Road Events in the 2012 London Summer Olympics
The Summer Olympic Games feature a marathon race and race walks. These road events are part of the broader athletics category, which features a variety of track and field events.
The athletics competition, one of the largest categories in the Olympic Games, features 47 separate events. Each participating country can enter only three athletes in each individual event.
The longest of the road events, the marathon, has a route that goes through London, although the finish line is at The Mall. At the 2012 London Summer Olympics, the men will run the marathon on August 12; the women will run the marathon on August 5.
Every Olympic Games — since the first games in 776 BC and the first modern Olympics in 1896 — has featured athletics events. Ancient Olympians competed in a sprint that was 192 meters, but the first Olympic marathon wasn't run until 1896, as homage to Ancient Greece. Women first competed in athletics events in the 1928 Games.
With this year's Olympic Games being hosted by London, it's interesting to note that the current standard marathon distance of 26.2 miles (42.195 kilometers) was established in the 1908 London Olympic Games. The distance was changed from 25 miles.
Besides the men's and women's marathon races, the other road events are race walks. Competitors also cross the finish line for the walks at The Mall, but the route is a 2-kilometer loop. Men will compete in the 20-kilometer race walk on August 4 and the 50-kilomater race walk on August 11. Women will compete in a 20-kilometer race walk on August 11.
Race walking has a few more regulations than running races. Athletes have to maintain walking form and not slip into a "jog," to avoid penalties. Judges can warn walkers by displaying a yellow cautionary paddle. If a walker fails to comply, he or she earns a red card. If three different judges send red cards up to the chief judge, that walker is disqualified.
The chief judge also has the power to disqualify any racer, regardless of the number of red cards received, during the final 100 meters of a race.
So, what constitutes pushing the boundaries between walking and running? Walkers' front feet must maintain contact with the ground when the rear foot is raised, and they must straighten their front legs as they make ground contact. You've probably seen people walking this way — some competitors refer to this as "duck walking" or "dork walking."
Race walkers also are allowed one false start.
For more information about the decathlon, heptathlon, and road events, check out the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), the sport's governing body.