Sport has always been a way of measuring a participant’s physical capabilities against his fellow men. Nearly three millennia ago, in the days before swimming pools, bicycles, and organized team sports like basketball and soccer, field events were that measure.
Competitive athletics in Greece can be documented as far back as 776 BC. Events at what are considered the first ancient Olympic Games included foot races, long jumping, discus and javelin throwing, and wrestling.
By the mid-1800s, organized athletic meetings, or “meets,” were becoming common in Europe and the Americas. Many of the European events were names “Olympics” after the ancient competitions, even though they were not the modern Olympic Games which came to exist in 1894.
In June 1894, Pierre de Coubertin convened representatives from 11 countries in Paris to propose a revival of the ancient Olympic Games. Members voted to hold the inaugural Games in Athens in 1896. Dimetrius Vikelas of Greece was elected the first president of the newly established International Olympic Committee (IOC).
The first Modern Olympic Games in 1896 contested 12 events. Long jump, triple jump, high jump, shot put, discus, and pole vault were among the field events that first Olympiad, and have remained part of each subsequent Games. The remaining running events were at 100 meters, 400 meters, 800 meters, and 1,500 meters, along with a 110-meter hurdle and a marathon.
The hammer throw made its initial appearance at the 1900 Games in Paris, when the field of events expanded to 23. The javelin throw, one of the staples of the ancient games, was first contested in 1908 at the London Games.
In 1928, women competed in the Olympic Games for the first time. The limited slate of events included the discus throw and high jump, along with 100- and 800-meter races.
The javelin competition was added for women at the 1932 Games in Los Angeles. Shot put and long jump were added for women when the Games returned to London in 1948. The Games return to London in 2012, marking the first time any city has hosted three times.
The triple jump for women was added at the 1996 games in Atlanta, followed by the hammer throw and pole vault for the 2000 Games in Sydney. Presently, with the exception of the combined events (heptathlon for women and decathlon for men), the slate of field events for men and women are identical.
At the 1912 International Olympic Committee Session in Stockholm, field events were among those deemed indispensable. The Olympic Games are about tradition, and there is nothing about the games more traditional that events that have endured almost 3,000 years and still draw world-class athletes to compete.
Americans swept the field events at the 1896 Games, taking first place in high jump, long jump, triple jump, discus, pole vault, and shot put. The only event in which an American did not claim first place was the marathon, won by Greek Spiridon Louis. Gold medals were not awarded to winners until 1904.
American Ray Ewry would claim a combined eight gold medals in high jump, long jump, and triple jump between 1900 and 1908.
More recently, Carl Lewis won the gold medal in long jump in four consecutive games between 1984 and 1996.
Definitions and descriptions were obtained from, and more information is available at www.olympic.org and www.london2012.com.
A fan of the Olympics and frequent writer about the 2012 London Games, Dave will be spending his summer vacation stateside, cheering on Team USA to gold.
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