Story: Athletics

Page 1. The sport of athletics

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Athletics is the group of sports that includes organised competitive running, walking, jumping and throwing. Its best-known manifestation is track and field, and it also includes road and cross-country running, race walking, ultra-distance and mountain running.

Track and field

For the athletics enthusiast nothing can match a good track-and-field meeting: the tactics and last-lap heroics of the distance runners, the explosive power of the sprinters and hurdlers, and the very different combinations of strength, speed and technique that make up the field events. No other sport encompasses such a variety of competitive excitement and skill.


Although the specifics of some have changed over time, for example distances and techniques, the range of track-and-field events have remained basically the same as they were in the early 20th century. The events included in the 2011 World Athletic Championships and 2012 Olympic Games were:

  • running: 100 metres, 200 metres, 400 metres, 800 metres, 1,500 metres, 5,000 metres, 10,000 metres, marathon, 4 x 100-metres relay, 4 x 400-metres relay
  • walking: 20 kilometres, 50 kilometres (men only)
  • hurdling: 100 metres (women only), 110 metres (men only), 400 metres, 3,000 metres steeplechase
  • throwing: shot put, discus, hammer, javelin
  • jumping: long jump, high jump, triple jump, pole vault
  • decathlon (men) and heptathlon (women).

The thrill of victory

In 1933 Jack Lovelock broke the mile world record: ‘as we came into the straight I pulled myself for a big strain, forced my mind to remember form and style and generally collected myself physically & mentally. Then at last I produced all I had ... It was a tremendous thrill, the sort of thrill that compensates for months of training & toiling – as I drew level with him [US runner Bill Bonthron], then passed him, and finally left him well behind.’1

World-class heritage

New Zealand athletics has a long history with many successes. At various times New Zealanders have been the best in the world at discus, sprinting, shot put, long jumping, distance running, cross country, mountain running and race walking. However, it is in middle-distance racing that New Zealand has a particularly proud record. Jack Lovelock, Peter Snell and John Walker all won Olympic gold in the 1,500 metres, and held world records over the 1,500 metres or the mile (1.6 kilometres) – Lovelock held both.

Athletics New Zealand

The national body for athletics is Athletics New Zealand. Until 1989 it was known as the New Zealand Amateur Athletic Association. It is affiliated to the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). Locally, the sport is based on clubs and centres affiliated to Athletics New Zealand and athletes need to be registered with a club if they want to compete in Athletics New Zealand events.

  1. David Colquhoun, ed., As if walking on air: the journals of Jack Lovelock. Nelson: Craig Potton, 2008, p. 102. Back
How to cite this page:

David Colquhoun, 'Athletics - The sport of athletics', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 22 July 2024)

Story by David Colquhoun, published 5 Sep 2013, updated 20 Sep 2016