Dating back to the Ancient Greeks, athletics was the only competition to be held in the first Olympic Games which took place in Athens in 776 BC. At that time, the single athletic event was known as the ‘stade,’ a foot race which covered the length of the Athenian Olympic stadium.
The Olympic Games continued to take place in Athens every four years, with all wars suspended for the duration of the games. Over time, more events were added to the ancient games including longer running distances, the discus, javelin, jumping and wrestling. The Roman Games also incorporated a form of athletics although the events favoured by the Romans were chariot racing, wrestling and most importantly gladiatorial combat and similarly the Celts, Teutons and Goths also took part in forms of athletic combat.
Athletics became more diverse during the Middle Ages when the sons of noblemen were trained in running, jumping and wrestling and there were often athletics contests between rival nobility. In the nineteenth century, the modern events that are familiar in athletics today began to emerge, initially as part of an official physical education programme in schools.
Schools began to organise competitive meets, the earliest of which took place in Exeter College, Oxford in 1850. The first modern Olympic Games took place in 1896 and athletics were the key element of the games, with the competition being divided into track and field events. In 1928 further progressions were made when women were allowed to partake in athletics competitions for the first time.
An international governing body of athletics, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), was established in 1912 which developed a number of international standards, rules and competitions and which has regulated the sport ever since. Today there are numerous events which combine to make up the sport of athletics. In competition, most of these events are carried out on a 400 m track or inside the track on a grass field. These tracks are situated in an indoor or outdoor stadium depending on the season.