Athletics guide - London 2012 Olympic Games

Your guide to athletics ahead of London 2012.

Photograph: Athletics via Shutterstock

Converted: London 2012's ultimate showpiece features humans running faster, jumping higher and throwing further than a bunch of rioting Occupy Wall Streeters.

Confused: Tons of hype and then the main event is all over in 10 seconds – it’s like going on an expensive date with a selfish lover.

RECOMMENDED: See our full list of London 2012 Olympic sport guides

Athletics - The essential guide

Street cred: The athletics events are the Olympics for many fans, with the men’s 100m final night alone attracting 1.3 million ticket applications. Just witnessing the qualifying rounds of the women's shot put will be a rare privilege.

Who’s good? Jamaica is king of the sprint while Kenya dominates at long-distance but expect the medals table to be topped by the USA and Russia.

The basics: Athletics encompasses 12 track, eight field, three road and two combined events, all of which involve some kind of running, jumping or throwing.  

Athlete to watch: It will be difficult to avert your eyes from the Usain Bolt show but the world’s fastest man does actually face a credible challenge in the 100m from the American Tyson Gay and France’s Christophe Lemaitre.

Almost useless fact: Although most athletics events have their roots in ancient Greece, the shot put is believed to have originated in the Scottish Highlands.

As seen in: ‘Chariots of Fire’ and ‘Run Fatboy Run’, depending on what mood you’re in.

Do say: ‘The grandeur of the occasion combined with the simplicity of the events create sport’s most fascinating juxtaposition.’

Don't say: ‘What a perfectly sized arena to host the Super Bowl.’