28 November 2021

London 2012: Bluffer’s guide to athletics

July 18, 2012
London 2012: Bluffer's guide to athletics

Athletics serves as the perfect encapsulation of the Olympic motto, Citius, Altius, Fortius which means ‘Faster, Higher, Stronger’.

While the concept of most athletics events is simple, running faster, throwing further or jumping a greater distance, the winning margins can be tiny.

There are four main strands to the athletics competition, track events which are divided into sprints, middle distance and long distance events, as well as those that include obstacles such as the hurdles and steeplechase.

Then there are the field events which can be divided into throwing (for example shot put) and jumping (for example high jump).

There are also combined events which are a combination of both track and field such as the heptathlon which includes seven events and finally there are road events which include the marathon and race walks.

Date: August 3 – 12 (track and field), August 5 – 11 (marathon and race walk)

Venue: Olympic Stadium (track and field), The Mall (marathon and race walk)

Basic rules and jargon buster


The running and walking disciplines are staged over events ranging from 100m to 50km.

Besides the marathon and race walk events which are held on the road, the running will take place on a 400m oval track inside London’s Olympic stadium where the finish line is at the end of the ‘home straight’.

While the majority of races are on the flat, the hurdles and steeplechase competitions require athletes to jump over obstacles as they race it out to the finish line.

Jargon buster

Anchor: The last runner in a relay race.

Sprint: Technically defined as a race of 400m or under.

Heat: An early race of an event, where the top finishers (usually the top three or four, plus fastest losers) advance to the finals or semi-finals of the competition.


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.

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.

And finally the Pole vault adheres to the same rules, but here competitors must use a long, flexible pole to launch themselves higher into the air.

Jargon buster

Fosbury flop: A style of high-jumping – named after the man who perfected it, American Dick Fosbury, where the athlete clears the bar facing upwards and lands with his or her back on the mat.

Take-off board: The board long and triple jumpers jump sprint towards and jump from.

Box: A three sided box where vaulters plant their poles as they attempt to clear the bar.


The throws are divided into javelin, shot put, discus and hammer and the athletes are given six attempts to throw the object as far as possible into a field.

Jargon buster

Rhythm: The flow of the athlete while progressing through the motion of throwing.

Orbit: The path of the object thrown.

Throwing circle: The circle that athletes must not exit while attempting a discuss or hammer throw.

One to watch

There are so many great athletes on the GB athletics team this year we think it’s hard to narrow it down!

But if we had to we’d say, the women’s 400m defending Olympic champion Christine Ohuruogu (pictured) has a great chance of reclaiming her medal. She is also the former World and Commonwealth Games Champion.

And in the heptathlon event, Jessica Ennis is a definite favourite for winning gold this year. With two gold World Championships medals under her belt and with as many silvers, plus a gold in the European Championships, two bronze Commonwealth Games and a world number one ranking, she will be exciting to watch this summer.

Olympics athletics fact

There will be 510 adjustable hurdles used for the athletics competition.

The Women’s Sports Magazine

Image credit: Aviva

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