Track and Field at the Tokyo Games will comprise 48 medal events across a variety of running, throwing and jumping disciplines:

  • 100m (M/W)
  • 200m (M/W)
  • 400m (M/W)
  • 800m (M/W)
  • 1500m (M/W)
  • 3000m Steeplechase (M/W)
  • 5000m (M/W)
  • 10,000m (M/W)
  • Marathon (M/W)
  • 110m Hurdles (M), 100m Hurdles (W)
  • 400m Hurdles (M/W)
  • 20km Walk (M/W)
  • 50km Walk (M)
  • 4x100m Relay (M/W)
  • 4x400m Relay (M/W/Mixed)
  • Discus (M/W)
  • Hammer (M/W)
  • Javelin (M/W)
  • Shot Put (M/W)
  • High Jump (M/W)
  • Long Jump (M/W)
  • Triple Jump (M/W)
  • Pole Vault (M/W)
  • Decathlon (M), Heptathlon (W)

The 4x400m mixed relay is new for Tokyo 2020. Entrants must feature two men and two women, but the order of runners is up to the team.

Running Events

100m

The 100m is the race to determine the fastest man and fastest woman in the world. At the Olympics, the event technically consists of four rounds, though athletes with the qualifying standard will not compete in the preliminary round.

  • Preliminary Round: This round is only for athletes who have not achieved the Olympic qualifying standard. The number of athletes who progress from the preliminary round to round one will depend on how many athletes have achieved the qualifying standard (and are thus already qualified for round one).
  • Round 1: Athletes who have achieved the qualifying standard will begin their competition in round one (rather than the preliminary round). Athletes are placed into heats based on their best time from the season so that top contenders are less likely to knock each other out at this stage of the competition. In Rio, there were eight heats in round one in both the men’s and women’s 100m. The top two in each heat, plus the top eight fastest not already qualified, progressed to the semifinal round.
  • Semifinal Round: There are typically three semifinal heats (each featuring eight athletes). When three semifinals are contested, the top two in each heat, plus the two fastest not already qualified, progress to the final.
  • Final: Eight athletes typically compete in the final. The first athlete to cross the finish line will be awarded the gold medal.

200m

Athletes start using blocks and stay in their lane throughout the entire race. The 200m consists of three rounds: round one, the semifinals, and the final.

  • Round 1: Athletes are placed into heats based on their best time from the season so that top contenders are less likely to knock each other out at this stage of the competition. In Rio, round one of the 200m featured 10 men’s heats and nine women’s heats. The top two in each heat, plus the fastest four men and fastest eight women not already qualified, progressed to the semifinal round.
  • Semifinal Round: There are typically three semifinal heats (each featuring eight athletes). When three semifinals are contested, the top two in each heat, plus the two fastest not already qualified, progress to the final.
  • Final: Eight athletes typically compete in the final. The first athlete to cross the finish line will be awarded the gold medal.

400m

Athletes run one lap around the track. They start in blocks and stay in their lane throughout the entire race. The 400m consists of three rounds: round one, the semifinals, and the final.

  • Round 1: Athletes are placed into heats based on their best time from the season so that top contenders are less likely to knock each other out at this stage of the competition. In Rio, round one of the 400m featured seven men’s heats and eight women’s heats. The top three men in each heat — and next three fastest not already qualified — progressed to the semifinal round. The top two women in each heat — and next six fastest not already qualified — progressed to the semifinal round.
  • Semifinal Round: There are typically three semifinal heats (each featuring eight athletes). When three semifinals are contested, the top two in each heat, plus the two fastest not already qualified, progress to the final.
  • Final: The first athlete to cross the finish line will be awarded the gold medal.

800m

The 800m is considered the shortest middle-distance event. Athletes complete two laps of the track. The race begins with each athlete in his/her own lane. After the first bend, athletes can leave their lanes and converge on the inner lane of the track. The 800m consists of three rounds: round one, the semifinals, and the final.

  • Round 1: Athletes are placed into heats based on their best time from the season so that top contenders are less likely to knock each other out at this stage of the competition. In Rio, round one of the 800m featured seven men’s heats and eight women’s heats. The top three men in each heat — and next three fastest not already qualified — progressed to the semifinal round. The top two women in each heat — and next eight fastest not already qualified — progressed to the semifinal round.
  • Semifinal Round: There are typically three semifinal heats (each featuring eight athletes). When three semifinals are contested, the top two in each heat, plus the two fastest not already qualified, progress to the final.
  • Final: The first athlete to cross the finish line will be awarded the gold medal.

1500m

In the 1500m, athletes run 3.75 laps around the track. Following the starting gun, they are allowed to immediately break for the inside of the track. The 1500m consists of three rounds: round one, the semifinals, and the final.

  • Round 1: Athletes are placed into heats based on their best time from the season so that top contenders are less likely to knock each other out in round one. In Rio, round one of the 1500m featured three men’s heats and three women’s heats. The top six athletes in each heat — and the six fastest not already qualified — progressed to the semifinal round.
  • Semifinal: In Rio, there were two semifinal heats. The top five in each heat, plus the two fastest not already qualified, progressed to the final.
  • Final: The first athlete to cross the finish line will be awarded the gold medal.

5000m

In the 5000m, athletes run 12.5 laps around the track. Athletes can break for the inside lane immediately following the starting gun. In Rio, the men’s race was won in just over 13 minutes and the last finisher crossed the line 40 seconds later. The women’s race was won in 14 minutes, 26 seconds, and the final competitor crossed the line in 16 minutes and 14 seconds.

  • Round 1: In Rio, round one of the 5000m featured two men’s heats and two women’s heats. The top five in each heat — and the five fastest not already qualified— progressed to the final.
  • Final: The final typically includes 15 athletes. The first athlete to cross the finish line is awarded the gold medal.

10,000m

The longest event to take place on the track, the 10,000m consists of 25 laps. There is no preliminary round, only a final. The first athlete to cross the finish line wins gold.

In Rio, the men’s race was won in 27 minutes, 5 seconds. The last finisher crossed the line in 29 minutes, 32 seconds. The women’s event was won in 29 minutes, 17 seconds. The final competitor crossed in 35 minutes, 33 seconds.

Marathon

At 26.2 miles, the marathon is the longest running event at the Olympics. (It is not the longest track and field event: the 50 km race walk is 7.8 km – about 4.8 miles – longer.) The marathon only has a final. The first athlete to cross the finish line is awarded the gold medal.

In Rio, the men’s marathon was won in 2 hours, 8 minutes. The top nine athletes all crossed within 2 hours, 12 minutes. The final finisher clocked in at 2 hours, 46 minutes. The women’s marathon was won in 2 hours, 24 minutes. The top 11 finishers all crossed within 2 hours, 29 minutes. The final finisher took 3 hours, 20 minutes.

Steeplechase

The steeplechase event is 3,000 meters long (about 7.5 laps). Because the water jump is typically inside the oval, competitors run slightly less than 400 meters per lap, so the final lap count and starting position is determined on a track-by-track basis. During the race, competitors clear 28 fixed barriers (typically four per lap) and seven water jumps (typically one per lap).

The men’s barriers are 36 inches tall, while the women’s barriers are 30 inches tall. The water jump has a landing area that is 12 feet long and 27 inches at its deepest.

The steeplechase features two rounds: round one and a final.

  • Round 1: In Rio, round one of both the men’s and women’s steeplechase featured three heats. The top three in each heat, plus the next six fastest not yet qualified, progressed to the final.
  • Final: The final typically includes 15 athletes. The first athlete to cross the finish line wins the gold medal.

Hurdles

Men’s 110m / Women’s 100m Hurdles

Athletes clear 10 hurdles while running the straightaway of the track. Men run 110 meters, while the women’s distance is 100 meters. The 110/100m hurdles consist of three rounds: round one, the semifinals, and the final.

  • Round 1: Athletes are placed into heats based on their best time from the season so that top contenders are less likely to knock each other out in round one. In Rio, round one of the 110m/100m hurdles featured five men’s heats and six women’s heats. The top three in each women’s heat, plus the fastest six athletes not already qualified, progressed to the semifinal round. The top four men in each heat, plus the four fastest athletes not already qualified, progressed to the semifinal round.
  • Semifinal Round: There are typically three semifinal heats (each featuring eight athletes). When three semifinals are contested, the top two in each heat, plus the two fastest not already qualified, progress to the final.
  • Final: The final typically includes eight athletes. The first athlete to cross the finish line will be awarded the gold medal.

400m Hurdles

Athletes clear 10 hurdles while running one lap of the track. The 400m hurdles consist of three rounds: round one, the semifinals, and the final.

  • Round 1: Athletes are placed into heats based on their best time from the season so that top contenders are less likely to knock each other out in round one. In Rio, round one of the 400m hurdles featured six men’s heats and six women’s heats. The top three in each heat, plus the fastest six athletes not already qualified, progressed to the semifinal round.
  • Semifinal Round: There are typically three semifinal heats (each featuring eight athletes). When three semifinals are contested, the top two in each heat, plus the two fastest not already qualified, progress to the final.
  • Final: The final includes eight athletes. The first athlete to cross the finish line will be awarded the gold medal.

Vertical Jumps

High Jump and Pole Vault

High Jump: In the high jump, competitors attempt to clear a 4-meter-long horizontal bar. The athlete who jumps the highest without knocking the bar to the ground is the winner.

Pole Vault: In the pole vault, competitors attempt to clear a horizontal bar by sprinting down a runway and using a pole to catapult themselves into the air. The athlete who vaults the highest without knocking the bar to the ground is the winner.

(The high jump and the pole vault use the same format at the Olympics)

General Rules

  • Each competitor may begin at any height above the starting mark. Athletes can elect to “pass” (i.e. advance to the next height without having cleared the current one). The bar is only raised, never lowered.
  • Athletes have three attempts to clear any given height. Once an athlete has three consecutive failures at a height (or multiple heights if he/she “passed” over a height), that athlete is not allowed to take any additional attempts at any height.

Qualifying Rounds

  • Ahead of the qualification round, World Athletics technical delegates will announce the qualifying round standard. All athletes who achieve that mark in the qualification round will automatically earn a spot in the final. If less than 12 athletes hit the qualifying round mark, the next highest ranked athlete(s), up to a total of at least 12, will be included in the final. If there is a tie for 12th, only the first two criteria in the tiebreaking procedures (listed below) will be used.
  • Once an athlete has secured a spot in the final, he/she stops competing in the qualifying round (even if he/she has more attempts).
  • The qualification round is typically held using two groups (A and B) so that the competition can move more quickly. These groups, which are equally weighted, usually compete simultaneously. In pole vault and high jump, this means that athletes in both groups are typically attempting the same height at the same time.

Final

  • Results from the qualifying round do not carry over into the final.
  • The final consists of 12 athletes (possibly more if there is a tie or if more than 12 achieve the required qualifying round mark).
  • Competition concludes when every athlete has recorded three consecutive failed attempts (except for the winner). If the winner still has more opportunities, he/she can elect to either stop or attempt a higher measure (often to attempt a personal best or world/Olympic record).

Tiebreaking Procedures

If, at the end of the competition, competitors are tied at the same height, the tie is broken using the following criteria:

  1. The athlete with the fewest failures at the tied height receives the higher placement
  2. If the competitors are still tied, the athlete with the fewest failures over the course of the entire competition will receive the higher placement

If they are still tied:

  • Qualification round: all tied athletes will progress to the final
  • Final: a jump-off will be used to determine the winner

Horizontal Jumps and Throws

Long Jump

Competitors sprint down a runway and leap as far as possible into a sand pit. Athletes may step on, but not over, the takeoff board. The distance jumped is measured from the end of the takeoff board to the first indentation in the sand pit.

Triple Jump

The triple jump has three components: the hop, the step (or skip), and the jump. Competitors sprint down a runway and take off a wooden board. (The jumper may step on, but not over, the takeoff board.) The athlete then lands on their take-off foot; this is “the hop.” The athlete then leaps to their opposite foot (“the step”) before finally “jumping” into the sand pit.

The total distance jumped is measured is from the end of the takeoff board to the first indentation in the sand pit.

Shot Put

While the shot put technically falls under “the throws,” the event involves athletes “putting” — not throwing — a shot (a metal ball) with one hand. A men’s shot weighs 16 pounds, while a women’s shot weighs 8 pounds.

Athletes begin by standing in a circle that is 7 feet in diameter. During the put, the hand holding the shot cannot be dropped below its starting position. In addition, the shot must not be brought in front of the line of the shoulders.

Competitors cannot touch the top of the toe board during their put or leave the circle at any stage of the put. The shot must land in a 35-degree sector of the field. Officials measure the distance from the nearest mark made by the shot to the inside circumference of the circle.

Discus

Athletes throw a metal discus as far as they can. Men use a discus that weighs 2 kg (4.4 pounds) and is 22 cm (8.66 inches) in diameter. A women’s discus is 1 kg (2.2 pounds) and 18 cm (7.09 inches) in diameter.

Athletes begin by standing in a circle that measures 2.5 meters (8.2 feet) in diameter. The thrower typically takes one and a half spins before releasing the discus. The discus must land inside a marked sector and the athlete must not leave the circle before it has landed.

Hammer

The hammer is a metal ball attached by a length of steel wire to a triangular grip. The ball weighs 16 pounds in the men’s event and 8.8 pounds in the women’s event.

Athletes begin by standing in a circle that is 7 feet in diameter. The thrower generally does three or four spins before releasing the hammer. In order for the throw to be measured, the hammer must land in a 35-degree sector of the field.

Javelin

Using one arm, athletes throw a javelin as far as possible. The athlete must hold the javelin by its corded grip.

A men’s javelin weighs at least 800 grams (1.67 pounds) and is 2.6 to 2.7 meters (8.53 to 8.85 feet) long. A women’s javelin weighs at least 600 grams (1.32 pounds) and is 2.2 to 2.3 meters (7.22 to 7.54 feet) long.

These events will feature two phases of competition in Tokyo: a qualifying round and a final.

Qualifying Round

  • Ahead of the qualifying round, the World Athletics technical delegates will announce the qualifying round standard. All athletes who achieve this mark in the qualifying round will automatically earn a spot in the final. If less than 12 athletes hit the qualifying round mark, the next highest ranked athlete(s), up to a total of at least 12, will be included in the final.
  • During the qualifying round, each athlete has three attempts, with only their best attempt counting. Once an athlete has secured a spot in the final, he/she stops competing in the qualifying round (even if he/she has more attempts).
  • The qualifying round is typically held using two groups (A and B) so that the competition can move more quickly. These groups are equally weighted. In long jump and triple jump, groups A and B typically compete simultaneously into separate sand pits. In the throwing events, group A usually competes before group B.

Final Round

  • Results from the qualifying round do not carry over into the final. The final consists of 12 athletes (possibly more if there is a tie or if more than 12 achieve the required qualifying round mark).
  • The final includes six rounds. The final rankings are determined using an athlete’s best result from any round in the final.
  • After every athlete has taken three attempts, the lowest-ranked athletes (usually four athletes, but potentially more if over 12 athletes make the final) are eliminated from the competition. The remaining eight competitors take another three attempts. If competitors are tied, the athlete with the next best attempt is declared the winner.

Multi-Events

Decathlon

The decathlon is a 10-event competition that takes place over two consecutive days. Competitors earn points based on their result (i.e. time or distance) in each event, not their placement (i.e. first or second). Points are calculated using the official World Athletics decathlon scoring tables.

The gold medalist is the man who earns the most points across all 10 events.

Events are held in the following order:

Day 1 Day 2
100m 110m Hurdles
Long Jump Discus
Shot Put Pole Vault
High Jump Javelin
400m 1500m

The rules governing the individual disciplines also govern the decathlon, with these notable exceptions:

  1. In running events, one false start is allowed to the field and any second false start by anyone in the field results in automatic disqualification of that runner.
  2. In the long jump and the throws, a competitor receives only three attempts, not six.
  3. In the vertical jumps (high jump and pole vault), each increase of the bar shall be uniform throughout the competition: 3 cm in the high jump and 10 cm in the pole vault.

Ties are not broken.

Heptathlon

The heptathlon is a seven-event competition that takes place over two consecutive days. Competitors earn points for their performance in each discipline. Points are calculated using the official World Athletics heptathlon scoring tables.

The gold medalist is the woman who earns the most points across all seven events.

Events are held in the following order:

Day 1 Day 2
100m Hurdles Long Jump
High Jump Javelin
Shot Put 800m
200m

The rules governing the individual disciplines also govern the heptathlon, with these notable exceptions:

  1. In running events, one false start is allowed to the field and any second false start by anyone in the field results in automatic disqualification of that runner.
  2. In the long jump and the throws, a competitor receives only three attempts, not six.
  3. In the high jump, each increase of the bar shall be uniform throughout the competition (3 cm).
    Ties are not broken.

Race Walks

20km Walk

The distance for the 20km walk is equivalent to 12.427 miles.

In Rio, the winner of the men’s event finished in 1 hour, 19 minutes. The top 11 finishers all clocked in under 1 hour, 21 minutes. The last finisher crossed in 1 hour, 33 minutes.

The women’s event was won in 1 hour, 28 minutes. The top 10 athletes all finished within 1 hour, 31 minutes. The final finisher crossed in 1 hour, 45 minutes.

Men’s 50km Walk

The distance for the 50km walk is equivalent to 31.07 miles.

In Rio, the men’s event was won in 3 hours, 40 minutes. The top four finishers all crossed in under 3 hours, 42 minutes. The final finisher clocked 4 hours, 39 minutes.

Race Walk Rules

  • Race walking differs from running in several major ways: to start, one foot most always be in contact with the ground; breaking this rule is called “lifting.” In addition, rules state that an athlete’s advancing leg must remain straight from the point of contact with the ground until his/her body passes over it.
  • Judges observe the race and caution competitors if it appears they are breaking these rules. Three violations during a race leads to disqualification.
  • There are no preliminary rounds in the race walking events, only finals. The first athlete to cross the finish line wins gold.

Relays

4x100m Relay

Relay teams includes four athletes from the same nation. Each athlete runs 100 meters before passing the baton to the next athlete. Each team stays in the same lane throughout the 4x100m relay.

  • Passing the Baton: Athletes have 20 meters to pass the baton; the changeover box is situated 10 meters before and 10 meters after the start of each subsequent leg. Disqualifications – for dropping the baton, passing the baton outside of the changeover zone, or crossing into another team’s lane – are common.
  • First Round: A maximum of 16 nations will qualify teams. There are two semifinal heats, each featuring eight teams. The top three teams in each heat, plus the next two fastest not yet qualified, progress to the final.
  • Final: Eight teams typically compete in the final (it is possible for officials to rule that another team should be advanced in the event of a collision or rule violation by another team in the semifinal round). The first team across the finish line, baton in hand, wins. All athletes who competed in either round (first round or final) receive medals. However, typically only the four athletes who competed in the final participate in the official medal ceremony.

4x400m Relay and Mixed 4x400m Relay

Each team includes four athletes from the same nation. Each athlete runs 400m before passing the baton to the next athlete. Athletes pass the baton in the changeover zone, which is located from 10 meters before to 10 meters after the finish line. For the first 1.75 laps, each nation stays in its own line. At the beginning of the back stretch of the second lap, runners can converge on the inside lane.

The mixed 4x400m relay will make its Olympic debut in Tokyo. Each team must include two men and two women in each round. Any athlete can run any leg, though most teams at 2019 Worlds used a male-female-female-male order.

  • First Round: A maximum of 16 nations will qualify teams. There are two semifinal heats, each featuring eight teams. The top three teams in each heat, plus the next two fastest not yet qualified, progress to the final.
  • Final: Eight teams typically compete in the final (it is possible for officials to rule that another team should be advanced in the event of a collision or rule violation by another team in the semifinal round). Teams can use different athletes for the final than the preliminary round. The first team across the finish line, baton in hand, wins. All athletes who competed in either round (first round or final) receive medals. However, typically only the four athletes who competed in the final participate in the official medal ceremony.

More information:

Official Tokyo site – Track & Field

USA Track & Field

International federation