Every four years, track and field is (shot) put into the spotlight during the summer Olympic Games. The best of the best sprint, jump and throw their ways to the podium. During this summer’s Tokyo games, spectators might have glimpsed some of Oklahoma’s own athletes giving it their all during track and field events.
For most, going pro isn’t the end goal. The athletes who love these events make their college years their best years, leaving it all on the track, says Steve Gulley, head coach of both men’s and women’s track and field, plus cross country, at the University of Tulsa. Year round, collegiate athletes are working hard at a sport that most view as a discipline.
“When somebody messes up in football or basketball, what do they make them do? Run,” says Gulley.
Yet running, at both long and short distances, comprises only a portion of the 10-plus track and field events. Jumpers and throwers round out the roster. Despite being a team, however, one of the only things members have in common is the logo on their uniform, as training for and performing in each event looks vastly different.
While a runner puts in miles pounding the pavement, a discus thrower spends time lifting in the weight room. Training involves perfecting technicalities and making small adjustments, such as shin angles and foot placement, to shave a few milliseconds off a time or gain distance on a throw.
“I like that you’ve got completely different personalities, completely different body types and different mind sets that have to go into each event, but they’re all working towards the same goal as one team,” says Josh Langley, an assistant track and field coach at Oklahoma State University, who focuses on combined events, pole vault and throwers.
With the variety of events that span an entire day, Gulley says track and field meets are a hard sell for spectators. Langley adds that for the throwing events, those watching often don’t have a sense of what a good throw looks like; but anyone familiar with running, or who took physical education growing up, knows that a four-minute mile is speedy.
Track Meet 101
When athletes compete, team members participate in a variety of events during a day-long meet or bracketed competition.
Short- and long-distance sprints: Track races ranging from 100 to 400 meters
Mid- and long-distance races: Track races ranging from 800 to 10,000 meters
Hurdles: Runners sprint and jump over hurdles on the track
Steeplechase: A track race combining distance, hurdles and other obstacles
Relays: Multiple runners from the same team compete in a single track race
Long jump: The jumper runs and makes a single jump into the sand pit
Triple jump: The jumper hops and bounds before jumping into the sand pit
High jump: The jumper runs and jumps over a high bar
Shot put: A heavy ball, the shot, is launched, or put, as far as possible using one hand
Discus: A heavy disc is thrown as far as possible
Javelin: The athlete runs and throws a sharp spear as far as possible