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In sport, racing is a competition of speed, in which competitors try to complete a given task in the shortest amount of time. Typically this involves traversing some distance, but it can be any other task involving speed to reach a specific goal.


A race may be run continuously to finish or may be made up of several segments called heats, stages or legs. A heat is usually run over the same course at different times. A stage is a shorter section of a much longer course or a time trial.

Early records of races are evident on pottery from ancient Greece, which depicted running men vying for first place. A chariot race is described in Homer's Iliad .


The word race comes from a Norse word. [1] This Norse word arrived in France during the invading of Normandy and gave the word raz which means "swift water" in Brittany, as in a mill race; it can be found in "Pointe du Raz" (the most western point of France, in Brittany), and "raz-de-marée" (tsunami). The word race to mean a "contest of speed" was first recorded in the 1510s. [2]

A race [3] and its name are often associated with the place of origin, the means of transport and the distance of the race. As a couple of examples, see the Dakar Rally or the Athens Marathon.


Running a distance is the most basic form of racing, but races may also be done by climbing, swimming, walking, or other types of human locomotion. Races may be conducted with animals such as camels, dogs, horses, pigeons, pigs, snails, or turtles. They also may by done in vehicles such as aircraft, bicycles, boats, cars, or motorcycles; or with another means of transport such as skates, skateboards, skis, sleds, snowboards, or wheelchair. In a relay race members of a team take turns in racing parts of a circuit or performing a certain racing form.

Orienteering races add an additional task of using a map and compass to navigate from point to point in diverse and usually unfamiliar terrain.

A race can also involve any other type of goal like eating. A common speed eating challenge is a hot dog eating race, where contestants try to eat more hot dogs than the other racers.

Racing board games and racing video games are also competitions of speed.

Racing can also be done in more humoristic and entertaining ways such as the Sausage Race, the Red Bull Trolley Grand Prix and wok racing. Racing can be entertained from around the world.

Sprint finishes

A sprint finish is a racing tactic used in many forms of racing where a competitor accelerates towards top speed in the final stages of a race. This tactic is mostly associated with long-distance forms of running and cycling, which often feature large groups of competitors racing at a slower pace for much of the race – this slower aerobic racing allows for the subsequent anaerobic activity required for sprinting. [4] The tactic relies upon keeping greater energy reserves than your opponent until the last part of the race in order to be able to reach the finish point first. It is the opposing tactic to keeping a steady optimal pace throughout a race to maximise your energy efficiency (see running economy). [5]

In track and field, distances from 1500 metres upwards often feature sprint finishes. They can also be found in cross country and road running events, even up to the marathon distance. A runner's ability to sprint at the end of a race is also known as their finishing kick. [6] Multisport races, such as the triathlon, often have running as the final section and sprint finish tactics are applied as they are in running-only events. [7]

In cycling, sprint finishes are an integral part of the sport and are used in both track cycling and road cycling. Cycling sprints are often highly tactical, particularly on the track, with cyclists occasionally coming to a near halt at points before reaching a high speed finish. [8] The longer track races such as scratch races often feature sprint finishes, as maintaining a steady pace within the peloton allows opponents to conserve energy through drafting. [9] [ clarification needed ] Road races are similar in this respect, in both short criterium races and long-distance races. Sprint tactics also form a major part of points classifications in road events, where cycling sprinters specialise in reaching an intermediate point first, thus gaining extra points and resulting prizes. [10] [11]

Sprint finish tactics are also used in speedskating, cross-country skiing, long-distance swimming, [12] horse racing and other animal racing sports. [13] [14] The finishes of races which are outright sprinting events in themselves, such as the 100 metres track race, are not normally referred to as sprint finishes, as all competitors are already sprinting by default (thus it is not a racing tactic).

See also

Related Research Articles

Orienteering Group of sports that requires navigational skills

Orienteering is a group of sports that require navigational skills using a map and compass to navigate from point to point in diverse and usually unfamiliar terrain whilst moving at speed. Participants are given a topographical map, usually a specially prepared orienteering map, which they use to find control points. Originally a training exercise in land navigation for military officers, orienteering has developed many variations. Among these, the oldest and the most popular is foot orienteering. For the purposes of this article, foot orienteering serves as a point of departure for discussion of all other variations, but almost any sport that involves racing against a clock and requires navigation with a map is a type of orienteering.

Track cycling Bicycle racing sport

Track cycling is a bicycle racing sport usually held on specially built banked tracks or velodromes using purpose-designed track bicycles.

Sprint (track cycling) Event in track cycling

The sprint or match sprint is a track cycling event involving between two and four riders, though it is usually run as a one-on-one match race between opponents who, unlike in the individual pursuit, start next to each other. Men's sprint has been an Olympic event at every games except 1904 and 1912. Women's sprints have been contested at every Olympics since 1988.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Triathlon</span> Swimming, cycling, and distance running race

A triathlon is an endurance multisport race consisting of swimming, cycling, and running over various distances. Triathletes compete for fastest overall completion time, racing each segment sequentially with the time transitioning between the disciplines included. The word is of Greek origin, from τρεῖς or treis (three) and ἆθλος or athlos (competition).

Velodrome Arena for track cycling

A velodrome is an arena for track cycling. Modern velodromes feature steeply banked oval tracks, consisting of two 180-degree circular bends connected by two straights. The straights transition to the circular turn through a moderate easement curve.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Relay race</span> Team sport in athletics, swimming, etc

A relay race is a racing competition where members of a team take turns completing parts of racecourse or performing a certain action. Relay races take the form of professional races and amateur games. Relay races are common in running, orienteering, swimming, cross-country skiing, biathlon, or ice skating. In the Olympic Games, there are several types of relay races that are part of track and field. Relay race, also called Relay, a track-and-field sport consisting of a set number of stages (legs), usually four, each leg run by a different member of a team. The runner finishing one leg is usually required to pass the next runner a stick-like object known as a "baton" while both are running in a marked exchange zone. In most relays, team members cover equal distances: Olympic events for both men and women are the 400-metre and 1,600-metre relays. Some non-Olympic relays are held at distances of 800 m, 3,200 m, and 6,000 m. In the less frequently run medley relays, however, the athletes cover different distances in a prescribed order—as in a sprint medley of 200, 200, 400, 800 metres or a distance medley of 1,200, 400, 800, 1,600 metres.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Inline speed skating</span> Sport discipline

Inline speed skating is the roller sport of racing on inline skates. The sport may also be called inline racing by participants. Although it primarily evolved from racing on traditional roller skates, the sport is similar enough to ice speed skating that many competitors are known to switch between inline and ice speed skating according to the season.

Duathlon Running and cycling athletic event

Duathlon is an athletic event that consists of a running leg, followed by a cycling leg and then another running leg in a format similar to triathlons. The International Triathlon Union governs the sport internationally.

Adventure racing

Adventure racing is typically a multidisciplinary team sport involving navigation over an unmarked wilderness course with races extending anywhere from two hours up to two weeks in length. Some races offer solo competition as well. The principal disciplines in adventure racing include trekking, mountain biking, and paddling although races can incorporate a multitude of other disciplines including climbing, abseiling, horse riding, skiing and white water rafting. Teams generally vary in gender mix and in size from two to five competitors, however, the premier format is considered to be mixed gender teams of four racers. There is typically no suspension of the clock during races, irrespective of length; elapsed competition time runs concurrently with real time, and competitors must choose if or when to rest.

Sprinter (cycling) Type of road racing cyclist

A sprinter is a road bicycle racer or track racer who can finish a race very explosively by accelerating quickly to a high speed, often using the slipstream of another cyclist or group of cyclists tactically to conserve energy.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Multisport race</span>

A multisport competition is a family of athletic competitions in which athletes race in a continuous series of stages or "legs", and rapidly switch from one athletic discipline to another in order to achieve the best overall time. Most multisport events are endurance races, consisting of aerobic activities such as cycling, running, kayaking and cross-country skiing.

Drafting (aerodynamics) Technique where two moving objects are caused to align in a close group reducing the overall drag

Drafting or slipstreaming is an aerodynamic technique where two vehicles or other moving objects are caused to align in a close group, reducing the overall effect of drag due to exploiting the lead object's slipstream. Especially when high speeds are involved, as in motor racing and cycling, drafting can significantly reduce the paceline's average energy expenditure required to maintain a certain speed and can also slightly reduce the energy expenditure of the lead vehicle or object.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Aquathlon</span> Continuous, two-stage race involving swimming followed by running

An aquathlon is a multisport race consisting of continuous run and swim elements. Competitors complete a swim immediately followed by a run over various distances. Athletes compete for fastest overall course completion, including the time transitioning between the disciplines.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Road bicycle racing</span> Bicycle racing sport

Road bicycle racing is the cycle sport discipline of road cycling, held primarily on paved roads. Road racing is the most popular professional form of bicycle racing, in terms of numbers of competitors, events and spectators. The two most common competition formats are mass start events, where riders start simultaneously and race to a set finish point; and time trials, where individual riders or teams race a course alone against the clock. Stage races or "tours" take multiple days, and consist of several mass-start or time-trial stages ridden consecutively.

Pacemaker (running) Runner who sets the pace in a race for other competitors

A pacemaker or pacesetter, sometimes informally called a rabbit, is a runner who leads a middle- or long-distance running event for the first section to ensure a fast time and avoid excessive tactical racing. Pacemakers are frequently employed by race organisers for world record attempts with specific instructions for lap times. Some athletes have essentially become professional pacemakers. A competitor who chooses the tactic of leading in order to win is called a front-runner rather than a pacemaker.

Glossary of cycling Bicycling terminology guide

This is a glossary of terms and jargon used in cycling, mountain biking, and cycle sport.

Mountain bike orienteering

Mountain bike orienteering is an orienteering endurance racing sport on a mountain bike where navigation is done along trails and tracks. Compared with foot orienteering, competitors usually are not permitted to leave the trail and track network. Navigation tactics are similar to ski-orienteering, where the major focus is route choice while navigating. The main difference compared to ski-orienteering is that navigation is done at a higher pace, because the bike can reach higher speeds. As the biker reaches higher speeds, map reading becomes more challenging.

Caroline Steffen Swiss triathlete

Caroline Steffen is a professional triathlete from Switzerland. She is the winner of the 2010 and 2012 ITU Long Distance Triathlon World Championships and took second at the 2010 and 2012 Ironman World Championship. Before competing as a professional triathlete she was a member of the Lifeforce Pro Cycling Team.

Pacing strategies in track and field are the varied strategies which runners use to distribute their energy throughout a race. Optimal strategies exist and have been studied for the different events of track and field. These optimal strategies differ for runners in sprint events, such as the 100 meters, runners in middle-distance events, such as the 800 meters or the mile run, and runners in long-distance events, such as the 5000m or marathon. Additionally, pacing typically differs between different styles of races. For instance, in a time trial, where the goal of a racer is simply to run the fastest time, participants will typically employ the aforementioned optimal pacing strategy. However, in a championship race, where the goal of the racer is to win, the pace is typically slow in the beginning of the race and gradually speeds up for a sprint finish, often meaning the race is run with a negative split. Typically, to run a world record, the runner must employ a near-optimal pacing strategy.

A kick in a running race is the ability of some athletes to sprint at the end of an endurance-oriented race. For those who possess the ability to kick, it is a strategic weapon. For those with the liability not to possess a kick, they must seek different strategies to anticipate and diminish their opponent's kicking power, usually by a long extended surge to break away or exhaust their opponent well ahead of the finish of the race. Similar to a Sprinter in cycling, a kicker has a finite distance they know they are able to sprint, making their strategy to be in the ideal position at that distance to be able to utilize that speed. Sprinting too early could lead an athlete to tie up, a form of muscle cramp that debilitates a racer from continuing to kick. Thus team tactics might also intentionally or not, box a kicker, meaning to position other competitors to their outside, to disrupt their positioning and timing. Of course, as the finish is nearing and all athletes are straining, this becomes more difficult to accomplish deliberately.


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