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Saturday, September 23
Track and Field Fan Guide

IN THE CROSSHAIRS puts Olympic track In the Crosshairs with our interactive fan guide feature. Check out each sport's fan guide for more In the Crosshairs looks at the Olympic sports.

Track in the Crosshairs:
Run | Jump | Throw

Olympic competition dates: Sept. 22-Oct. 1
Venue: Olympic Stadium

Marion Jones of the United States attempts to win an unprecedented five gold medals (100m, 200m, 400m and 1,600m relays, and the long jump). Michael Johnson, who won the 200 and 400 at Atlanta, goes for an unprecedented second 400-meter title. Gabriela Szabo of Romania will try for a never-achieved women's 1,500-5,000 double. Cuba's Javier Sotomayor makes a controversial return after testing positive for cocaine, and will attempt to regain the Olympic high jump title he won in 1992. United States sprinter Maurice Greene will attempt to solidify his status as the world's fastest human in the 100.

The start: In sprints, runners are required to have both hands and one knee in contact with the ground and both feet in the starting blocks. For races up to 400 meters, the starter gives commands of "on your marks, set," then the gun is fired. For races longer than 400, he simply says "on your marks," then fires the gun.

The finish: Places are determined by the torso crossing the line -- not the head, hands or feet.

Staggered starts: To account for the curvature of the track, runners in the 200, 400, 800, 400 hurdles and 4x400 relays line up in positions so that the length of each lane becomes the same. In the 800, competitors must stay in their lanes only until the end of the first bend, at which point they break for the inside lane. In the 4x400, teams run in their lanes for a complete lap and one complete curve before they are allowed to break.

High jump and pole vault: The starting height is chosen for the competition, and thereafter the bar is raised after each round. Competitors can decide at which height they'll enter the competition. After a failure at one height, a competitor may forego his other two attempts and try at the next height. A competitor is eliminated after three consecutive failed attempts, regardless of the height. In case of a tie, the competitor with the fewest misses at the last height wins. If there's still a tie, fewest misses in the competition wins. Athletes may touch the crossbar as long as it does not fall.

Olympic debut: Women will be competing in pole vault for the first time.

Long jump: Jumpers must leave the ground behind the takeoff board, which is about 8 inches wide and level to the ground. The jump is measured from the nearest impression in the sand made by the jumper's body to the nearest edge of the board.

Triple jump: The start is the same as in the long jump, but the athlete first lands on the same foot from which he took off, takes one step onto the other foot, then jumps. The leap is ruled a foul if a trailing foot touches the ground.

Discus: The discus is made of wood and metal and is shaped like a flying saucer. The men's discus weighs 4 pounds 6 ounces; the women's discus, about half that. The athlete holds the discus flat against the palm and forearm while standing in the 8-foot, 2-inch throwing circle. The throw is released sidearm after a 1-spin turn. Too much or too little spin causes an uneven launch.

Shot put: The ball is solid metal and weighs 16 pounds for men and 8 pounds 13 ounces for women. The putting technique begins with the athlete holding the shot in his hand, which rests against the shoulder. This is followed by a series of hops inside the 7-foot putting circle. The athlete then springs powerfully from a near crouch and unleashes the shot with a powerful push.

Hammer throw: This event is open to men only. Inside a 7-foot circle, the thrower, with his feet stationary, grasps the handle in both hands and begins to swing the hammer in an arc passing below his knees and above his head several times. Before releasing the hammer, he swings his body around to build up even more force.

Olympic debut: Women will be competing in hammer throw for the first time.

Javelin: Throwers, wearing spikes, are allowed to run up to 120 feet before throwing from behind a scratch line into a zone marked out in white lines to show distances. The javelin is made of steel or wood and must weigh at least 1 pound 12.25 ounces for men or 1 pounds 10.16 ounces for women.

Scoring: Points awarded according to a set of tables. Athletes do not have to win any events but should finish well in the largest number of sports.

Decathlon events: 100, long jump, shot put, high jump and 400 on the first day; 110 hurdles, discus, pole vault, javelin and 1,500 on the second.

Heptathlon events: 200, 100 hurdles, high jump and shot put on the first day; long jump, javelin and 800 on the second day.

Olympic comeback
The women's 20-kilometer walk returns after being cut to 10 kilometers in 1996 at Atlanta.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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