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Your Road to the Olympic Team: How to Become an Olympic Track & Field Athlete


Female athlete clearing hurdle, low angle view, sunset
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Track and field performers – even elite international competitors – can begin at a variety of ages. Many youth track and field programs are available, including local clubs and AAU organizations, as well as middle and high school programs.

Some young athletes will specialize in a different sport before switching to track and field at a later age. A basketball player could become a long jumper. A heavyweight wrestler or football lineman might take up the discus or shot put. In any case, a standout high school performance – if only for one year – will almost always be a prerequisite to gain a college track and field scholarship.

Success in NCAA competition is a common step for those who’ll seriously compete for an Olympic team berth. But again, there is no single path that leads to Olympic competition. Some athletes who are past college age may be able to hone their skills sufficiently to compete in USA Track & Field events – including the Visa Championship Series (featuring indoor and outdoor meets), the USA Running Circuit (a road series for distance runners) or The USA Race Walking Grand Prix Series – and eventually qualify for a U.S. Olympic Trial.

Governing Bodies for the Sport
USA Track & Field (USATF) is the national governing body for track and field in the United States. A competitor must be a USATF member to enter an Olympic Trial. The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) is the international track and field governing body and writes the rules used in the Olympic Games. Minimum Requirements to Attend a U.S. Olympic Trial
In addition to being a USATF member, each competitor must be a U.S. citizen and must meet the qualifying standard for his/her event to attend a U.S. Olympic Trial.

There are two qualification standards for the U.S. Olympic Trials. Athletes who meet the “A” standard in a recognized national or international event are automatically invited to the Trial for that event. Competitors who meet the “B” standards are invited only if additional athletes are needed to make the event competitive. For example, the USATF requires a minimum of 32 competitors in the 100-meter dash trials. If less than 32 Americans qualify under the “A” standard in the 100, additional sprinters who’ve attained the “B” standard will be invited, until a full, 32-person field is completed.

For 2012, the U.S. men’s “A” qualifying standards were as follows:
  • 100 meters: 10.18 seconds
  • 200 meters: 20.55
  • 400 meters: 45.3
  • 800 meters: 1:46.5
  • 1500 meters: 3:39.0
  • 5000 meters: 13:33.0
  • 10,000 meters: 28:15.0
  • 110-meter hurdles: 13.52
  • 400-meter hurdles: 49.5
  • 3000-meter steeplechase: 8:32.0
  • marathon: 2:19
  • 20-kilometer race walk: 1:36.0
  • 50-kilometer race walk: 4:45.0
  • high jump: 2.28 meters
  • pole vault: 5.70
  • long jump: 8.05
  • triple jump: 16.66
  • shot put: 20.0
  • discus: 63.75
  • hammer: 72.0
  • javelin: 77.0
  • decathlon: 7900 points

For 2012, the women’s “A” qualifying standards were as follows:
  • 100 meters: 11.29 seconds.
  • 200 meters: 23.10
  • 400 meters: 51.55
  • 800 meters: 2:01.30
  • 1500 meters: 4:12.93
  • 5000 meters: 15:35.0
  • 10,000 meters: 32:45.0
  • 100-meter hurdles: 13.0
  • 400-meter hurdles: 56.0
  • 3000-meter steeplechase: 9:55.0
  • marathon: 2:39
  • 20-kilometer race walk: 1:48.0
  • high jump: 1.87 meters
  • pole vault: 4.50
  • long jump: 6.65
  • triple jump: 13.75
  • shot put: 17.90
  • discus: 60.0
  • hammer: 68.0
  • javelin: 55.0
  • heptathlon: 5800 points

A track and field athlete is eligible for an automatic invitation to the U.S. Olympic Trials in the same event if he/she has earned an individual medal in an Olympic Games, or in an IAAF World Indoor or Outdoor Championship during the year of the Trials or during the four previous calendar years.

Additionally, a 50-kilometer race walk athlete is eligible for automatic qualification into the U.S. Olympic Trials if he has won a USA 50-kilometer Race Walk Championship during the previous four calendar years.

For complete U.S. Olympic Team eligibility rules and qualifying standards, see the USATF’s web pages for the U.S. Track and Field Trials, the Men's and Women’s Marathon Trials, and the 50-kilometer Race Walk Trials.

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