100m, 200m, 400m: Pace and Power

Florence Griffith-Joyner still holds the women's world records for 100m and 200m, winning three gold medals and a silver at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
File photo credit: http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/

sprint events athletics

Sprint events in track and field usually consists of the 100m, 200m and 400m race though 60m dashes are also held on occasion. The sprints are among the oldest running competitions and are said to have evolved from the 180m stadion race held during the ancient Olympic games.

The stadion race was named after the venue in which it took place, called the stadion, an ancient greek word for the stadium, as it is known today. The stadion race was said to be the most prestigious of the events and the winner was often considered the victor of the entire games.

The sprints today begins with a loud audio signal - a trumpet blow in ancient times which has evolved into a gunshot today - and runners dash across a short, prescribed distance. Fastest runner wins. While little has altered in terms of the basic rules of the sport, there have been some significant changes that have been made over the years. Runners today start in a crouch when they used to start upright, and they tend to be fully clothed today when they previously would run naked, perhaps, to reduce wind drag.


The outdoor 100m sprint has traditionally been considered one of the glamour events in athletics. These races are largely based upon the athlete’s ability to accelerate to his or her maximum speed in the quickest time possible. A race requiring explosive power than endurance, these athletes endure painful amounts of lactic acid that accumulate in their muscles as they power up across the distance.

Runners in the 100m race remain in assigned lanes. Fastest runners are given the middle lanes of a multi-heat event. Unlike the 200m or 400m races, lane placement isn’t as vital as the 100m lane is straight. While a fast start from the block is important for psychological reasons, runners who have been beaten out of their blocks do have time to recover the lost distance.

Often, the world record holder of the 100m is considered the world’s fastest man or woman. The current world record is held by Usain Bolt of Jamaica who famously declared that he ate a 100 chicken McNuggets a day during the 2013 Beijing Olympics. The women’s record is held by the late Florence Griffith Joyner who passed away in 1998.


Each runner’s assigned lanes are staggered in the 200m event to ensure that they run the same distance as they negotiate a curve. Runners try to remain as close to the inside line as possible but without stepping on it as that would be grounds for disqualification. This is known as the ability to “run a good bend”.

Unlike the 100m race which requires pure explosive power, a 200m runner must maintain this speed and have “speed endurance”. A good 200m runner could run a race at an average speed higher than their 100m speed. 

The world record in the 200m event is also held by Usain Bolt, who set the 19.19 second record at the 2009 World Athletics Championships. Likewise, the women’s record is also held by Florence Griffith Joyner.


The 400m race is a sprint around the track in the stadium. Runners are staggered in their starting positions so they run the same distance. While maximum sprint speed important in this race, athletes also require substantial speed endurance and a high tolerance for pain as they sustain high amounts of lactic acid across the lap.

As a testament to how different a 400m race is from a 100m race - 400m race times tend to be considerably more than four times a typical 100m time. In addition, it is not uncommon for runners to “come up from behind” and win the race at the final straight.

The current world record for the 400m is held by American runner Michael Johnson, and Marita Koch from East Germany.

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