Sprinting is running over a short distance in a limited period of time. It is used in many sports that incorporate running, typically as a way of quickly reaching a target or goal, or avoiding or catching an opponent. In athletics and track and field, sprints (or dashes) are races over short distances. They are among the oldest running competitions. The first 13 editions of the Ancient Olympic Games featured only one event—the stadion race, which was a race from one end of the stadium to the other. There are three sprinting events which are currently held at the Summer Olympics and outdoor World Championships: the 100 metres, 200 metres, and 400 metres. The 60 metres is a common indoor event and it is an indoor world championship event.
60 m: The 60 metres is normally run indoors, on a straight section of an indoor athletic track. Since races at this distance can last around six or seven seconds, having good reflexes and thus getting off to a quick start is more vital in this race than any other. It is popular for training and testing in other sports
100 m: The 100 metres sprint takes place on one length of the home straight of a standard outdoor 400 m track. They start from blocks and run in lanes. Often, the world-record holder in this race is considered "the world's fastest man/woman." In more modern times, the 100 yards (91.44m) was adopted as the foremost sprint – it was part of the Commonwealth Games until 1966 – but the classic 100m distance, the Blue Riband event, has been part of the Olympics since 1896.
200 m: The 200 metres begins on the curve of a standard track (where the runners are staggered in their starting position, to ensure that they all run the same distance), and ends on the home straight. Indoors, the race is run as one lap of the track, with only slightly slower times than outdoors. The 200m (for men) was added to the Olympic programme in 1900 and has been part of all subsequent Games, except 1906. Women have contested the distance in every Olympics since 1948.
400 m: The 400 metres is one lap around the track on the inside lane. Runners are staggered in their starting positions to ensure that everyone runs the same distance. While this event is classified as a sprint, there is more scope to use tactics in the race; the fact that 400 m times are considerably more than four times a typical 100 m time demonstrates this. The 400m for men has been in every Olympic Games since 1896. Women first contested the distance at the 1964 Tokyo Games.
Sprint training: Sprint training includes various running workouts, targeting acceleration, speed development, speed endurance, special endurance, and tempo endurance. Additionally, athletes perform intense strength training workouts, as well as plyometric or jumping workouts.
- The start: Starting blocks are used for all competition sprint events (up to and including 400 m). In the rare event that there are technical issues with a start, a green card is shown to all the athletes. The green card carries no penalty.
- False starts: According to the IAAF rules, "An athlete, after assuming a full and final set position, shall not commence his starting motion until after receiving the report of the gun, or approved starting apparatus.” A reaction time – measured by sensors in the starting pistol and on the blocks – of less than 0.1 is deemed a false start and runners will be recalled, and the responsible athlete disqualified.
- Lanes: For all Olympic sprint events, runners must remain within their pre-assigned lanes, which measure 1.22 metres (4 feet) wide, from start to finish. Any athlete who runs outside the assigned lane to gain an advantage is subject to disqualification. If the athlete is forced to run outside of his or her lane by another person, and no material advantage is gained, there will be no disqualification. Also, a runner who strays from his or her lane in the straightaway, or crosses the outer line of his or her lane on the bend, and gains no advantage by it, will not be disqualified as long as no other runner is obstructed.
- The finish: The first athlete whose torso reaches the vertical plane of the closest edge of the finish line is the winner. To ensure that the sprinter's torso triggers the timing impulse at the finish line rather than an arm, foot, or other body part, a double Photocell is commonly used. Times are only recorded by an electronic timing system when both of these Photocells are simultaneously blocked. Photo finish systems are also used at some track and field events.