Learn the Olympic Hurdle Rules

World class athlete Edwin Moses of the USA in action as he clears a hurdle during his qualifying heat in the 400 meter race during the United States Olympic Trials
Tony Duffy/Staff/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

Both men and women run a 400-meter hurdle event. Men also run a 110-meter race while women run a 100-meter event. The rules for all hurdle events are the same, but the hurdles themselves are different for each event.

Hurdling Equipment

All Olympic hurdle races include 10 hurdles. In the 110 meter event for men, the hurdles measure 1.067 meters high -- about 40 inches.  The first hurdle is set 13.72 meters from the starting line. There are 9.14 meters between hurdles and 14.02 meters from the final hurdle to the finish line.

In the women's 100, the hurdles measure .84 meters high. The first hurdle is set 13 meters from the starting line. There are 8.5 meters between hurdles and 10.5 meters from the final hurdle to the finish line.

In the 400 men’s race the hurdles are .914 meters high. The first hurdle is set 45 meters from the starting line. There are 35 meters between hurdles and 40 meters from the final hurdle to the finish line.

The hurdle setup in the 400 meter women’s race is the same as the men’s 400, except the hurdles are .762 meters high.

Hurdling Competition

All hurdle events include eight runners in the final. Depending on the number of entries, each event includes two or three preliminary rounds before the final. In 2004, the 110-meter event included one round of preliminary heats followed by quarterfinal and semifinal rounds prior to the final. The 100 and 400 both included a round of preliminary heats followed by a semifinal and then the final.

The Start

Runners in all hurdle events begin in starting blocks.

In all events other than the 400-meter hurdles, the runners line up on a single start line.

In the 400, which necessarily involves rounding one curve, the runners start positions are staggered. The rationale for this is that staggering the start allows the runners to stay in separate lanes, a clear necessity for a hurdle event. If the start wasn't staggered and there were a single un-staggered finish line, the runner in the innermost lane would have the greatest distance advantage, and runners on the outer lines would be disadvantaged, with the runner on the outmost line having the greatest distance to travel -- in effect, creating an event where each runner would need to complete a distance different from all others. 

The starter announces, “On your marks,” and then, “Set.” At the “set” command runners must have both hands and at least one knee touching the ground and both feet in the starting blocks. Their hands must be behind the start line. The race begins with the opening gun.

Prior to the 2016 Olympics, runners were permitted one false start and were disqualified only after a second false start. In 2016, a much-criticized rule change, which has been called "the cruelest rule in all of sports," calls for sprinters and hurdlers to be disqualified with the first false start. 

The Hurdle Race

The 100- and 110-meter races are run on straightaways. Runners must remain in their lanes during all hurdle races. As in all races, the event ends when a runner’s torso (not the head, arm or leg) crosses the finish line.

Runners are not disqualified for knocking a hurdle over, unless it’s done intentionally. Hurdlers can be disqualified for failing to jump a hurdle or trailing a foot or leg below the horizontal plane of the top of any hurdle while clearing the hurdle.

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