Basic Rules for Track & Field Events

Female runner leaving starting blocks

Track and field events set simple goals -- run the fastest, throw the farthest or jump the greatest distance -- that require different types of athleticism. Track meets are a symphony of speed, power, pure strength and focused technical skills. And each class of events enforces similar basic rules. Learn the rules to gain a deeper appreciation for the difficulty of each event.

Running and Sprinting

Running events include sprints, hurdles, middistance, long distance and relay races. Starting blocks are used for sprints of 400 meters or less and relays with legs 400 meters or less. A referee instructs the runners to get "on your marks." For sprints, the ref says "set" to put runners on their blocks. Then a starting device is fired to begin the race. Running before the shot is a disqualifying false start. Every runner must stay inside her lane during short races. Middle-distance runs may start inside assigned lanes and then the track opens at a certain distance. Longer races may have staggered or waterfall starts, where runners starts on a curve into an open track. And the baton must be handed off inside designated 20-meter-long zones during relays, while hurdle races feature 19 jumping obstacles during the dash.


Athletes try to throw the shot put, the discus, the javelin and the hammer farther than one another during a meet. Each contestant is given three throws and the farthest of the three is counted toward scoring. Shot put, discus and hammer are sent flying from a throwing circle. The athlete cannot leave the circle until the throw lands or the attempt is disqualified. In fact, if anything falls off the athlete outside the ring, including spit or jewelry, the thrower forfeits that throw. The javelin event has a runway with a finish line. The thrower is allowed to run inside the runway but cannot cross the finish line, even after letting the javelin go. Each shot put, discus, javelin and hammer thrown must stay inside the inbound lines of the sector for it to count.


Jumping events include pole vault, high jump, triple jump and long jump. In pole vault and high jump, the athlete achieves height over a bar and the jumpers go head-to-head. First, a jumper has three tries to make a qualifying height. Then the bar is raised per request of each remaining jumper. When a certain height is achieved, other jumpers must meet or beat the height to continue. Athletes must jump using one foot in high jump. Jumpers have three distance jumps into a sand pit during long jump and triple jump, with the longest one counting toward the score. Athletes get a running start and must jump before a foul line. Triple jump requires a hop, skip and jump. Measurement is taken from the shortest mark left in the sand by any part of the jumper's body.

Technicalities and Scoring

Each meet may employ a different scoring system. Usually, a progressive scoring system is used where the top three to eight athletes in each event score points for their teams. Participants must check in with the clerk of the course prior to the meet and the chief field judge prior to an event. Failure to do so may result in disqualification. And athletes are expected to dress properly and use good conduct. Refs may disqualify athletes for uniform violations, swearing or excessive celebration. And the meet may limit the number of events each individual athlete may participate in.