The 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio have kicked off – and the excitement of the next couple of weeks will surely be felt around the world. A total of 10,500 athletes from 206 countries are expected to compete in Rio. For the first time in history, a team of refugees will also be competing in the Olympics, marching behind the Olympic flag.
Of the athletes in the 2016 games, 555 are part of the U.S. team, representing 46 states. The team includes 263 men and 292 women. Among the U.S. contingent, there are 127 members of the 2016 U.S. Olympic Track and Field team.
Here are some interesting facts about the history of running and runners in the Olympic Games:
- Running was part of the ancient Olympic Games, but the only race at that time was the sprint. Over the years, longer races and other track and field events were added to the games.
- The marathon was first introduced in the modern Olympic Games in 1896 in Athens. During the race, athletes had to run from Marathon, an area situated to the northeast of Athens, to the Olympic Stadium.
- In 1908, the marathon at the Olympic Games in London started at Windsor Castle and finished inside White City Stadium, London. The distance of the race was 42.195 kilometers, equivalent to 26 miles 385 yards. The standard distance for the marathon was set in 1921, based on the length used at the 1908 London Olympics.
- U.S. track and field athletics dates back to the 1860s. However, women’s track and field didn’t become part of the Olympics until 1928.
- In order to qualify for the Olympic Track and Field team, athletes must finish in the top three of their respective events and must also meet the Olympic qualifying standard for their events.
- Usain Bolt of Jamaica has been called the world’s fastest man. He is a six-time Olympic gold medalist and will again be competing in the Rio games.
- At age 34, Justin Gatlin on the U.S. Track and Field team is the oldest man to make a U.S. Olympic team in a sprint event since 1912. Gatlin will race in three events. Although he was considered the fastest man in the world in 2014 and 2015, he has yet to defeat Usain Bolt in an Olympic final.
- In addition to Bolt and Gatlin, some of the top runners to watch in Rio include Ashton Eaton, Allyson Felix and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce. Eaton broke the decathlon world record in the 2012 London games and will try to become the first decathlete to defend a gold medal in this event since 1984. Felix clocked a world-leading time in the 400m Olympic trials. Fraser-Pryce, who won Olympic gold in the 100m in 2008 and 2012, will try to become the first woman to win three consecutive gold medals in the race.
- Identical triplets from Estonia will be competing in this year’s Olympic marathon. Leila, Lily and Liina Luik call themselves the “Trio to Rio.” They only turned pro at age 24 and are now competing in the Olympics at age 30.
- Looking to watch some track and field events in Rio? Consider these: 100 meters, 200 meters, 400 meters, 800 meters, 1,500 meters, 3,000 meter steeplechase, 5,000 meters, 10,000 meters, marathon, 110 meter hurdles, 400 meter hurdles, pole vault, long jump, high jump, triple jump, shot put, discus, javelin and the decathlon.