100m to 10000m: Olympic running distances

It is a well-known fact that running is the freest and oldest form of competitive sport. All that is essential to run is a pair of shoes, open space and the will to do so.

Running has been a part of the modern Olympic movement since its inception in 1896. Do we know what the various types of running distances in the Olympics?

1) Sprints


Late Olympian Emil Zatopek once said, “If you want to win something, run 100 meters.” The 100 meters is one of the blue ribbon events of the Olympics. It is held at the beginning of the tournament and comprises of 4 rounds of competition: heats, quarter-finals, semi-finals and finals (each round consisting of 8 athletes).

Olympic record

Men - Usain Bolt (9.63 seconds) 2012

Women - Florence Griffith-Joyner (10.62 seconds) 1988



The 200 meters race is also called the ‘stadion’ (ancient Greek running event). The athletes line up on the curve of the race track to begin the race and end it on the home straight.

Olympic record

Men - Usain Bolt (19.30 seconds) 2009

Women - Florence Griffith-Joyner (21.34) 1988



The 400-metre dash is the lengthiest sprint event in the Olympics. It is exactly one lap around the track of the standard outdoor running track. Athletes have to stay in their lane during this event. An athlete needs to be on the peak of his sprinting abilities to succeed in this event.

Olympic record

Men - Michael Johnson (43.49 seconds) 1996

Women - Marie-Jose Perec (48.25 seconds) 1996


2) Middle Distance


800 meters is the shortest amongst the middle-distance events. Athletes are supposed to run two whole laps around the running track in order to complete the race. Athletes converge towards the first lane as their positioning on the cut-in is crucial to their final standing. An early lead is difficult to lose in this event.

Olympic record

Men - David Rudisha (1:40.91) 2012

Women - Nadezhda Olizarenko (1:53.43) 1980



The 1500-metre race is the lengthiest middle-distance event in the Olympics. The physical demands for this event are similar to that of an 800 m event but due to an increase in distance, emphasis on sprint decreases and endurance increases.

Olympic record

Men - Noah Ngeny (3:32.07) 2000

Women - Paula Ivan (3:53.96) 1988


3) Long Distance


The 5000m event is an endurance race and ironically the shortest of its kind at the Olympics. It was introduced in 1912 Olympics for men and in 1996 for women. Muscle pulls are common in this event due to the accumulation of lactic acid. Therefore it is important to stay hydrated and fit before the event.

Olympic record

Men - Kenenisa Bekele (12:57.82) 2008

Women - Gabriela Szabo (14:40.79) 2000



The 10000-metre race is the longest standard track event in the Olympics. The athletes train by putting in 160 km in a week which is an indication of the exceptional levels of aerobic endurance demanded by this event. This event is dominated by African runners.

Olympic record

Men - Kenenisa Bekele (27:01.17)2008

Women - Tirunesh Dibaba (29:54.56) 2008

Guus Schoonewille / ANP / AFP

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