Olympic Games 2012: Athletics

The London 2012 Athletic events will take place at the Olympic Stadium in the Olympic Park

One of the most popular sports that will feature at the London 2012 Olympic Games is also the biggest: Athletics features 2,000 athletes running, walking, jumping and throwing for gold in 47 events.

Athletics is the perfect expression of the Olympic motto ‘Citius, Altius, Fortius’ (‘Faster, Higher, Stronger’) – the competition requires athletes to run faster, throw further, jump higher and leap longer than their rivals.
For London 2012, all non-road Athletics events will be held at the Olympic Stadium in the new Olympic Park. This state-of-the-art venue, which will have a capacity of 80,000 during the Games, will also host the Opening and Closing Ceremonies.

The Olympic Games begun at Olympia in Greece in 776 BC. The Greek calendar was based on the Olympiad, the four-year period between games. The games were staged in the wooded valley of Olympia in Elis. Here the Greeks erected statues and built temples in a grove dedicated to Zeus, supreme among the gods. The greatest shrine was an ivory and gold statue of Zeus. Created by the sculptor Phidias, it was considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Scholars have speculated that the games in 776 BC were not the first games, but rather the first games held after they were organized into festivals held every four years as a result of a peace agreement between the city-states of Elis and Pisa. The Eleans traced the founding of the Olympic games to their King Iphitos, who was told by the Delphi Oracle to plant the olive tree from which the victors' wreaths were made.


However athletic contests in running, walking, jumping, and throwing are among the oldest of all sports and their roots are prehistoric. Athletics events were depicted in the Ancient Egyptian tombs in Saqqara, with illustrations of running at the Heb Sed festival and high jumping appearing in tombs from as early as of 2250 BC. The Tailteann Games were an ancient Celtic festival in Ireland, founded around 1800 BC, and the thirty-day meeting included running and stone-throwing among its sporting events. The original and only event at the first Olympics in 776 BC was a stadium-length running event known as the stadion. This later expanded to include throwing and jumping events within the ancient pentathlon. Athletics competitions also took place at other Panhellenic Games, which were founded later around 500 BC.


The Cotswold Olimpick Games, a sports festival which emerged in 17th century England, also featured athletics in the form of sledgehammer throwing contests. Annually, from 1796 to 1798, L'Olympiade de la République was held in revolutionary France, and is an early forerunner to the modern summer Olympic Games. The premier event of this competition was a running event, but various ancient Greek disciplines were also on display. The 1796 Olympiade marks the introduction of the metric system into sport.

The ancient Olympic Games featured the ‘stadium’ race, a sprint of roughly 192 metres. Winners in this event have been recorded as far back as 776 BC. The first modern Olympic Games in 1896 included a Marathon, which was designed specifically to pay homage to Ancient Greece.

At the 1908 Olympics in London, the race’s distance was extended from around 25 miles to 26.2 miles (42.195 kilometres) so that it finished in front of the Royal Box. This distance became standard for the Marathon and is still used today.

The Basics
There are four main strands to the Athletics competition: track events, such as the 100m; field events, which include the High Jump and the Shot Put; combined events such as the Decathlon, a mix of track and field elements; and road events, among them the Marathon.


Staged in the brand new Olympic Stadium, the 24 track events (12 for men, 12 for women) will be held over distances ranging from 100m to 10,000m. Some events will also feature obstacles to negotiate, as in the 400m Hurdles and the 3000m Steeplechase. The majority of track events begin with one or more rounds of heats, with the best athletes eventually qualifying for the final.

The 16 field events fall into two categories: four throwing events for both men and women, namely the Shot Put, Javelin, Discus and Hammer, and four jumping events, also for both men and women. In the High Jump and the Pole Vault, athletes aim to jump higher than their rivals; in the Long Jump and Triple Jump, they try to jump further. Field events at the Games start with a qualification stage, with the best athletes qualifying for the final.


There are the two combined events: Decathlon for men and Heptathlon for women. During each competition, athletes take part in a range of running, jumping and throwing elements (10 for men, seven for women), with points awarded for their performances in each.

Finaly there will be five road events on the Athletics programme at the London 2012 Olympic Games: the men’s and women’s Marathons (12 and 5 August respectively), the men’s and women’s 20km Race Walks (4 and 11 August respectively), and the men’s 50km Race Walk (11 August). All five road events will be held on the streets of Central London, finishing at The Mall. There are no heats: all road events consist of a single race.


The Format

The running and walking disciplines are staged over events ranging from 100m to 50km. Besides the marathon and race walk events, held on the road, the running will take place on a 400m oval track inside London’s Olympic stadium - which, we can now say with certainty, will remain after the London 2012 Games. While the majority of races are on the flat, the hurdles and steeplechase competitions require athletes to jump over barriers en route to the finish line.

Events / disciplines
Men’s 100 metres, women’s 100 metres
Men’s 200 metres, women’s 200 metres
Men’s 400 metres, women’s 400 metres
Men’s 4 x 100 metre relay, women’s 4 x 100 metre relay
Men’s 4 x 400 metre relay, women’s 4 x 400 metre relay


Men’s 800 metres, women’s 800 metres
Men’s 1,500 metres, women’s 1,500 metres
Men’s 5,000 metres, women’s 5,000 metres
Men’s 10,000 metres, women’s 10,000 metres


Men’s 3,000 metre steeplechase, women’s 3,000 metre steeplechase
Men’s 110 metre hurdles, women’s 100 metre hurdles
Men’s 400 metre hurdles, women’s 400 metre hurdles


Men’s 20k race walk, women’s 20k race walk
Men’s 50 km race walk
Men’s marathon, women’s marathon

In long jump, athletes sprint down a runway before propelling themselves as far as possible into a sand pit.Triple jump is similar in form, although competitors have to complete a hop and a step before completing the jump. Smooth transitions are essential.For the high jump, the object is to leap over a bar that is then raised with each successful attempt. Three attempts are possible at every stage and the winner is the athlete who arches over the bar at the greatest height. Pole vault adheres to the same rules, but here competitors must use a long, flexible pole to launch themselves higher into the air.

Men’s long jump, women’s long jump
Men’s triple jump, women’s triple jump

Men’s high jump, women’s high jump
Men’s pole vault, women’s pole vault

The throws are divided into javelin, shot put, discus and hammer.Athletes are given six attempts to throw the object as far as possible into a field. A delicate balance of speed, technique and explosive power is needed.

Events / disciplines
Men’s hammer, women’s hammer
Men’s shot put, women’s shot put

Men’s javelin, women’ javelin
Men’s discus, women’s discus

Men’s decathlon
Day 1: 100 Meters, Long Jump, Shot Put, High Jump, 400 Meters
Day 2: 110 Meters Hurdels, Discus Throw, Pole Vault, Javelin Trow, 1500 Meters

Women’s heptathlon
Day 1: 100 Meters Hurdles, High Jump, Shot Put, 200 Meters
Day 2: Long Jump, Javelin Throw, 800 Meters

Key Facts

Venues: Olympic Stadium (Track, Field and Combined Events)
The Mall (Marathon, Race Walking)

Dates: Friday 3 August – Sunday 12 August

Medal events: 47

Athletes: 2,000