Athletics, also called track-and-field sports or track and field, a variety of competitions in running, walking, jumping, and throwing events. Although these contests are called track and field (or simply track) in the United States, they are generally designated as athletics elsewhere. This article covers the history, the organization, and the administration of the sports, the conduct of competitions, the rules and techniques of the individual events, and some of the sports’ most prominent athletes.
Track-and-field athletics are the oldest forms of organized sport, having developed out of the most basic human activities—running, walking, jumping, and throwing. Athletics have become the most truly international of sports, with nearly every country in the world engaging in some form of competition. Most nations send teams of men and women to the quadrennial Olympic Games and to the official World Championships of track and field. There also are several continental and intercontinental championship meets held, including the European, Commonwealth, African, Pan-American, and Asian.
Within the broad title of athletics come as many as two dozen distinct events. These events, generally held outdoors, make up a meet. The outdoor running events are held on a 400-metre or 440-yard oval track, and field events (jumping and throwing) are held either inside the track’s perimeter or in adjacent areas.
In many parts of the world, notably the United States, Canada, and Europe, the sport moves indoors during the winter; because of limited space, some events are modified and several are eliminated altogether.
Also within the general scope of track-and-field athletics come separate but related competitions that are not contested on the track. Cross-country running competition is carried out on various types of countryside and parkland. Marathons and races of other long distances are run on roads, and the long-distance race walks are contested on measured road courses. The rules followed by all organized competitions are established and enforced by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and its member body from each nation. The IAAF also ratifies all world records.