History of track athletics


Ollie-Lympian tells the Academy about his experiences at the Ancient Games.

I competed in the very first ancient Olympic games in Greece at Olympia in 776 BC.

They were held every four years and all wars were suspended to allow the competition to go ahead.

Thousands of people came from nearby countries to watch but women were not allowed.

Our personal coaches helped us train for 10 months before we had to pass a personality and physical test to take part.

Don't make them like they used to

You get athletes these days wearing all sorts of fancy clothes but back then it was different. We ran completely naked. Honestly.

We used to wear shorts but a rival of mine got rid of his during a race to make him run faster - clothing was soon abolished after that.

Initially the only event was the stade - a race across the length of the stadium, but then longer distances were introduced.

I don't know what my personal bests were because there weren't any clocks but I did hear about a competitor who outran a hare and somebody else beat a horse.

The Olympiads did get more fun as they brought in other events, such as wrestling, boxing and chariot racing.

My favourite was the pentathlon.

It was pretty much like today's heptathlon and decathlon, and included discus, javelin, jumping, running and wrestling.

All Olympic winners - sadly not me - were given an olive tree branch.

And also their hometowns would sometimes reward them with cash prizes or even build statues in their honour.


Ollie-Lympian tells the Academy about a man who inspired the marathon race.

Wars used to happen all the time in ancient Greece and this year was no exception.

An army from Athens was fighting with the Persians in a town called Marathon and little did they know that an athletic legend was about to be created.

After coming under a surprise attack, the Persians made a quick escape.

And an Athenian runner called Pheidippides was asked to carry the news of their victory to their elders back home in Athens.

Pheidippides was tired after months of fighting and battled his way towards the city over a gruelling 25 miles.

Completely exhausted and with sore lips and bleeding feet, he entered the city streets and shouted "Rejoice! We conquer!"

He then dropped dead.

Spiridon Louis left his sheep for marathon glory

The long distance race called the marathon was born and was later included in the modern Olympic Games first held in 1896 in Athens.

Greek athletes had done poorly at their home Games but with 13 of the 17 marathon runners being Greek the home crowd were optimistic.

With six miles left, Australian Edwin Flack easily led and a cyclist pedalled to the stadium to announce he would win.

However, a local shepherd called Spiridon Louis had other ideas and over took after Flack collapsed and was carried off.

Another messenger rode on horseback to the stadium and delivered the news to the royal box and Louis had to fight his way through a welcoming crowd.

A popular winner indeed.


Ollie-Lympian tells the Academy about the rise of athletics in the 19th century.

The Romans did their best to ruin the Olympics.

They abolished the Games in 394 AD and replaced them with their own contests involving gladiators.

But the Olympic spirit came bouncing back and I was there in Britain to enjoy its revival.

Queen Victoria: Big fan of sport festivals

More and more sporting events were being organised.

After Victoria became Queen in 1837 I took part in an Olympic festival they set up.

Not too much athletics but there was gymnastics, sailing and archery.

Things were looking good in 1850. There was an athletics meeting at Exeter College in Oxford.

And then an annual Olympic festival in Shropshire, England kicked off.

They had hurdling, jumping and running events. Athletics was finally making its mark.

Dr William Penny Brookes loved his sport and was the brains behind the competition.

It was originally designed for children - there was even a race for under-sevens - but the competition grew to include older athletes.

Word of this new and exciting event quickly spread around Europe and Germany began sending a team to compete.

Brookes continued to strive for an international Olympics but sadly he died in 1895 - just a year before his dream was realised.


Ollie-Lympian tells the Academy about the birth of the Modern Games.

We can thank a Frenchman called Baron Pierre de Coubertin - with the help of his English buddy Dr William Brookes - for the modern Olympics.

He believed that international competitions between amateur athletes would improve friendly relationships between people from different countries.

Many were opposed to the idea, but in 1894 de Coubertin finally got his way.

He got together representatives from 12 countries who decided to re-establish the Olympic Games.

And two years later, where better to have the first Modern Games than the birthplace of the Olympic spirit? - Athens in Greece.

Big up for the Baron

Only men were allowed to compete and there were just 43 events with around 200 competitors from 14 countries taking part.

In front of a 60,000 crowd, the first competition was the first heat of the 100m won by American Francis Lane.

More glory followed for the United States with James Connolly claiming the first Olympic victory winning the triple jump.

The United Kingdom's first Olympian and very first Olympic winner bizarrely came from Australia.

He was Edwin Flack - his country's lone representative but was working as an accountant in the UK.

He won the 800 and 1500 metres races and only exhaustion prevented him from finishing the marathon.

Back then there were no gold medals for athletes to dream about.

The original Olympic medals were silver and were only awarded to the winner of an event.

And so the Olympics grew, and grew........


Ollie-Lympian tells the Academy about modern athletics and reveals his delight at Athens.

Almost 3,000 years since the first Ancient Games and 108 years after the first Modern Games......

The Olympics made a triumphant return to the Greek capital.

But the sport has changed incredibly since the Greeks heralded the arrival of the athletic heroes all those years ago.

Apart from during the First and Second World Wars, the modern Olympics have been held every four years.

As competitors spent more time training and competing, it became harder for them to combine athletics with their other jobs.

So in 1982, the IAAF abolished amateurism and by 1997, athletes were able to compete for prize money.

Some would argue that decision meant the spirit of competition was gone forever.

But there is no doubting the added glamour the extra money in the sport has provided.

Best wishes from Sydney in 2000

Until the 1970s, the major international athletic competitions were the Olympics and the Commonwealth Games.

Athletes can now compete in many different events.

The World Championships, World Cup, World Indoor Championships, European Championships, European Cup and Grand Prix.

Modern athletes are now likely to have their own nutritionist, trainer, have their spiked footwear made specially for them.

And also wear tight-fitting gear to make them more streamline.

Nearly 11,000 athletes competed at the Athens Games in over 296 events in 28 sports.

The track and field stars performed in front of an 80,000 capacity crowd in the newly developed Olympic Stadium.

The Olympics live on.



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De la Rosa unhappy with test ban

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