The history of track and field is a long one. Its origin can be traced back to the Ancient Olympic Games back in 776 BC. But before you learn about this particular history, let us define what this sport is all about.
About track and field
Track and field is a type of sport that requires athletes to have superb skills in running, jumping, and throwing. The sport is called as such because of the venue where everything happens – in a stadium. This venue has an oval track for running and it goes around a grassy field in the centre where the jumping and throwing can happen.
There are several games incorporated under the track and field sporting event. In running, you have sprints, race walking, hurdling, and middle and long-distance events. In these events, the winner is determined by the fastest athlete. In jumping, you have the long jump, high jump, pole vault, and triple jump. In throwing, the events include javelin, hammer, shot put, and discus. For jumping and throwing events, the winner is defined by either distance or height.
Usually, track and field come in combined events that are usually named based on how many events there are (e.g. decathlon for 10 events, pentathlon for 5 events, etc). It is typically divided into genders – having versions for both male and female athletes.
Track and field history
Now, what can we learn about the history of track and field? As mentioned, it is believed that it can be traced back to 776 BC during the Ancient Olympic Games. A cook from the city of Elis named Koroibos is believed to be the first winner of the stadium race after completing a foot race over a length of 600 feet. There was evidence of literary works that revealed how track and field were already in existence before this time.
While the marathon seems like one of the most important events in modern-day track and field, that was not always the case during the ancient times. In fact, it was not an event when all of this started. It was only during 1896 that the marathon became an event in the Modern Olympic Games. The first marathon was a race from the northeast part of Athens and all the way to the Olympic Stadium. It is a total of 42.195 kilometres long. This particular event commemorates the ancient day runner who goes by the name of Pheidippides. It is believed that he was the one who brought the news that the Persians landed in 490 BC to Sparta. The distance of this run was 149 miles – from Marathon, Greece to Sparta.
In modern day marathons, the distance was standardised to 26 miles and 385 yards – or 42.195 kilometres. This began in 1908 when the Olympic games were held in London.
Since 776 BC, the Olympic Games happened every 4 years – and nothing has changed for almost 12 centuries. One by one, events were added and track and field slowly evolved to its modern-day version. So far, the events included stadion, dolichos, and diaulos – three foot race events. It also has the pentathlon (javelin, discus, wrestling, foot race, and long jump), pankration, hoplitodromos, pale, and pugme. Equestrian events were also added eventually.
In the United States, the history of track and field started from the 1860s. Then, in 1873, the Intercollegiate Association of Amateur Athletes of America held the first race. In 1888, the first championships were held by the Amateur Athletic Union.
During its early years, track and field were considered an amateur sport. That means athletes are not allowed to accept training money or ever cash prizes. If they violate this rule, they will be stripped of their victories and awards. That was what happened to Jim Thorpe in 1913. He played semi-professional baseball and was stripped of this Olympic victories in both the pentathlon and decathlon.
By the 1920’s the history of track and field showed its gaining popularity. By 1928 both men and women can participate in the Olympic Games. However, it was only in 1970 when the women athletes were really able to gain real acceptance in the world of track and field.
In 1952, even the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) sent their own representatives to the Olympic Summer Games in Finland. This started the rivalry between the two over the next 30 years.
Over the years, the history of track and field continued to gain prominence and popularity. Soon, new rules, regulations, and practises have made it one of the most competitive sport in the Olympics.