this year. When she competed in 2012, she finished 9th and was the youngest athlete in the field. It will be exciting to see what she brings to the table with her additional four years of experience in the sport.
- 400m Hurdles Men and Women
- The event includes one full lap around the Olympic track whereby athletes clear 10 hurdles. Men’s are 36 inches tall and women’s are 30 inches.
- Three-time Olympian Kerron Clement who won silver in 2008 is heading to Rio to compete in the event this year for the US men.
- Sydney McLaughlin made headlines as the youngest competitor to make Team USA this year. At 16 years old, she’s heading to Rio to compete in the 400m hurdles event.
- 400m Men and Women
- This one-lap track sprint event for men and women is always a showstopper.
- The race is done in a heat format, with qualifying, semi-final, and final races to determine the fastest athlete.
- This will be the first Olympics that Team USA’s Allyson Felix races for gold in the 400m distance. With a Gold medal under her belt at 200m, and also in the 4×400 relay events from previous games, she’s a favorite to win this event.
- Returning Olympian LaShawn Merritt is also looking to add another gold to his collection. He qualified to race at both the 200m and 400m distances, and should he win both he will be the first man since Michael Johnson to do so.
- 4x100m Relay Men and Women
- This event is a team event where four athletes each complete a 100-meter sprint before handing their baton off to a teammate within a 20-meter changeover area. Together, they do one complete lap of the track.
- 4x400M Relay Men and Women
- Similar to the 4x100m relay, this team is also comprised of 4 runners who exchange batons, only at a 400m (or one lap around the track) distance.
- You’ll often see athletes who race the individual distance also race the relay distance, and here we will see LeShawn Merrit for the men and Allyson Felix as part of the women’s relay teams.
- 5,000M Men and Women
- This event, also known as a 5K run, covers a distance of 3.1 miles or 12.5 laps around the Olympic track.
- While it is considered a distance running event, the 5000m race is done in two rounds. Athletes will run a qualifying round, and the fastest will advance to the final several days later.
- 800M Men and Women
- The 800m event is considered a middle-distance running event where competitors will complete two laps (just under 1/2 of a mile) around the Olympic track.
- This is done in heats, with a qualifying, semi-final, and a final round with only the fastest competitors.
- The US is bringing an entirely new line-up to this event this year. All first-time Olympic competitors, the men will be represented by Boris Berian, Charles Jock and Clayton Murphy and the women’s team is made up of Kate Grace, Chrishuna Williams and Ajee’ Wilson.
- Decathlon Men
- The Olympic Decathlon consists of ten total events spread over two days where athletes compete for gold and to achieve the title of “Worlds Greatest Athlete.”
- On Day 1, Olympians will compete in the 100 meters, long jump, shot put, high jump and 400-meter events.
- On Day 2 the events are the 110 meters hurdles, discus throw, pole vault, javelin throw and 1500-meter race.
- 2012 Gold medalist Ashton Eaton will be back in Rio in 2016 to defend his medal for Team USA.
- Heptathlon Women
- Similar to the Decathlon event for men, this seven-event track and field series of trials is held over two days. Points are awarded based on finishes in each event, and at the end of the competition, medals are awarded to the women with the most points.
- On day 1, the women compete in the 100-meter hurdles, high jump, shot put and a 200-meter foot race.
- Day 2 concludes with the long jump, javelin throw and an 800-meter run.
- Beginning her collegiate career as a hurdler, Brenda Nwaba soon realized she had a great many strengths and began competing in Heptathlon. She won at the 2015 US Nationals, and will be at the Olympics in Rio for her first time.
- Discus Throw Men and Women
- Men throw a discus weighing 2 kilograms, women a 1 kilogram projectile, down the field aiming to go farther than their competitors.
- This event is broken into two heats with the top competitors advancing to the final round.
- Our discus throw teams for 2016 are all new blood to the Olympics. Represented on the women’s side by Whitney Ashley, Kelsey Card and Shelbi Vaughan, and the men’s side by Travis Bailey, Andrew Evans and Mason Finley.
- Hammer Throw Men and Women
- The second of four throwing events at the Olympics, the Hammer Throw is one of the oldest, seen in the Games in 1900.
- Men’s hammers weigh 16 pounds and are 3 feet 11 3/4 inches long. Women’s hammers are 8.84 pounds and 3 feet 11 inches long.
- The goal of the event is to throw your hammer the farthest which is achieved through a combination of swinging and rotations before letting it fly.
- Kibwe Johnson won the Pan American games for the event in 2015 and will be representing Team USA in Rio for the men, and Amber Campbell will be returning to Rio in 2016 for her third Olympic Games in the sport.
- High Jump Men and Women
- In this event, men and women are required to jump as high as they can without any springboard or assistance over a horizontal bar placed at a measured height without knocking the bar over.
- The world record for men is clearing 7 feet 10 inches, and women are at 6 feet 10 1/4 inches.
- Vashti Cunningham, daughter of high jumper turned former NFL-pro Randall Cunningham, will compete for the women of Team USA in the event this year.
- Returning Olympian and 2012 silver medalist Erik Kynard will be going for gold in Rio this year.
- Javelin Throw Men and Women
- The Javelin Throw is the third of the Olympic throwing events and the only one in which the technique of the athletes will be mostly the same as there are rules against any unorthodox methods. The Javelin must be held by the grip, and once thrown land tip-first for the throw to count.
- The size and weight of the Javelin can vary slightly. Men’s must weigh at least 800g and be 2.6m-2.7m long. Women’s must weigh 600g and be 2.2m-2.3m long.
- Javelin hasn’t traditionally been a strong sport for Team USA, but the woman with the highest finish in US history is returning this year, Brittany Borman.
- Long Jump Men and Women
- The Long Jump event, also known as the broad jump, is where men and women get a running head start and take off from a set point to attempt to travel the farthest. Each athlete is given three attempts to make their jump.
- At the Olympics, there will be a qualifying and final round where the strongest athletes will advance to compete for medals.
- Jeff Henderson, winner of the Long Jump event at the 2014 U.S. Championships and 2015 Pan American Games, will be competing for the US in Rio this summer.
- Tianna Bartoletta is an accomplished athlete, winning the gold as part of the 4x100m Olympic team in 2012, and competing for the USA bobsled national team. She will be representing team USA at the Games this year.
- Pole Vault Men and Women
- Competitors take off running while holding their pole, then jam it into the “stop box” in the ground to gain momentum and attempt to clear a 4.5-meter long horizontal bar set at a distance from the ground.
- Competitors get up to three attempts per height. Missing three times eliminates the competitor from competition. At the Olympics, there are qualifying and final rounds with the highest recorded vaults in the finals winning the medals.
- Jenn Suhr, known as the face of women’s pole vaulting in the US, will be defending her gold medal at the Games this year.
- Shot Put Men and Women
- When it comes to describing this event, the IAAF does it best. They say “The shot, a metal ball (7.26kg/16lb for men, 4kg/8.8lb for women), is put – not thrown – with one hand. The aim is to put it as far as possible from a seven-foot diameter (2.135m) circle that has a curved 10-centimetre high toe-board at the front.”
- All-American and reigning shot put world champion Joe Kovacs just missed out on attending the Olympic Games in 2012, placing fourth in the event at the trials. That didn’t stop him from coming back, and securing his spot on Team USA for Rio this summer.
- Triple Jump Men and Women
- Watching the Triple Jump is sort of like watching an athlete bound across the field like a gazelle. From a technical standpoint, the athlete sprints down the runway then launches off from a wooden board. The take-off is called the hop (i.e. the first jump), next is the step where the opposite foot of the take-off foot comes forward (i.e. the second jump), and finally, the athlete launches themselves forward into the sandpit.
- The distance of the jump is measured from the board to the nearest mark in the sandpit to calculate the total.
- The men’s world record in this event is over 18 meters, and the women’s is over 15 meters.
- Will Claye is one heck of a jumper, and in the 2012 Olympics, he medaled in both the long jump and triple jump. He’ll be back to try to do again for Team USA in Rio.
Located beachside in western Rio di Jenario, Pontal will serve as the start and finish line for the long-distance men’s and women’s race walk events.
Men’s 20km race walk
Men’s 50 km race walk
- Returning Olympian John Nunn will be competing at the Games for his third time in this event in Rio.
Women’s 20k race walk
- The women will be represented in this event by Americans Miranda Melville and Maria Michta-Coffey.
- Just missing out on the 2012 Olympics by finishing 4th at the trials didn’t derail American Amy Cragg from reaching her goal. In 2016 she won the marathon trials and secured her spot in Rio with a 33 second lead over her competitors.
- Shalane Flanagan is returning for another Olympics Games. An accomplished athlete at long-distance racing at 10,000, 3,000 and 5,000 meters, this will be her Olympic Marathon debut.
- In her second Olympics, Desiree (Desi) Linden hopes for a better result than in 2012. Due to an injury at her first Games, she wasn’t able to finish the race, but with a second-place qualifying finish, she is back stronger than ever for the event this year.
- One of the most decorated marathon runners of all time in the US, Meb Keflezighi, will be returning for his fourth Olympic Games this year. At 41 years old, he will be the oldest Olympic runner the US has ever had compete in the marathon.
- Galen Rupp has made a name for himself in distance racing, winning a medal in London in 2012 at the 10,000m distance. In his debut marathon performance at the US Olympic Trials, he won the race, solidifying his place in Rio in 2016.
- Third-place marathon trial finisher Jared Ward rounds out the team representing the US men in Rio.