The History of Athletics: Track and Field History

ancient olympic games

In order to find the origins of the Athletics we would have to go very far back in history because Athletics is one of the world’s oldest sporting events. In fact, Olympic Games as we know it today developed from the ancient track and field events that very being held in Ancient Greece. However, some historians trace the origins of the Athletics back to 10th or even 9th century BC.

In the year 776 BC in the ancient Olympia in Greece the first Olympic Games were held and during that games, only one, to use modern day terminology, track and field event was held and that was the stadium footrace and the winner of that events and the first ever Olympic winner was Koroibos. Athletics or rather some of the aspects of athletics were present at the Panhellenic Games that were held in Greece and from there the ideas and the main concepts of the Athletics spread to Italy around the year 200 BC.

During the next several centuries Athletics developed in slow steps. However, during the Middle Ages the new wave of the track and field development began. During that time track and field developed in the Northern part of Europe. Track and field as we know it today began developing in the 19th century when first competitions in track and field took places. In that time, those track and field competitions primary were organized by educational institutions, sport clubs and some military organizations. The events organized by these institutions were actually the one that included the hurdle races.

During this period, first national athletics associations have been established and shortly after that first national competitions took place. Among the first associations who organized such competitions was Amateur Athletic Association of England who in 1880 organized the annual AAA Championship. Even before England, the New York Athletic Club from the United States organized the first USA Outdoor Track and Field Championship back in 1876.

As track and field was developing in big steps during that time, there was one common problem that all athletes shared. During that time, all athletes were considered to be amateurs and because of the known rule that the amateur athletes could not receive training money, money prizes or sponsorship deals that was ever growing issues among the athletes. The charges that some athlete might be a professional eventually lead to stripping of the victories that that athlete had in previous period.

One of the biggest milestone for the development of the Athletics came back in 1896 at the Summer Olympic Games. In those Games in Athens, track and field together with a marathon comprised the majority of the sporting events at that Games. Besides that, those Games are also important because they for the first time introduced the metric measurement that was used in the track and field competitions. During the next couple of decades the development of the track and field, or rather, the athletics in general, put the Athletics on the path of becoming the most important aspect of the Olympic Games for every games in the future.

In 1912, the second milestone in the development of the Athletics occurred when the International Amateur Athletic Federation or IAAF was founded and as such it became the international governing body for track and field. The officials of the IAAF of that time emphasized the importance of the amateurism for the athletics and it became of the basic principle on which IAAF will continue to operate. Up until the early 1920’s, track and field was only a male sport. Women became part of the athletics only after women’s sport movement organized Women’s World Games back in 1921. However, women for the first time participated in track and field competitions at the Olympic Games back in 1928 Summer Olympic Games.


After athletics gained more media coverage and since it became appealing for big companies the amateur statues of the athletes was dropped in favor of the professionalism. Officially, in 1982, International Amateur Athletic Federation abandoned the notion of amateurism and it became the organization of professional athletes. Following that, the next year marked the first year in which the first IAAF World Championship in Athletics was held and from that moment, the popularity of athletics and athletes continued to grow and today they are among the most respected athletes in any sport.