What is Olympic Distance Running?

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What is Olympic distance running? Middle- and long-distance races test the speed, strength and stamina of the competitors in five different events, including marquee races such as the 1500 and the marathon.


In the modern Olympics, there are five Olympic distance running events for both men and women:
  • 800-meter run
  • 1500-meter run
  • 5000-meter run
  • 10,000-meter run
  • Marathon

800-meter run
As in all distance races, runners begin from a standing start.

Competitors must remain in their lanes until they pass through the first turn.

1500-meter run, 5000-meter run and 10,000-meter run
Under IAAF rules, in races of 1500 meters or longer run on a track, competitors are generally divided into two groups at the start, with approximately 65 percent of the runners on the regular, arced starting line and the remainder on a separate, arced starting line marked across the outer half of the track. The latter group must remain on the outer half of the track until they pass through the first turn.

The marathon is 26.2 miles (42.195 kilometers) long and begins with a standing start.


Olympic distance events are run on a track except for the marathon, which generally begins and ends at the Olympic stadium, with the remainder of the event run on nearby roads.


Athletes in the distance running events must achieve an Olympic qualifying time and must qualify for their nation’s Olympic team. A maximum of three competitors per country may compete in any event.

Eight runners participate in the 800-meter final, 12 the 1500 final and 15 in the 5000. In 2004, 24 men and 31 women participated in their respective 10,000-meter events. In the marathon, 101 runners started in the men’s race, 82 in the women’s event. Depending on the number of entrants, Olympic distance events of less than 10,000 meters generally include one or two rounds of preliminary heats.

All distance races end when a runner’s torso (not the head, arm or leg) crosses the finish line.

Read more about Olympic Distance Running Rules and Scoring.

Back to Olympic Distance Running main page
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