Track and Field most likely began around 776 BC. A cook from the city of Elis, named Koroibos, won a foot race that was abut 600 feet long. Most literary traditions accept that this was the only event for the first 13 Olympic games.
Other traditions predict that the Olympic games started earlier around 9th or 10th century BC. Bronze Tripods were found that may be evidence of prizes for wins in events at Olympia.
The marathon was introduced in the Olympic games at Athens in 1896. The distance was roughly 42.195 kilometers. Runners were often used to deliver news to nearby cities. These distances were then standardized to 26 miles and 385 yards or 42, 195 kilometers in 1908 at the Olympic games in London. The distance was the exact measurement between Windsor Castle (the start line) and White City Stadium (the finish line).
Since 776 BC, the Olympic games are held every 4 years for the next 1200 years. Additional events were added slowly until around 5th century BC. The events include 3 foot races: stadion, diaulos and dolichos. And the pentathlon events: discus, long jump, javelin, boxing, wrestling, pankration, and the hoplitodromos.
In the USA, track and field athletics began around the 1860s. The nationals first athletic group, the Intercollegiate Association of Amateur Athletes in America, held the first races in 1873. The Amateur Athletic Union, in 1888, would then hold the first championships.
Olympics before World War II
Amateur sports athletes, at first, could not accept training money or cash prizes. That was one of the issues that hampered track and field to be developed as a modern sport. Athletes could be banned from competition if they were charged with professionalism. For example, Jim Thrope, in 1913, was stripped of his 1912 Olympic victories because he participated in semi-pro baseball. His status was eventually restored posthumously in 1982.
Track and Field would begin to modernize in the 1920’s. The NCAA national championships were held in 1921 and womens track and field became part of the Olympic games in 1928. The USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) and the United States bothhad strong teams. Popularity boomed in the 1970’s with the exception of womens track and field. The Athletics Congress, since then, has been in charge of the sport in the United States. The IAAF (International Amateur Athletics) is in control of international competition.
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