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Athletics has been the key component of international sports for multiple years as students play the sport from a young age during physical education programmes and is a gateway to finding skills of other sports by testing the speed, stamina, flexibility, core strength, agility, and mental endurance.
The ancient Olympic Games left an enduring legacy, and the revival of the Olympics in the modern era continues to honor athletics through the spirit of competition and international unity to date.
From Ancient Olympics to Now
The history of athletics spans thousands of years and has evolved from ancient traditions to become a global and highly organized sport, showcasing human physical prowess and achievement.
The Olympics, in particular, serve as a testament to the enduring appeal of athletic competition. The ancient version of the competition originated in ancient Greece, with the first recorded edition of the Olympic Games taking place in 776 BCE in Olympia.
The ancient Olympic events used to have running, combat (wrestling, boxing, and pankration), long jump, discus throw, horse racing, and chariot racing as some of the events with pentathlon also introduced as a mixture of the few events.
On the other hand, the first edition of the modern Olympics was held in Athens in 1896, marking the beginning of the modern era of athletics. Track and field events, including sprints of various distances, hurdles, pole vault, long jump, high jump, triple jump, marathon, shot put, and discus throw became a regular part of the Games thereafter.
In the 20th century, the Olympic Games expanded to include various sports and disciplines, with athletics remaining a major component. The World Athletics, which was earlier known as the International Association of Athletics Federations was established to look after track and field competitions.
Advancements in training and equipment, and sports science helped athletes perform better while the use of technology, data analytics, and advancements in sports medicine have further shaped the training and performance of athletes.
Breaking the Barriers
World records recognized by World Athletics are based on several criteria which can be found in Part III of Competition Rules.
Usain Bolt holds the record in 100m and 200m men’s races recording times of 9.58 and 19.19 secondsrespectively at the 2009 Berlin World Championships. Bolt along with Yohan Blake, Michael Frater, and Nesta Carter also hold the record for the fastest finish in the 4x100m relay in 36.84 seconds recorded at the 2012 London Olympic games.
Florence Griffiths Joyner’s record has been standing for more than 25 years as she recorded times of 10.49 and 21.34 seconds in the women’s 100m and 200m sprints at the 1998 US Olympic Trials and the 1998 Seoul Olympics.
South African sprinter Wayde van Niekerk holds the record in men’s 400m as he clinched the gold medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics with a finish in 43.03 seconds while Martita Koch’s record of 47.60 seconds in women’s 400m race still stands to date after being recorded at the 1985 IAAF World Cup.
The oldest standing record in Athletics is currently held by Czech athlete Jamila Kratochvilova recording a time of 1 minute and 53.28 seconds in the 800m women’s sprint on July 26, 1983. In men’s athletics, the discus thrower Jurgen Schult made a record throw of 74.08 metres on June 6, 1986, while representing East Germany at that time.
The Titans of Track and Field
In the recent past, athletes were provided better training equipment and facilities in their developmental years helping them reach the peak of their career and sustain it for a longer period. Some professional athletes continue to break the records set by athletes in the past and are gaining immortality in the world of athletics.
Elaine Thompson-Herah is widely regarded as one of the greatest sprinters of all time. The Jamaican is a five-time Olympic champion as she won the gold medal in the 100m and the 200m race at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics and successfully defended both of her titles by clinching the gold medals at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in the 100m and the 200m race events.
Norwegian athlete Karsten Warholm clinched the gold medal in the 400m hurdles event in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics breaking his own world record by three-quarters of a second finishing it in 45.94 seconds.
The Scandinavian athlete is also a three-time world champion winning the 2017 London World Championships, 2019 Doha World Championships, and 2023 Budapest World Championships.
Neeraj Chopra is India’s brightest hope in Athletics and the young star has made a name for himself in the javelin throw event winning Gold Medals at the 2017 Bhubaneshwar Asian Championships, 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, 2018 Jakarta Asian Games, 2020 Tokyo Olympics, 2023 Budapest World Championships, and 2023 Hangzhou Asian Games.
Chopra rose to fame after winning the Gold Medal at the 2016 World U-20 Championships and has since then been breaking records left and right, recently breaking his own national record with a throw of 89.30 metres at the 2022 Stockholm Diamond League.
Ryan Crouser has made a name for himself in shot-put winning the Gold Medals at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as well. Crouser is the current world champion in shot-put as well winning the 2022 Eugene World Championships and the 2023 Budapest World Championships as well.
With a throw of 23.56 metres, Crosuer is the current world record holder in shot-put which justifies the Crouser name as the 30-year old comes from a family of throwers with his father and uncle also part of past U.S. Olympic teams.
Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone is a highly accomplished American track and field athlete specialising in the 400 meters hurdles. The 24-year old won the gold medal in the women’s 400m hurdles at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics setting a new world record with a time of 51.46 seconds.
The Road Ahead
The 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris, the World Athletics Championships, and the Diamond League Series are some of the events that will take place in the next calendar year.
Noah Lyles of United States is a specialised sprinter, particularly in the 200m. He has the potential to be the medal contender. Apart from Lyles, Armand Duplantis is another athlete who will be in everyone’s eye as he holds the world record in pole vault and will hopefully showcase his best performance in the coming future.
For India, Neeraj Chopra and Avinash Sable are the champions in their respective events and would lead the nation’s hopes of a medal in the Diamond League, World Championships, and the 2024 Paris Olympics as well.