Get Involved: ATHLETICS

It is perhaps fitting that the very first race of the modern Olympics in 1896 was the men's 100 metre sprint.

Analysis

Kriss Akabusi, BBC Sport

"You are going to get the best of British competing cheek-by-jowl against the best of the rest of the world. The track and field is the centrepiece of the Olympics and is the main event. I think Team GB are set for their best Olympics ever, as not only are they wonderfully talented, but they'll be competing in front of a partisan crowd. Dai Greene and Mo Farah will be going for gold. Christine Ohuruogu is the defending 400m champion and is raring to go. After all the controversy surrounding South Africa's Caster Semenya, it is going to be great to see her put that all behind her in London. She is definitely the woman to beat in the 800m."

That athletics event remains the Games' ultimate showstopper and all eyes will be trained on Usain Bolt in the men's final on Sunday 5 August.

But athletics is not just about the track events; there are 47 medal events in all and just over half of these (24) are on the track. The field events, such as the triple jump and javelin, are also popular and have provided Great Britain with Olympic medals in recent years.

For those unable to get tickets for the Olympic Stadium, there are five road races being held on the streets of central London and finishing at the Mall. The women's marathon will see British world record holder Paula Radcliffe attempt to win gold at the third time of asking.

The athletics concludes with the relay races on 11 August, which should provide a fascinating finale. The men's 4x100m has been dominated by the USA but Jamaica - led by that man Bolt - broke the world record to win gold in Beijing.

Why is it good for you?

Athletics offer the widest range of choice of any Olympic sport as its various disciplines provide the opportunity to throw, run or jump.

BBC Olympics: Get involved with... Track Athletics

Immense core physical strength is required to throw a shot put that weighs 16 pounds for men and 8.8 pounds for women.

The test of endurance posed by the marathon sees athletes burn up to 3593 calories running a 26.2 mile course.

For those looking to follow in Bolt's footsteps, research has found sprinting offers a harder workout than slow and steady cardiovascular work such as long-distance running.

It is also an efficient way to reduce body fat and strengthen the heart muscles.

As training sessions are often carried out in groups, it is an excellent way to develop communication skills and learn to work effectively with other people. Clubs also offer a variety of social events beyond simply playing the sport.

Get involved

Great Olympic moment

Kelly Holmes

Great Britain's Kelly Holmes became the oldest winner of the women's 800m when clinching gold in 2004. The 34-year-old had plenty more to give though - five days later she produced a memorable sprint finish to win the 1500m.

If you want to run, jump or throw, athletics provides the perfect platform to compete. The United Kingdom Athletics Grassroots scheme  provides information on how you can begin taking part whether as an athlete, coach, official or volunteer.

Take the first step by finding your local club  on the UKA website, with over 1,400 throughout the country.

Your local club will also be able to tell you what equipment you will need for the event you wish to try.

The UKA Academy provides a great source of schemes, with qualified coaches  on hand to put on a variety of training courses aimed to excite and challenge people of all ages and abilities. A packed calendar of events  happening in stadiums and running tracks throughout the UK can be found on the Academy's website.

Further information is also available on the England Athletics,  Athletics Northern Ireland,  Scottishathletics  and Welsh Athletics  websites.

More on the UK Athletics website 

Want to get involved with sport in your local community? Why not Join In ?

'Join In Local Sport'  aims to get as many people as possible to turn up and take part in activities at their local sports facilities on 18/19 August, 2012 - the first weekend between the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The aim of the initiative is for every sports club and community group in the UK to put on a special event in a bid to encourage more people to get involved as members, supporters or volunteers.

More than 4,000 local sports clubs will be opening their doors to host events and show people just how they can get involved.

As well as tips on playing sport there will be information on coaching, supporting and how to help out.

Find an event  near you.

The competition format at London 2012

London 2012: Athletics at the Olympics explained (Part one)

  • From Friday 3 August to Sunday 12 August, 2,000 athletes will compete in the various athletics events. The Olympic Stadium will be the venue for the majority of them.
  • All 24 track events, other than the 100m, will consist of a maximum of three rounds.
  • The 16 field events start with a qualification stage, with the best athletes qualifying for the final.
  • It is only the five road races and two combined events (decathlon and heptathlon) that do not have any heats.

More on the London 2012 website 

The rules at London 2012

The regulations across 40 different disciplines are many and varied, with governing body the International Association of Athletics Federations responsible for standardised rules, technical equipment and world records.

More on the IAAF website 

Ones to watch

Can you compete?

Michael Johnson

Get your performance under pressure analysed in just 20 minutes by four-time Olympic gold medallist Michael Johnson

Team GB head coach Charles van Commenee has targeted eight medals, a figure unmatched by a British Olympic team since 1988.

Leading the way on the track are world champions Mo Farah and Dai Greene, while heptathlete Jessica Ennis and triple jumper Phillips Idowu have the motivation and talent to get gold.

Jamaican sprint king Usain Bolt has a pretender to his crown - training partner Yohan Blake. The younger Blake won the world 100m title last year after Bolt false-started, and weeks later he ran the second-fastest 200m in history.

Australian world 100m hurdles champion Sally Pearson will be expected to upgrade her Olympic silver medal from 2008.

History

The word athletics is derived from the Greek word 'athlos,' which means "contest" or "task," and the sport was first run in an Olympic format in that part world.

Before then, running, walking, jumping, and throwing-based sports had all been performed in a variety of different guises far back into antiquity. Ancient Egyptian tombs dated to approximately 2250 BC have been found that contained depictions of running and high jump competitions.

Did you know?

Discus thrower Jules Noël of France was denied a medal in 1932 when the judges were distracted watching the pole vault and didn't see where his best throw had landed; it would likely have won him gold. Noël, who sneaked off to drink champagne during the competition, was awarded an extra throw but was unable to improve on fourth place.

The first event contested in the ancient Olympic Games was the "stadium" race, a sprint of about 192 metres, with recorded winners dating back as far as 776 BC.

The modern format of athletics, competed at a single meeting involving numerous disciplines, evolved in the late 19th century, with the earliest recorded meeting in 1840 in Shropshire, England.

The formation of the Amateur Athletic Association in England in 1880 provided the sport with its first national governing body.

The American Amateur Athletic Union and French Union des sociétés françaises de sports athlétiques followed before the end of that decade.

Athletics has been on the programme of each edition of the Games since 1896, with women's events appearing for the first time at the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam.

More on the IOC website