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Track and Field Glossary, From A-K

A list of the sport’s most common terminology

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Relay competitors run through an "acceleration zone" before receiving the baton.

Julian Finney/Getty Images

Acceleration zone: The 10 meters leading up to the exchange zone in relay races. A team’s second through fourth runners begin in the acceleration zone to gain speed before receiving the baton in the exchange zone.

Anchor: The final runner for each team in relay race. The anchor is typically the team’s fastest runner.

Ancillary training: A non sports-specific training that helps athletes boost their overall performance. For example, weight training to help runners gain strength or running to boost a thrower’s stamina.

Angle of release: The trajectory of a throwing implement immediately after it’s released by the athlete. For example, the shot put’s optimum angle of release is roughly 37 to 38 degrees.

Approach: The running phase of the jumping events and the javelin throw.

Athletics: Another term for track and field events. At the Olympics, for example, all track and field events are classified as “athletics.”

Baton: A hollow, rigid, one-piece tube that’s passed between runners during a relay race. Olympic batons, for example, are 28-30 centimeters (11-11.8 inches) long, 12-13 centimeters (4.7-5.1 inches) in circumference and weigh at least 50 grams (1.76 ounces)

Bell lap: The final lap of a race. A track official typically rings a bell when the leader begins the last lap.

Blind pass: Receiving the baton from the previous runner without looking at the baton. This is the preferred exchange method in 4 x 100-meter relays.

Blocking: Bracing one side of the body to transfer momentum to the other side. For example, when a javelin thrower plants the left leg before throwing with the right arm.

Blocks: See “starting blocks.”

Bounding: A long, bouncy type of running employed by triple jumpers in the event’s final two phases. Runners may also perform bounding drills during training. Bounds are basically combinations of running and jumping

Box: The sunken area near the end of a pole vault runway into which the athlete plants the pole. The box is 1 meter (3.3 feet) long, 0.6 meters (2 feet) wide in front and 0.15 meters (0.5 feet) wide at the far end.

Break-line: Marks on a track used in some races with staggered starts. When runners reach the break-line they may leave their lanes and run toward the inside of the track.

Cage: A high fence that surrounds most of the throwing circle during discus and hammer competitions. The fence protects bystanders from errant throws.

Changeover: The act of passing the baton between runners during a relay race.

Check mark: Marks made on the track by athletes or their coaches to guide them during an approach run. The marks indicate a specific milestone, such as a starting point.

Combined events: Competitions in which athletes take part in multiple events. Examples include the 10-event decathlon, seven-event heptathlon and five-event pentathlon.

Crossbar: The horizontal bar that high jumpers and pole vaulters must clear. If the bar remains on its brackets then the jump is successful.

Cross steps: The final steps of a javelin thrower’s approach run, when the athlete turns the lead hip toward the target while pulling the javelin back into throwing position.

Crouch start: The standard starting position for any race that doesn’t employ starting blocks. Runners typically flex their knees and bend forward from the waist to await the starting signal.

Curb: The inside edge of a running track’s inner lane. See also, “rail.”

Dash: Another name for a sprint race. The term describes races up to 400 meters long.

Decathlon: A 10-event competition held over two consecutive days. The decathlon is typically an outdoor men’s competition, although there are some women’s decathlons as well. The Olympic decathlon, for example, includes the 100-meter run, long jump, shot put, high jump and 400-meter run on the first day. The second day’s events are the 110-meter hurdles, discus throw, pole vault, javelin throw and 1500-meter run. Athletes score points based on their times, distances or heights, rather than their places in the field. The athlete who scores the most points wins the competition.

Diamond League: An annual series of meets in which competitors earn points for finishing within the top three places in each event. Athletes who receive the most points in each event during the season win the overall Diamond League championship for that event.

Discus: A circular throwing implement used in the discus throw event. Women at all levels, from junior through senior, throw a 1-kilogram (2.2-pound) discus. For male throwers, the discus ranges from 1.6 kg (3.5 pounds) for U.S. high school competition, to 1.75 kg (3.9 pounds) for international junior events, to 2 kg (4.4 pounds) for senior competitions.

Discus throw: An event in which competitors try to throw the discus as far as possible. The athlete typically uses a rotational technique to move from the back of the throwing circle to the front.

Doping: Taking illegal performance-enhancing drugs, or using masking agents that attempt to hide the presence of performance-enhancing drugs.

Draft: Running directly behind another competitor, typically in a distance race. The lead runner blocks the wind, so the trailing runner can gain an advantage by facing less wind resistance.

Drive phase: The early segment of a sprint race or an approach run, during which the athlete accelerates.

Dual-alley start: A two-tiered start typically employed during distances races held on a track, that feature large fields. If a race has too many runners to use the main starting line, about half the group starts farther up the track, but must remain in the outside lanes until they clear the first turn.

Exchange zone: Twenty-meter sections on each lane of a track, inside which the baton must be passed during a relay race. Three different exchange zones are used during 4 x 100-meter relays and one is used for all exchanges during a 4 x 400-meter relay. Also known as the “passing zone.”       

False start: Movement by a runner after the “set” command is given, but before the race begins. Runners in individual events may be disqualified for committing a single false start.

Fartlek: A form of interval running drill in which the athlete increases and decreases speed at various times during the run. The termed is Swedish for “speed play.”

Field events: Jumping and throwing events, including the discus, hammer and javelin throws, the shot put, the long and triple jumps, the pole vault and the high jump.

Finish line: The ending point of a race.

Flight phase: The time between a jumper’s takeoff and landing, when the jumper is in the air.

Fosbury Flop: The modern high-jumping style popularized by American Dick Fosbury in the 1960s, in which the jumper passes over the bar face up.       

Glide technique: The shot put style in which the thrower hops in a straight line from the back of the throwing circle to the front, without rotating.

Grip: The method used for holding a throwing implement, or the pole during a pole vault competition.

Grip height: The distance from the top of the pole to the pole vaulter’s upper hand.

Hammer: A throwing implement consisting of a handle and a steel wire, with a metal ball at the end of the wire. Women throw a 4-kilogram (8.8-pound) hammer, while the men’s hammer weighs 7.26 kg (16 pounds).

Hammer throw: A competition in which athletes try to throw the hammer as far as possible. Athletes typically use a rotational technique as they move forward within the throwing circle.

Headwind: A wind into which a sprinter or jumper moves during a race, or during an approach run. The wind resistance reduces the athlete’s speed.

Heptathlon: A seven-event, two-day competition in which athletes receive points in each event, based on their times, heights or distances, rather than their places in the field. The athlete who scores the most points wins the competition. Outdoors, the heptathlon is typically a women’s event consisting of the 100-meter hurdles, high jump, shot put and 200-meter run on the first day, plus the long jump, javelin throw and 800-meter run on day two. The indoor heptathlon is typically a men’s event that includes the 60-meter run, long jump, shot put and high jump on day one, plus the 60-meter hurdles, pole vault and 1000-meter run on the second day.

Heat: A preliminary race during an event that involves multiple rounds of qualifying races. In such an event, any race prior to the final may be considered a heat.

High hurdles: See “hurdles race.”

High jump: A jumping event in which athletes make an approach run and then attempt to leap over a horizontal bar. See also, “Fosbury Flop.”    

Hurdles: Barriers that runners must clear during hurdle or steeplechase races. At the senior level, hurdle height in a 100-meter hurdles race is 0.84 meters (2.75 feet). The height is 1.067 meters (3.5 feet) in the 110-meter hurdles; 0.762 meters (2.5 feet) in the women’s 400-meter hurdles; and 0.914 meters (3 feet) in the men’s 400-meter hurdles. In the steeplechase, men’s and women’s hurdles are the same height as their respective 400-meter hurdles. However, the steeplechase barriers are solid and cannot be knocked over.

Hurdles race: Any race, other than the steeplechase, in which hurdles are used. Common outdoor events include the 100-meter hurdles for women, 110 meters for men and 400 meters for both genders. Both men and women typically run 60-meter hurdles races indoors, rather than the 100 or 110. Hurdles races of 400 meters are also known as the “intermediate hurdles” while the other events are termed the “high hurdles,” due to the differences in hurdle heights, or the "sprint hurdles," because the races are shorter.

IAAF: The International Association of Athletics Federations, which is the overall governing body for international track and field.

Impact area: The portion of a field in which the shot, discus, javelin or hammer are supposed to land during throwing events.

Implement: The object in a throwing event, such as a shot, discus, javelin or hammer.

Intermediate hurdles: See “hurdles race.”    

Interval training: A training method in which an athlete alternates greater- and lesser-intensity movements. In a sprint interval, for example, the runner sprints at or near maximum intensity for given time period, then walks or jogs for another specified time period, then repeats the pattern for the remainder of the session.

IOC: The International Olympic Committee, which is the governing body for the Olympic Games.

Javelin: The implement used in the javelin throw event. The spear-like implement has a cord grip attached to a long shaft, with a sharp-pointed metal tip at the shaft’s end. At the senior level, the women’s javelin weighs 600 grams (1.32 pounds) and the men’s javelin weighs 800 grams (1.76 pounds).

Javelin throw: A competition in which athletes take an approach run and then try to throw the javelin as far as possible.

Jumps: Events in which the final component is a vertical or horizontal leap. Jumping events include the high jump, pole vault, long jump and triple jump.

Junior: An athlete who is less than 20 years old as of December 31 of a given year.

Kick: A burst of speed near the end of a race – also known as a “finishing kick.”

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