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Track & Field Rules & Regulations

In short, the objective of track and field is simple: Throw the farthest, jump the longest, jump the highest, or run the fastest. Track and field is competed both at a team and individual level. In team competitions, individuals score points by placing highly in their respective events. Each meet will have a different scoring system and number of athletes who can score in each event. Commonly, the top six or top eight athletes in each event will score points. The number of points received is based on placement. First place earns the most points, then second, etc.

Not all meets are scored. In unscored meets, setting a strong mark or placing high in the event is still valued, but not quantified with points. Some of the world’s top competitions are unscored. Scored meets are typically those deemed “championship-style,” meaning that the competition is to determine the best athletes within a pool of eligibility.

Seasons

There are two seasons in track and field. The indoor season goes from the end of December to March, and outdoor runs from the end of March to August. Indoor tracks are usually 200 meters (m) around, while outdoor tracks are 400m. Outdoor track competitions typically hold more events. There are also more meets held during the outdoor season. As a result, outdoor is usually considered more significant than its indoor counterpart.

The Events

Track Events

Sprints: Sprints (or dashes) are the fastest events on the track and test the pure speed of the runner. Sprint races include the: 60m (indoor), 100m, 200m, and 400m. The hurdle events are also considered sprints. Hurdles include the 60m (indoor), 100m (women), 110m (men), 300m (high school) and the 400m. Runners must stay in their lanes at all times during these races.

Mid-Distance: These races go more than one time around a 400m track. The mid-distance races are: The 800m, 1,500m, 1 mile or 2 mile, and 3,000m. Often included here is the 3,000m steeplechase.

Long Distance: The long distance races are the 5,000m and 10,000m. Though traditionally considered endurance events, these events have increasingly requiring high levels of speed, especially at top levels of competition.

Hurdles: Hurdle races are sprints in which an athlete must jump 10 barriers, called hurdles, over the course of the race. The height of the hurdle varies by race.

Relays: Relays enhance the team atmosphere of track and field. Four runners make up one relay team. Each member takes the baton a specified distance around the track before handing it off in set exchange zones. In most relays, each member of the team runs the same distance. The medley relays, however, are made up of four legs of different distance. These require greater athletic diversity and strategy. In both cases, the goal is to be the first team to get the baton across the finish line. Common relay races include: The 4x100, 4x400, 4x200, 4x800, sprint medley (SMR), and the distance medley (DMR).

Throws

Shot Put: A throwing event in which the athlete must throw a heavy metal ball as far as possible, without stepping out of the throwing ring. The weight of the shot depends on age of the competitor.

Discus: A throwing event where a disc-shaped object is thrown by the competitor from a throwing circle. Weight and size of the discus depends on the age of the competitor.

Hammer: In this throwing event, a heavy metal ball is attached by wire to and handle. The athlete, holding the handle, spins the whole implement around his body, timing the release to launch the hammer as far as possible.

Javelin: This event requires the athlete to throw a spear-like object across the field. This is the only throwing event where the competitor is allowed to run to gain power and momentum before the throw.

Jumps

High Jump: In the high jump, an athlete demonstrates how high he can jump vertically by clearing a bar (in any unaided manner). The athlete must takeoff on only one foot.

Long Jump: In the long jump, the athlete begins with a running start and must jump as far as possible (without crossing over a foul line).

Triple Jump: The triple jump is a hop, a step or skip, and a third jump into a sand pit. The athlete’s jump is measured from the board at the first takeoff.

Pole Vault: The pole vault requires an athlete to use a long pole to power himself over a crossbar without knocking over the bar.

Multi-Events

Heptathlon: This event is usually contested by women during the outdoor season. The athlete competes in seven events over a period of two consecutive days. The events in the first day include: The 100m hurdles, high jump, shot put, and 200m. The second day features: The long jump, javelin and 800m.

Decathlon: This event is usually contested by men during the outdoor season. Here, the athlete competes in 10 events over a period of two consecutive days. The first day features: The 100m, long jump, shot put, high jump, and 400m. The second day features: The 110m hurdles, discus, pole vault, javelin, and 1500m.

The Rules of Track & Field

The International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF) is the global governing body of track and field. Within each country and city are divisions and leagues which may also have specific rules the athletes must follow. Listed here are the general rules of the sport. For more specific explanations, consult your governing body’s website or rulebook.

Competitor Check-In

  1. All participants must report to the clerk of the course prior to the event. A check-in time will be designated by the games committee.
  2. All field event competitors will report to the chief field judge of their respective events at the designated times.
  3. Most meets will require you to check in at least 30 minutes before your event. You will usually hear three calls to check in. The final call is the time you must report to your place of meeting.

Uniform & Footwear

  1. Athletes must wear clothing that is clean and worn so as not to be objectionable.
  2. Clothing cannot be transparent when wet and cannot obstruct the officials’ view.
  3. The front and back of an athlete’s vest must be the same color.
  4. Up to 11 spikes may be used in a shoe.
  5. On a synthetic surface, spikes cannot be more than 9 millimeters (mm) long. The high jump and the javelin are exception, where spikes must not be more than 12mm. These are merely maximums. Meet organizers can specify what length of spike they will allow on their track.
  6. In the high jump and long jump, the sole of the shoe will have a maximum thickness of 13mm. In the high jump, the sole will have a max thickness of 19mm. In all other events, shoes may be of any thickness.
  7. If a numbered bib is issued, it must be worn on the front of the athlete’s shirt. If two bibs are issued, one must be worn on the front and the other must be worn on the back. Pole vaulters and high jumpers may wear bibs only on the back if they prefer.

Assistance

  1. A coach can communicate with an athlete as long as the coach is not in the competition area. USA Track and Field (USATF) recommends that a place in the stands next to the field event be reserved for athlete’s coaches.
  2. Medical personnel can provide assistance to an athlete during an event.
  3. No attendant or competitor who is not actually taking part in a specific event can accompany an athlete on the mark or in competition.

Weather

  1. If there are extreme weather conditions, the referee has the power to change the location of the competition.

Track Events

Running Direction

  1. The direction of all running is counter-clockwise.

    Forming Heats 

  1. In individual races up to the 800m and in relays up to and including the 4x400m, the number of competitors on the track at the start will not exceed the number of lanes present.
  2. Athletes can advance to the next round by finishing in the top three in their heat or by time/overall place.
  3. In events of 1500m or longer, the games committee will determine the number of heats, the number of qualifiers, and the basis for qualification.
  4. Once the number of athletes for an event has been determined, the lanes have been assigned, and the referee has decided the number to qualify for the next round, additional athletes will not be permitted.

Starting Blocks

  1. Starting blocks are used to protect the track.
  2. The option of using the blocks will be available for races up to and including the 400m. They will be available for the lead-off leg of relays where that leg does not exceed 400m. Blocks cannot be used in any other race.
  3. If the starter says it is necessary, a block holder may hold the starting block for the athlete. The block holder must sit on the track and cannot make contact with the foot pads.
  4. The commands of the start of sprints are, “on your marks” and “set.” When all the athletes are “set,” the starting device shall be fired. In races longer than 400m, the command is “on your marks.” Once all athletes are still, the starting device shall be fired.

False Starts

  1. An athlete can choose to abort the start after the “on your marks” and “set” commands and before the firing of the starting device by raising his hand or standing up. The athlete may be warned for improper conduct by the referee if the action was determined to be inappropriate.
  2. A false start occurs when an athlete begins the starting motion after assuming a full or final set position before the firing of the starting device.
  3. If a competitor disturbs other athletes at the starting line, it may be considered a false start. Though frequently changed in recent past, the first false start results in disqualification from the race. If a starter isn’t satisfied that all competitors are ready to proceed with the race, he will order the competitors to “stand up.”

Timing

  1. There are four methods of official timing: Hand timing, fully automatic timing, video timing, and transponder timing.
  2. Fully automatic timing should be used as often as possible. There is no time adjustment necessary with fully automatic timing.
  3. Official time starts at the flash of the pistol or timing device, not the sound it makes.

Wind Measurement

  1. A wind gauge is used to measure how strong the wind is blowing during the race. It measures in meters per second (m/s), rounded up to the nearest tenth. For example, +3.03 m/s is recorded as +3.1 and -3.01 m/s is -3.0. The equipment must be certified by the IAAF.
  2. Wind velocity will affect the validity of records for races 200m and under, as well as the long and triple jump, but will not affect the scoring of a meet. If the wind velocity measures more than 2.00 m/s in the direction of running/jumping, the record will not be accepted.

Lanes

  1. On tracks that are 400m long, all competitors in races 400m and under (including hurdle races) must stay in their assigned lanes for the entire race.
  2. The 800m race may start in assigned lanes, but will merge at the break-line at the end of the first turn.
  3. Long-distance races may start at the arc or on a waterfall start.

Hurdles

  1. The height, distance from start, and distance between hurdles must be in compliance with the national or international standards.
  2. All races are run in lanes.
  3. Three things can disqualify a hurdler: Failing to jump a hurdle, trailing the leg/foot below the barrier of a hurdle at the moment of clearance, or deliberately knocking down a hurdle.

Steeplechase

  1. An athlete can be disqualified if he does not jump any hurdle, steps to one side of the hurdle, or trails the leg or foot below the barrier at the moment of clearance.

Relay Races

  1. In relays, athletes must pass the baton in the designated exchange zones. Failure to do so will result in disqualification.
  2. Exchange zones are 20m long.
  3. A dropped baton may be picked up as long as it does not disrupt another team or lessen the distance that needs to be covered.

Field Events

General Rules

  1. In all field events besides the high jump and pole vault:
    • The best distance out of all attempts will be counted.
    • With eight or more competitors, each athlete shall be allowed three trials. The top eight finishers (or nine if the track has enough lanes) will be allowed three additional trials.
    • If there are eight or fewer athletes (or nine if the track has enough lanes) all will be allowed six trials. In non-championship competitions and at the judgment of the games committee, the number of trials may be reduced to four.
  2. All throws and jumps must be measured immediately after each attempt.
  3. Distances in field events will be measured in meters. If the distance measured is not a whole centimeter, the number will be recorded to the nearest 0.01m below the distance.

High Jump

  1. The Games Committee will establish the qualifying height standard at the meet.
  2. The athlete will get three attempts to make the height.
  3. Once the athlete has achieved the qualifying standard, he will not jump that height again and must wait for the bar to be raised.
  4. If an athlete misses all three attempts at the height, he will not continue in the event.
  5. The posts cannot be moved during the competition unless the referee says the takeoff or landing pit is unsuitable.
  6. The athlete must take off from one foot.
  7. Ties will be broken in favor of the athlete with the fewest misses at the height at which the tie occurs. Further ties will be broken by the lowest number of total misses throughout the competition.
  8. If a tie remains after applying the above tiebreakers, and it concerns the winner of the competition, the stalemate will be broken by a jump off. The jump off height begins at the last clearance of the tied athletes. This height is raised if both athletes clear, and lowered if both miss. This shall continue until one athlete clears and the other does not.

Pole Vault

  1. The Games Committee will establish the qualifying height standard at the meet.
  2. The athlete will get three attempts to make the height.
  3. Once the athlete has achieved the qualifying standard, he will not jump that height again and must wait for the bar to be raised.
  4. If an athlete misses all three attempts at the height, he will not continue in the event.
  5. For a better grip, athletes are allowed to use an adhesive substance like resin or tape hands. Gloves are not allowed.
  6. After the release of the pole, no one, including the athlete, is allowed to touch the pole unless it is falling away from the bar or uprights.
  7. If the pole breaks during an attempt, that run will not be counted as an attempt or a failure. The athlete will be awarded a new trial.
  8. Ties will be broken in favor of the athlete with the fewest misses at the height at which the tie occurs. Further ties will be broken by the lowest number of total misses throughout the competition.
  9. If a tie remains after applying the above tiebreakers, and it concerns the winner of the competition, the stalemate will be broken by a jump off. The jump off height begins at the last clearance of the tied athletes. This height is raised if both athletes clear, and lowered if both miss. This shall continue until one athlete clears and the other does not.

Long Jump

  1. The length of the run is unlimited.
  2. The takeoff must occur on or before the board.
  3. The jump is measured from the takeoff line to the nearest break in the landing area made by any part of the body.

Throwing Events

  1. Except for in the javelin, the throw must start from a stationary position inside the circle.
  2. Except in the javelin, the athlete is allowed to touch the inside of the board or stopboard.
  3. Fouls occur when an athlete:
    • Does not start from a stationary position within the circle.
    • Touches the top of the iron board, stopboard, or painted circle.
    • Touches anywhere outside of the circle.
    • Improperly releases the implement.
    • Leaves the circle improperly or before the implement has landed.
  4. In the javelin throw, the athlete must come to a stop before a line marking the end of the runway, regardless of where the athlete releases the implement.
  5. An athlete cannot tape individual fingers or multiple fingers together.
  6. Tape on the wrist alone is allowed and must be shown to the chief judge before the event starts.
  7. Gloves are only allowed to protect the hands during the hammer throw.
  8. All hammer and discus throws must be conducted inside an enclosure/cage to ensure the safety of the spectators, officials, and athletes.

Measurements & Weights

  1. All measurements must be read by the field judges.
  2. All implements used in the field shall be weighed prior to the event on a governmentally approved scale.

More Resources

For a more in depth look at the rules and regulations of track and field, visit the following sites:

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