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Track and Field Glossary, From L-Z

A list of the sport’s most common terminology



Every high jump ends in the "landing pit."

Rob Carr/Getty Images

Landing pit: In the pole vault and high jump, large foam cushions on which the athlete lands after completing the jump. For the long jump and triple jump, see “sandpit.”

Lane: Bordered paths within which athletes must run during certain events. Lanes are typically 48 inches (1.22 meters) wide at the senior level; 42 inches (1.07 meters) for U.S. high school events.

Lap: One complete circuit of a track; 400 meters on a standard track.

Lead leg: The leg a hurdler kicks forward when clearing a hurdle.

Leg: A portion of a relay race completed by one runner. The 4 x 100-meter relay includes four legs of 100 meters each, for example.

Lifting: In the race walk, a rules violation in which the walker has both feet off the ground simultaneously, or when the walker’s front leg doesn’t straighten when it contacts the ground. Three lifting violations typically result in a disqualification.

Long distance races: Also known as “distance races” or “distance events.” Typically, any race of 5,000 or more meters.

Long jump: Jumping event in which competitors take an approach run and then leap as far as possible into a sandpit.

Marathon: The longest running event in the Olympics and World Championships, a marathon is 26 miles, 385 yards long (42.195 kilometers).

Medals: Awards given to athletes or relay teams for their performances in a major event. In competitions such as the Olympics and World Championships, event winners receive gold medals, while second- and third-place finishers receive silver and bronze medals, respectively.

Meet: A track and field competition, typically consisting of a variety of events.

Meeting: See “meet.”

Middle distance races: Typically, races of 800 to 3,000 meters.

Multi-events: See “combined events.”

Olympics: Athletic competitions held every four years, typically in the late summer. The Olympic track and field competition includes 24 men’s events and 23 women’s events.

Pace: The average speed at which a runner travels during a race. The term is typically applied to longer distance races.

Pacemaker: See “rabbit.”

Pass: When an athlete declines to take an attempt during a field event. Athletes may pass one or more heights early in high jump and pole vault competitions to conserve energy. Jumpers may also pass to a greater height for strategic reasons, typically when clearing a height will not advance them in the standings.

Passing zone: See “exchange zone.”

PB: An abbreviation for “personal best,” meaning the athlete’s lifetime best performance in an event, as measured in time, height or distance. Also known as “PR” for “personal record.”

Pentathlon: A five-event 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. At the senior level, the pentathlon is typically an indoor women’s event that includes the 60-meter hurdles, high jump, shot put, long jump and 800-meter run.

Podium: The platform on which the top three finishers in an event stand to receive their medals. A top-three finish is also referred to as a “podium finish.”

Pole: An implement used by pole vault competitors. The pole must be smooth, but athletes may add layers of tape to use as a grip. Otherwise, there are no restrictions regarding the pole’s length, weight or composition.

Pole vault: The jumping event in which athletes take an approach run, plant their poles in a takeoff box and use the poles to try to clear a horizontal bar. See also “box” and “pole.”

Power position: A position that shot putters and discus throwers assume just before releasing their implements. In both cases, the thrower’s weight is on the back foot, in preparation for stepping to the front of the throwing circle, shifting their weight forward and throwing the shot or discus.

PR: See “PB.”

Rabbit: Also known as a pacemaker, the rabbit is typically paid to run a portion of a long distance race at a specific pace. Rabbits are often employed by competitors or by race promoters to help elite runners make world-record attempts. Rabbits are not permitted in championship events such as the Olympics or World Championships.

Race modeling: A training technique in which runners practice specific portions or elements of a race.

Race walk: An event in which the competitors must follow specific technical guidelines that separate walking from running. For example, race walkers must keep one foot in contact with the ground at all times, and must straighten the lead leg on contact with the ground.

Rail: A bar, typically made of aluminum, running along the inside of a track’s inner lane.

Relay: An event in which four team members each run one leg of a race. Each runner carries a baton, which must be passed to the succeeding runner within designated exchange zones. Common relays include the 4 x 100 – four legs of 100 meters apiece – and the 4 x 400. See also “acceleration zone” and “exchange zone.”

Release: The moment at which an implement leaves a thrower’s hand.

Ring: See “throwing circle.”

Road race: Any race not conducted on a track. A marathon, for example, is typically run on a road course, although it may conclude with a lap or two of a track.

Rotational technique: See “spin technique.”

Runway: The area in which jumpers and javelin throwers perform their approach runs.

Sandpit: Also known simply as the “pit.” An area filled with sand in which a long jumper or triple jump competitor lands. For the high jump and pole vault, see “landing pit.”

Scratch line: The line at the center point – 10 meters from either end – of a relay race's exchange zone.

Set position: The position runners must assume immediately before a race begins.

Shot: A round, steel ball used in the shot put event. At the senior level, the men’s shot has a diameter of 110-130 millimeters (4.3-5.1 inches) and weighs 7.26 kilograms (16 pounds). The women’s shot measures 95-110 millimeters (3.7-4.3 inches) and weighs 4 kg (8.8 pounds).

Shot put: A throwing event in which the athlete hurls the shot as far as possible. See also “glide technique” and “spin technique.”

Spikes: Individual, pointed objects on the sole of an athlete’s shoe. The spikes offer superior traction. The term is also applied to any shoe that contains spikes.

Spin technique: A shot put style, also known as the “rotational technique,” in which the athlete rotates while moving forward in the throwing circle.

Split: A runner’s time during a race segment, such as a competitor’s time after 200 meters of a 400-meter race.

Sprint: Races in which competitors run at maximum or near-maximum speed for the entire race. Typically, races of 400 meters or fewer, or hurdles events of up to 110 meters, are considered sprint events.

Staggered start: A starting method typically used in races between 200 and 800 meters long. The stagger insures that each runner travels the same distance during the race, because runners in the outside lanes begin ahead of competitors assigned to the inside lanes.

Standards: The vertical bars that support the crossbar in the pole vault and high jump.

Starting blocks: Solid objects fastened to an adjustable frame, against which sprinters set their feet before starting a race. Sometimes referred to simply as “blocks,” the devices are used in sprint and hurdles races of up to 400 meters.

Steeplechase: A race of 3000 meters – or 7½ laps – at the senior level, that includes 28 hurdle jumps and seven water jumps. A 2000-meter steeplechase includes 18 hurdle jumps and five water jumps. See also “hurdles” and “water pit.”

Stride pattern: The number of strides an athlete takes between the hurdles in a hurdles race – but not in a steeplechase.

Tailwind: A wind blowing in the same direction as a runner or a jumper. The wind increases the athlete’s speed, so performances in certain events will not count for world, area or national record purposes if a tailwind exceeds 2 meters (6.6 feet) per second.

Takeoff: The moment at which a jumper’s support foot leaves the track or runway and the athlete enters the flight phase.

Takeoff board: A strip at the end of the runway, usually made of wood, from which a long jumper or triple jumper takes off. The jumper may use any portion of the board, but may not touch the foul line at the board’s end.

Takeoff leg: The last leg to leave the surface during a jumping attempt.

Throwing circle: The area, also called the “ring,” from which an athlete throws a shot, discus or hammer. The shot put circle is 2.135 meters (7 feet) in diameter. The discus and hammer throw circles are both 2.5 meters (8.2 feet) in diameter.

Throwing sector: The specified arc within the impact area in which an implement must land during throwing events. An implement landing outside the throwing sector results in a foul.

Throws: Events in which competitors throw an implement, typically including the discus throw, shot put, javelin throw and hammer throw.

Track: The surface on which running and hurdles events are conducted. Typically made of a rubberized material, a standard outdoor track is a 400-meter oval while a standard indoor track is a 200-meter oval.

Trail leg: The second leg to clear a hurdle, which is typically tucked in close to the hurdler’s body.

Training age: The number of years an athlete has been training seriously for an event.

Triple jump: A horizontal jumping event in which competitors take an approach run and then execute a hop, step and jump. The competitor hops off of one foot, lands on the same foot, takes a step onto the opposite foot and then jumps into a sandpit.

Visual pass: A baton-passing method used in relay races in which the lead runner looks back and views the baton as it’s being passed. Visual passes are typically used in the 4 x 400-meter relay.

Water pit: A water-filled depression in a track used during the steeplechase. The pit – including the hurdle that precedes it – is 3.66 meters (12 feet) long, and 3.66 meters wide. The water is 0.70 meters (2.3 feet) deep at its deepest point, near the hurdle, then slopes upward toward the track.

Waterfall start: A starting method for some distance races in which athletes stand along a curved line. The runners may break in toward the inside lane immediately after the race begins.

Wind-aided: A performance in which a runner or jumper is assisted by a tailwind exceeding 2 meters (6.6 feet) per second. Wind-aided performances count during the competition, but are not accepted for the purpose of setting world, area or local records.

World Championships: An outdoor meet held during odd-numbered years, typically in late summer. The meet is under the jurisdiction of the IAAF. Other than the Olympics, the World Championships are the most prestigious outdoor track and field meets.

World Indoor Championships: An indoor meet held during even-numbered years, typically in early March. The meet is under the jurisdiction of the IAAF. It is the most prestigious indoor track and field meet.

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Glossary A-K

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