TigerTurf Articles >> A History of Track and Field Sports on the Grass and Turf

Every four years, the world gathers around their TV sets to watch the most famous athletic event in our culture: the Olympic Games. The first Olympic Games in ancient Greece only had one event, but as the years progressed, more events were gradually added to the competition. Some of the earliest events were running, jumping, and throwing sports, many of which originated in ancient Greece. Athletics didn't gain the prestige it currently enjoys until the late 1800s, but it has since grown into a popular worldwide pastime.


Running Sports
Sprinting as a sport began with the first Olympic Games. Contestants would race down a course of 630 feet, and for several years after the Olympics began, this sprint (called a stade) was the only event featured. Middle- and long-distance events developed in the following Olympic Games, including a two-stade race and a long-distance run of up to 15,000 feet. Relays, which initially developed as a way for runners to carry messages across long distances, were introduced to the games in the late 1800s. Hurdling surfaced in the United States around 1859, but the L-shaped hurdle used in today's races wasn't introduced until the 1930s.


Jumping Sports
The long jump first appeared in the Olympic Games as a part of the pentathlon around 708 BC. At that point in time, jumpers used weights called halteres to try and achieve a longer jump, but the practice was eliminated when the Olympic Games were revived in 1896. The high jump may have been introduced in ancient Greece, but it definitively took hold in 1900s Scotland, where jumpers would attempt to clear the bar chest-first or with a scissor-legged movement. Pole vaulting developed in Scotland's neighbor, Ireland, around 1829 B.C. Prior to its introduction as a sport, pole vaulting was used as a way for soldiers to leap castle walls during military campaigns.


Throwing Sports
Shot put may seem like a uniquely Olympic sport, but it was not introduced to the games until 1896. Shot put actually has its origins in Scottish highland games, and the first written mention of the sport is in a 12th century Irish text. The hammer throw is another invention of Celtic culture, first appearing in the Taileann Games more than 3,000 years ago. Conversely, the discus is about as Greek as any sport can possibly be. Discus was introduced to the games in 708 B.C., and unlike many of the other Olympic sports, the rules have not changed. The discus itself has been subjected to standardization measures, but the event itself remains largely the same as it was at its inception in ancient Greece. The javelin is another sport familiar to the ancient Greeks, due in part to the importance of the spear in war. Aside from a redesign of the javelin itself in 1986, this sport has also made it through the years largely unchanged.


History of the Olympic Games
The Olympic Games today tend to last for several weeks, but when they first began in 776 B.C., the event only took one day. As more events were added, the games gradually grew to encompass a five-day period. The games were discontinued by Emperor Theodosius I in 394 A.D., and while there were attempted resurrections of the event during the French Revolution and the late 1800s, the games did not fully revive until 1896. The year 1908 saw the introduction of the pomp and circumstance that has come to be associated with the modern Olympic Games. Athletes from 22 nations marched past King Edward of Britain, national flags waving, before the games began. This was also the first time that medals, as opposed to the laurel wreaths of ancient Greece, were presented to the winners of the games.


History of the IAAF World Championships in Athletics
The International Amateur Athletic Federation first began in 1912. It was created through a joint effort of 17 different national athletic federations to provide a universal standard for scoring, training, and sports equipment. While the IAAF began originally as a way for amateur athletes to participate in standardized sports events, the prestige of athletics rose over the years. The first IAAF World Championships in Athletics was held in 1983. In 1985, the IAAF began offering trust funds to promising athletes, and in 1997, the IAAF created and hosted the first IAAF Competition Awards. Today, the IAAF represents associations of more than 160 countries around the world.