From ancient Olympic games to smash record attempts at the worlds major stadiums, athletics has captivated as a spectator sport for millennia.
This article traces its evolution from rudimentary footraces of antiquity to the high-tech spectacles of today, spotlighting key moments and figures along its epic journey.
While the raw competitive spirit remains unchanged, how the world watches and engages with athletics continues to be reshaped by tech innovations.
The first race: athletics in the ancient world
Athletics as a formalised competitive endeavour traces its roots as far back as 776 BCE in Ancient Greece, where the first Olympic Games were held in Olympia as a religious festival.
This pentathlon event comprised a 183-metre foot race called stadion, long jump, javelin throw, discus throw, and wrestling, which was the then premier Olympic sport.
Athletics gained further prominence through the Roman gladiator games, with chariot racing emerging as the leading attraction.
The torchbearers: emergence of organized athletics
The late 19th century witnessed the formation of standardized rules and international governing bodies for various athletic disciplines.
In 1863, the Football Association was founded to frame official rules for football.
Soon after, organised governing bodies emerged for sports like rugby, tennis, golf, cycling and swimming.
This era also saw the rebirth of the Olympic Games, with Athens hosting the 1896 Summer Olympics, the first modern international athletic meet featuring over 200 participants from 14 nations competing in 43 events.
Female participation also grew, with women’s athletics featured for the first time at the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics.
Chasing records: athletics in the 20th century
The 20th century was truly transformative for athletics.
From astonishing world records to emerging icons like Jesse Owens and Carl Lewis, it became a golden period.
The 1932 Summer Olympics catapulted American track legend Jesse Owens into the limelight when he clinched four gold medals, breaking long jump and sprint world records.
The advent of comprehensive athletics events like the European Championships in 1934 and the Commonwealth Games in 1930 bolstered the sport.
The 1960 Rome Olympics was a milestone for broadcasting, reaching global audiences for the first time via live television.
Breaking barriers: the impact of technology on athletics
Recent decades have witnessed a technology revolution impacting every facet of athletics.
Broadcast and digital innovations like photo finish cams, race tracking sensors and ultra high-speed cams have enriched viewing experiences.
The rise of wearables and smart tracking has enabled real-time performance monitoring and analysis for competitive optimization.
Apps and VR are creating more immersive experiences for fans globally.
Amidst doping controversies, AI and genetic testing are becoming critical for boosting analytics and ensuring integrity.
A sporting gamble: the emergence of live betting
The natural unpredictability and dynamism of athletics has made it a prime avenue for sports betting enthusiasts.
In recent years, as technology advanced, the concept of live or in-play betting has gained significant traction with the availability of mobile apps and convenient digital wallets.
By allowing real-time bets while a race or match is unfolding, based on changing odds and probabilities, live betting provides a thrilling dimension to fan engagement for sports like athletics.
While conventional wagers lock-in before commencement, live betting enables punters to react to events as they transpire.
Leading sportsbooks now offer extensive live betting facilities across marquee athletics properties.
However, responsible gambling advocates warn it risks exacerbating compulsive betting if adequate consumer protections are not in place.