Olympics Primer: How to Watch Athletics - NBC Bay Area
London 2012

London 2012

Full coverage on NBC through August 12

Olympics Primer: How to Watch Athletics

Your cheat sheet for watching track and field events at the Olympics



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    When it happens:
    Aug. 3 through Aug. 12

    How it became a sport:
    Track—a series of sprints all done over the course of a single day—was the original Olympic sport at the games held in ancient Greece, and has been the glamour event of the modern Games since their inception in 1896. These days there are races varying in distance from 100 meters to 26.2 miles, as well as hurdles, jumping both high and far, pole vaulting, shot putting, and throwing hammers, javelins and discuses.

    What it takes:
    Well, that depends on which event you're doing, doesn’t it? Fast-twitch muscles for the sprints, lung capacity for the longer runs, brute strength for some events, precise technique for others. Only decathletes need a little of everything.

    How you win:
    Determining the winner is as simple as the events themselves: "Faster, Higher, Stronger," in the words of the Olympic motto. The scoring in the decathlon and heptathlon is a little trickier, but still pretty straight forward, as points are awarded for each distance or time achieved in the individual events.

    The lingo:
    Anchor: The athlete who runs the last leg of a relay race.

    Atheltics: That's what the Brits call track & field.

    Bell Lap: The final lap of a race. (A bell rings when the lead runner begins his or her final lap.)

    Countback: The way in which ties in the pole vault and high jump are broken—if two competitors clear the same height, whoever made it in the fewest attempts is declared the winner. If this fails to break the tie, then whoever has the fewest misses throughout the competition, up to, but not beyond the final height cleared, is declared the winner.

    Flop or Fosbury Flop: A heads-first, backwards jump over a high jump bar. This is the most popular high jump style.

    More information: