Despite having spent hours and hours watching (and participating in) every track event available to high schoolers, I still get confused about how they all work. There are just so many events. So, to aid you in resolving your (and well as my own) confusion, I have created a guide to the track and field events.
Let’s start off with what most people think of when one says track: Sprinting. Sprints are probably the most straightforward of the events, only consisting of running as fast as you can for a short distance. There are three main sprinting events: the 100m, the 200m, and the 400m. The names of the events referring to the distance being run, in meters. Sprinting events are scored by time, the lowest time being the best. Easy enough.
Moving on to more running, the distance running goal, just like sprinting, is to run as fast as you can, only for longer distances. The high school distance events consist of the 800m, the 1500m, and 3000m. Other distance events offered outside of high school include the 5000m, the 10,000m, and the marathon. Distance running events are scored in the same manner as sprinting events.
The rest of the running-only events are relay races. A team of four runners each run a certain distance, and the time recorded is that of all four teammates combined. Usually, all runners run the same distance. These distances include the 4x100m (everyone runs 100 meters), the 4x200m (everyone runs 200 meters), the 4x400m (everyone runs 400 meters), and the 4x800m (everyone runs 800 meters). There is also a race known as the distance medley relay, in which four people each run one of four distances: 400m, 800m, 1200m, and 1600m.
Starting off the field events, there are four activities in the jumping category: the long jump, triple jump, high jump, and pole vault. The long jump consists of running along a small piece of track and using a single jump to propel oneself as far as possible into a pit of sand. Triple jump is a very similar event, except instead of only one jump, athletes perform a hop (taking off and landing on the same foot), a step (taking off on one foot and landing on the other), and a jump (jumping off one foot and landing the pit). Both triple and long jump are scored by measuring from the place taken off (usually a line or board on the track) to the closest place landed in the sand. High jump consists of a running start and then jumping vertically over a bar while attempting not to knock it over. The bar is moved up higher and higher throughout the event until no athlete can make it over. The person who jumps over the bar at its highest is the victor. Similarly, pole vault consists of the same buildup and scoring, except instead of their own two feet, athletes use a flexible stick to vault themselves through the air and over the bar.
The next field events are the throwing events, which include shot put, discus, javelin, and hammer throw. The main goal of throwing events is to throw something heavy as far as you can, but each one is a little different. Shot put is the throwing of a 7.26kg (men) or 4kg (women) sphere as far as one can. Discus consists of throwing a disk (somewhat like a heavy frisbee) that weighs 2kg (men) or 1kg (women). Javelin is the throwing of a spear that must be at least 260 cm long and weigh at least 800 grams (men) or at least 22 cm long and 600 grams weight (women). Finally, the hammer throw consists of hurling a 7.26kg (men) and 4kg (women) ball as far as possible. The difference between this and shot put however, is that the ball is attached to a steel wire to aid with throwing and grip. The hammer throw is not a high school event. All throwing events are scored on distance (the farthest throw being the best).
Finally, there are what I will call the “others.” Events that don’t quite fit under any of the previous categories. These include the decathlon, heptathlon, and the steeplechase. The decathlon is an event in which a medley of ten track and field events are performed by a single person over the span of two competition days. These events include the 100m sprint, long jump, shot put, high jump, 400m sprint, 100/110m hurdles, discus throw, pole vault, javelin throw, and 1,500m distance run. The decathlon is scored by winning points in each event (with the highest scores awarded to the best competitor), and the winner is decided by a tally of these points at the end to determine who has received the most. The heptathlon is similar to the decathlon, in that it is composed of various different track and field events, only there are seven as opposed to ten. The men’s heptathlon events are: 60m sprint, long jump, shotput, high jump, 60m hurdles, pole vault, and 1000m run. The women’s events include: 100m hurdles, high jump, shotput, 200m sprint, long jump, javelin throw, and 800m run. The heptathlon is scored the same as the decathlon. Lastly, steeplechase is a distance running and obstacle course-like event in which athletes run a distance of 3,000m (occasionally 2000 and 1000m). In addition to the run, steeplechasers must navigate fences, open ditches, and water filled ditches.
With the Portland Public School all-district track meet coming up on May 9-12, look out for most of these events performed by athletes from your local school, now that you never have to be confused during a track meet again.