Olympic – Running – Track Terms, Acronyms and Abbreviations

With the Olympics rolling along I realized that there are many terms and abbreviations that the “running world” uses. Many everyday runners do not know these let alone the general populace watching track and field for the first time in four years.

So I thought I’d list some key terms and definitions that everyone should know.

I’m sure there are more that you may come across. If so, drop a comment and I’ll add to the list.

Organizations Related:

IOC – International Olympic Committee; these guys run the Olympics (all sports not just track and field) and they own the Olympic rings symbol. Yes it is a trademark and you cannot just go using it when you like.

USOC – United States Olympic Committee; the national governing body in the USA for all Olympic sports. They have to abide by rules set down by the IOC but also can apply more for the USA athletes.

USATF – United States of America Track and Field; this is the USA national governing body for the sport of track and field (“Athletics” to most of the rest of the world). They have their own rules too – separate from the USOC and IOC.

Race Related:

Rounds – (aka Preliminary Rounds) These are the preliminary races in which the best performances move on and those that don’t are eliminated from competition.

Quarterfinals – After the “rounds” are done the qualifiers (both Q and q) move on to this next race. The top Qs and qs move on to the Semifinals.

Semifinals – This race follows the Quarterfinals. Only the top Qs and qs move on to the Finals from this race.

Finals – The best of the best arrive at the finals. It is from this “final” race for this event that the medalists are determined.

Heat – A heat is a single race within an event. For instance there may be 8 heats of Preliminary Rounds of the 100 meters race; then 4 heats in the quarterfinals; then 2 heats in the semifinals. There is always one heat of finals in major events like the Olympics. However, many high school invitationals may have “timed finals” from several heats. They run several heats due to large numbers of entrants and no qualifying rounds. After all have run they line up results as if they were in just one race together. (Yes, you can be beaten by someone you didn’t even race against.)

By the way, as I’m sure you have noticed all measurements are metric. Also, in track we call it the “5000” (five-thousand) and “10000” (ten-thousand) not the 5k and 10k. (These are 3.1 and 6.2 miles approximately or 12.5 and 25 laps of a traditional 400 meter track). Though they mean the same; generally track prefers the former terms. The latter terms are reserved more for road races.

Results Related:

PR – Personal Record; the fastest and individual has run for that given event.

PB – Personal Best; really just another term for PR. PR was used for years and only in the past maybe 20 years the “PB” has come around.

SB – Season Best; that is the best mark for an athlete in that event just for this season. If it happens to also be their PR then it will usually only be listed as “PR” since that trumps a SB.

NR – National Record; this is the record for an individual country in a specific event.

WR – World Record; ok, speaks for itself – no one has ever run faster in that event under “legal” conditions.

AR – American Record (USA)

WL – World Leading; this is the best mark in a given event for this current season/year.

OR – Olympic Record; the  best mark ever during an Olympic event. (Olympics are conducted every 4 years.)

CR – Championship Meet Record; the best mark ever during a World Championship meet. ( Track & Field World Championships are currently conducted every 2 years – odd years i.e. 2013, 2015.)

MR – Meet Record; this may be listed along with other records; it is the best mark ever for a specific event in a specific track meet.

Q – Qualifier; this is listed after the athlete who qualifies automatically for the next round of races (i.e. finishing in top 2 in a 100m quarterfinals race moving on to the semi-finals).

q – This is similar to “Q” (Qualifier) however it is for the athlete who advances to the next round on time. It is not an automatic qualification. Instead, they have to wait until all the heats of the race in question are done. Then, those who are the next fastest who did NOT automatically qualify get to move on. (i.e. finishing 3rd in a 100m quarterfinals race but faster than all others who did not finish in the top 2).

DNS – Did Not Start; the athlete was entered but did not start the race.

DNF – Did Not Finish; the athlete entered and started but dropped out before the finish.

X – This is the notation in a jump event (long jump, triple jump, high jump or pole vault) for a foul or miss. The athlete knocked the bar off or stepped over the take-off board or otherwise did not have a successful attempt. PS – In vertical jumps – you get 3 tries at each height before you are “out”. Three strikes (X) in a row and you’re out.

O – This is the notation in a vertical jump event (high jump or pole vault) for a successful jump at that specific height. It means the person stays in the competition for the next higher height. For horizontal jumps – long and triple – a successful jump is reflected by the measurement.

W – Wind-aided distance or time; this is any mark that has a tailwind that would aid the performance unfairly. That is judged to be a breeze of 2.0 meters per second. Notations will look like: +1.5 or -1.5 to reflect a tailwind of 1.5 m/s or a headwind of 1.5 m/s respectively. Wind aided marks cannot be considered for record purposes but DO count for results within that meet and that event. Yes, it is possible on a day with variable breezes that one jump or one heat of an event could get favorable winds and another – not. It all counts the same.

[Last edited and updated August 2017.]


About Dean Hebert

I’m a mental game coach, author and speaker. I work with individual athletes, parents, coaches, and teams on sports performance enhancement. Beyond my academic post-graduate work in sports psychology - the psychology behind athlete performance – I am a certified Mental Games Coaching Professional (MGCP) and certified hypnotherapist. I’ve authored several books and hundreds of articles. “Coach, I didn’t run because…” (2008) is a seriously light-hearted look at making excuses not to workout and how to overcome them. “Focus for Fitness” (2009) and “Screw the Goals Give me the Donut” (2010) are two of my eBooks on mental game approaches for the everyday athlete. I wrote these because I believe that everyone can benefit from the powerful mental techniques that the world’s best athletes use. I have been cited in Runners World, Best Health magazine (CN), SWEAT Magazine, and the Washington Examiner amongst many other publications. I have been a featured mental games coach in Runner’s World and for the internationally acclaimed trail running resource - trailrunningclub.com. I also regularly appear on sports and fitness talk shows such as LTKFitness, Runnersroundtable and for more than three years I have co-hosted a weekly video series with Coach Joe English for Running-Advice.com. I specialize in mental toughness training. My clients include tennis, synchronized swimming, golf, race-kart, soccer, motocross, volleyball, MMA, cycling (road, off-road, time-trialist), running, duathlon and triathlon, basketball, football and baseball athletes. I have coached world-class athletes and athletes internationally. I have a passion for working with youth athletes and helping them apply mental game skills and techniques to all areas of life. Most importantly, my aim is to have people enjoy sports and life to their fullest through peak performances.
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15 Responses to Olympic – Running – Track Terms, Acronyms and Abbreviations

  1. Noah says:

    What about sections and flights? I’m aware that flights are for jumping events, but I don’t know the difference between heats and sections. In my high school track association, our “heats” are officially called sections. Us runners still refer to them as heats, but the officials and the online results refer to them as sections. Is there a difference?

    • Dean Hebert says:

      Good question. Heats and sections could be used interchangeably but, heats usually refer to prelims or rounds. Whereas sections are usually in timed finals… slow section, fast section say in the 1500, 1600, 3000, 3200 etc. then everyone … though in different sections is ranked by their times for final placement regardless of which section you ran in.

  2. Jeff says:

    You’ve missed out WL world leading ie the best result in the world of the current season

  3. Any idea what AR means after an athlete’s time please

  4. Dean Hebert says:

    In the US we refer to that as American Record. I have to admit that I never heard AR used for Area Record… what is an “area” geographically?

    • Jeff says:

      According to Wikipedia it is area record (continental) now continental may not be a term familiar to the US. In the UK continental refers to the mainland of Europe. I’m sure you are aware that the UK and Ireland are islands not connected to the rest of Europe so, we call the collective nations of France Germany Spain Portugal Holland Belgium etc etc as the continent of Europe hence Continental. I hope that explains it.
      If the athlete concerned was American then your answer would apply. If they were European, but not British or Irish then it would mean area record.

  5. Dean Hebert says:

    Thank you for contributing and clarifying.

  6. Shan says:

    What does KR stand for in athletic terms?

  7. Bianca says:

    What does Hpl mean

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