Olympic Distance Running Rules

Steve Ovett wins Gold in the 800 meter final at the 1980 Olympics
Steve Ovett wins Gold in the 800 meter final at the 1980 Olympics. Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Middle and long distance races include the 800 meters, 1500 meters, 5000 meters, 10,000 meters and the marathon, which is 26.2 miles (42.195 kilometers) long.

Distance Running Competition

Eight runners participate in the 800-meter final, 12 in the 1500 final, and 15 in the 5000. In 2004, 24 men and 31 women participated in their respective 10,000-meter events. In the marathon, 101 runners started in the men’s race, 82 in the women’s event.

Depending on the number of entrants, Olympic distance running events of less than 10,000 meters may include preliminary heats. In 2004 there were two rounds of heats prior to the 800 and 1500 finals and one round of heats prior to the 5000 final.

All distance races are run on tracks except the marathon, which generally begins and ends in the Olympic stadium, with the remainder of the event run on nearby roads.

The Start

All Olympic middle and long distance races begin with a standing start. The start command is, “On your marks.” Runners may not touch the ground with their hands during the start. As in all races – except those in the decathlon and heptathlon – runners are permitted one false start and are disqualified on their second false start.

The Race

In the 800, runners must remain in their lanes until they pass through the first turn. As in all races, the event ends when a runner’s torso (not the head, arm or leg) crosses the finish line.

In races of 1500 meters or longer run on a track, competitors are generally divided into two groups at the start, with approximately 65 percent of the runners on the regular, arced starting line and the remainder on a separate, arced starting line marked across the outer half of the track. The latter group must remain on the outer half of the track until they pass through the first turn.