Track and Field Trivia Challenge

by Russ Ebbets, DC

The derivation of the word “trivia” can be traced back to Latin roots. The Latin “trivium” originally meant “a common.” I’m assuming here the “common” referred to is like the Boston Common. A second interpretation of trivium is “a place where three roads meet.” In today’s parlance the three roads may be idle time, useless knowledge, and one-upmanship.

The actual word we use today, “trivia”, is a recent addition to the lexicon of language, dating back to only the 1920s. Trivia is the noun form of trivial, with trivial signifying something small, unimportant or not of consequence.

Introduced in 1982, the game Trivial Pursuit has no doubt fueled the trivia fire. As the cultural canon of TV shows, rock bands and sports statistics grows, there is an almost endless source of trivial facts.

But periodically delving deeper into trivia can offer some illuminating back stories, historical perspectives and explanations that the cursory wonder of, “Can that really be true?” cannot give. Trivia can offer a more thorough understanding and appreciation of the sacrifice, effort and excellence demanded by sport.

What follows are 50 trivia questions about running and track and field. There are a few “lob pitches” but many will leave the reader muttering, “I have no idea.” Honestly, if one can get 25 correct you have done an excellent job. More than 25? I’ll quote William Shatner/Capt. Kirk here with his timeless advice to Trekkie aficionados, “Get a life!” Answers to the 50 questions can be found detailed following question #50.

  1. Bob Mathias won the decathlon in the 1948 and 1952 Olympic Games. What was his initial event when he started to compete in track and field?
  2. Who was Jamaica’s first Olympic Gold Medalist?
  3. True or false – The longest women’s running event at the Olympics before 1960 was the 200m?
  4. Which “fact” about basketball great Wilt Chamberlain is false?
    • Wilt was the Big 8 (forerunner of the Big 12) high jump champion 3x
    • Wilt threw the shot put 56’
    • Wilt ran a 1:58.0 800m
    • Wilt ran an 11.0 100m
    • Wilt beat football great Jim Brown 2x in a head up 100y showdown
  5. Which female track star won the NCAA Basketball Championship as a player, Marion Jones or Jackie Joyner-Kersee?
  6. Tex Winter, the brains behind Phil Jackson and Michael Jordan’s Triangle Offense was once a world class track and field athlete in which event?
  7. This Cold War headline read, “FBI Man Runs Down Russian” describes the Gold Medal race of what American Olympian?
  8. Emil Zatopek won the 5000, 10000 and marathon in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. What country was he from?
  9. What is the name of the track where Roger Bannister ran the first sub-four-minute mile?
  10. Who was the only runner in the first sub-four-minute mile race to win an Olympic medal? It was not Bannister, nor Chris Chataway who at one time held the World Record in the 5000m.
  11. Pittsburg Steeler great Terry Bradshaw once held the US national high school record in what event?
  12. Two men have won the Olympic 5000, 10000 and marathon. Zatopek did it in 1952. Who was the other runner?
  13. The 1940 and 1944 Olympic Games were canceled due to World War II. Where did the International Olympic Committee originally plan to hold these games?
  14. Jesse Owens’s four Gold Medals at the Berlin Olympics are legendary. But on May 25, 1935 he set six World Records in the span of 45 minutes. What were the events?
  15. Which American finished second to Jesse Owens in the 1936 Olympic 200m final?
  16. The Olympics are all about running, jumping and throwing. Who is the only athlete in the history of the Olympic Games to win a medal in an individual running event, jumping event and throwing event?
  17. Who was the first woman to win the Boston Marathon? (hint: 1972)
  18. Clarence DeMar won the Boston Marathon a record seven times, the current record. Where did he go to college? He also won an Olympic Medal – which medal, what event, what year?
  19. What is probably the greatest coincidence to occur at the Olympics?
  20. When Lindy Remigino won the 100m at the Helsinki Olympics who was the Caribbean legend he narrowly beat?
  21. Who was the first woman to run the 800m under 2:00.0 minutes?
  22. When Abebe Bikila won the Rome Marathon where did the race finish?
  23. Herb Elliott won the 1500m race at the 1960 Rome Olympics in a world record and won the race by 20m, the largest winning margin in Olympic 1500m history. How many mile/1500m races did Elliott lose in his career?
  24. In the Modern Olympics – in what year were women first allowed to compete in track and field?
  25. Who was the first man to run sub-four-minute mile on US soil?
  26. Who was the first non-American winner of the Boston Marathon?
  27. The legendary Finn Paavo Nurmi won four Gold Medals at the 1924 Olympics – what were the events?
  28. When Roger Bannister broke the 4-minute mile there was an American in the race. Who was he?
  29. Coach Sam Mussabini gained fame in the movie Chariots of Fire for coaching Great Britain’s Harold Abrahams to the 100m Gold Medal in the 1924 Paris Olympics. Mussabini was a real person and had a double Olympic winner in the 1920 Olympics – who was it?
  30. Harold Abrahams was one of the runners profiled in the movie Chariots of Fire. Who was the other and what event did he run?
  31. Which race is longer, the 110H or the 120H? (i.e.- 110 meters v. 120 yards)
  32. In the 1912 pentathlon what were the 5 events that Jim Thorpe contested?
  33. At the 1896 Olympics in Athens what type of medal did the winners receive?
  34. The sprint race at the ancient Olympics was called a “stade.” How long was a stade?
  35. Who won the first event of the Modern Olympic Games in 1896, becoming the first Modern Day Olympian?
  36. Who was the first man to run a 4:00.0-minute mile?
  37. Who was the announcer for Roger Bannister’s four-minute mile?
  38. What men’s or women’s world record is the only world record that can be set indoors or outdoors without being designated an “indoor record?”
  39. Two US women have fallen over the last hurdle in the 100H while leading their races at the Olympics. Who were they and what Olympics did they race in?
  40. Carl Lewis ran the 100m in approximately 45 steps. How many steps did Usain Bolt take?
  41. In the 110 hurdles which distance is further – from the start of the race to hurdle #1 or from hurdle #10 to the finish line?
  42. The 1896 US Olympic team was drawn from which American college and from one “famous” track club. Name them.
  43. What are the only two events in track and field one cannot set a world record in on any given attempt?
  44. Who was the first man to high jump 8’?
  45. Who was the first man to high jump 7’?
  46. What team finished second to the USA in the 4x400m winning the silver medal and tying the old “world record” in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics?
  47. Name the four runners on the Gold Medal winning 4x400 at Mexico City that shattered the world record by over 3 seconds.
  48. Who is the first man to break 13.0 seconds in the 110H?
  49. Boston Celtic great Bill Russell competed in the 1956 Olympics in basketball. He also had a strong competitive record in what track and field event?
  50. Chances are you might be able to name this famous singer, a collegiate competitor of Bill Russell. At the time, described by a San Francisco newspaper as “San Francisco’s Best All-Around Athlete,” he played basketball, ran the hurdles and high jumped for San Francisco State College.

Coach Ebbets Ends Your Torture

  1. Mathias was only 17 years-old when he won the decathlon for the first time. He got started in track and field as a discus thrower.
  2. Arthur Wint won the Olympic Gold medal in 1948 in the 400m running a 46.2.
  3. Actually, this is a false statement. In 1928, the first-year women were allowed to compete in track and field one of the two running events was the 800m. The 800m was dropped in subsequent Olympiads until 1960 when the women’s program began to expand with the 400m added in 1964, the 1500m in 1972, 3000m and marathon in 1984 and finally, the 10000 in 1988. Women could compete in swimming starting in 1912.
  4. All these statements are true. Wilt was also reputed to run a 400m under 49 seconds and before the foul shot rule changed, he would take a running start and jump from behind the foul line and dunk his foul shots. Hack-a-Wilt would not have been a viable defense.
  5. Marion Jones made the pass that lead to the shot that won the NCAA Basketball Championship for North Carolina in 1994 with a 33-2 record. JJK was a 1000+ scorer for UCLA and voted one of their top 15 players of all-time but never won the NCAA Championship in this sport.
  6. Winter was an accomplished collegiate pole vaulter in the 1940’s and was expected to make the 1944 Olympics that were canceled. He topped out at 14’4” competing for USC and Oregon State. He was injured prior to the 1948 Olympic Trials that were won by his teammate and eventual OGM Guinn Smith who vaulted 14’1”. He also regularly beat a guy named Bob Richards. Winter is in the Basketball Hall of Fame and coached basketball for 63 years.
  7. The headline is of Horace Ashenfelter’s 3000SC upset victory at the Helsinki Olympics in 1952 over his Soviet rival Vladimir Kazantsev 8:51.52 with a winning time of 8:45.68.
  8. Zatopek was from Czechoslovakia.
  9. The name of the track was Iffley Road.
  10. Chris Brasher, the rabbit for Bannister’s 4-minute mile won the 3000 steeplechase gold medal in the Melbourne Olympics with an upset win time of 8:41.2. Oddly, Brasher had never won a national championship at any distance, was a last minute addition to the British team and never ran another race.
  11. Bradshaw set the US National High School Record in the javelin in 1966 with a throw of 244’11 ¾“.
  12. Finland’s Hannes Kolehmainen won the 5000, 10000 in 1912 and the marathon in 1920. Amazingly, Zatopek won all three races in the span of one week.
  13. In 1940 the Olympic Games (12th Olympiad) were to go to Tokyo but that was later shifted to Helsinki. The 1944 Olympics (13th Olympiad) were scheduled for London. Note that modern day Olympiads are named for each four-year period whether the Olympic Games are held or not.
  14. The six events Owens set records in were: 100y – 9.4, long jump – 26’8 ¼”/8.13m, 220y/200m – 20.3, 220H/200H – 22.6. The long jump record by Owens was the first 8m jump in history and lasted until Ralph Boston topped it in 1960.
  15. Mack Robinson ran a 21.1 to finish second to Owens in the Berlin race. Mack was the older brother of a pretty good baseball player named Jackie Robinson.
  16. In 1932 Babe Didrikson accomplished this feat. She won the 80m hurdles in a world record time, won the gold medal in the javelin with another world record and a silver medal in the high jump. Didrikson oddly set the world record in the high jump also but lost the event in a jump-off dictated by the rules of the day.
  17. In 1972 Nina Kuscsik from New York won the first officially recognized Boston Marathon for women. Female runners could not be officially entered in the race in previous years.
  18. DeMar attended the University of Vermont. He won the bronze medal in the 1924 Olympic Marathon.
  19. The day Emil Zatopek won the gold medal in the Olympic 5000m his wife Dana Ingrova won the javelin throw. They were born on the same day, they grew up and married each other and won an Olympic gold medal on the same day.
  20. Remigino beat Herb McKenley. McKenley’s athletic career was legendary. He is the only man to make the Olympic finals in the 100m (silver medal), 200m (4th place) and 400m (2 silver medals). He set the world record in the 440y/400m four times and was the first man to break 46 seconds, then 45 seconds. In 1947 he had the fastest times in the world for the 100m, 200m and 400m, the only man ever to accomplish this feat. His split time at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics of 44.6 stunned the world when his competitors were struggling to run in the 46’s. Jamaica won the gold medal in that race in world record time.
  21. There is a little controversy here. In 1964 Sin Kim-Dan of North Korea ran a 51.9/400m and a 1:59.1/800m prior to the Tokyo Olympics. Having run in a non-sanctioned IAAF meet she (and her team) were barred from the Tokyo Games. Her 1:59.1 eventually topped out at 1:58.0 but was never accepted. Her performances raised the transgender question, although Kim-Dan bore two children later in life. The recognized first woman to run under 2:00 minutes is West Germany’s Hildegard Falck, who ran 1:58.5 in 1971.
  22. The 1960 Rome Marathon finished outside the Olympic stadium for the first time in modern history. The marathon runners ran along the roughly 2,000-year-old Appian Way to finish at the Arch of Constantine.
  23. Elliott produced an Olympian feat of never having lost a mile or 1500m race in his career.
  24. Women could compete in track and field starting in 1928 in Amsterdam. The events contested were: 100m, 800m, 4x100m, high jump and discus throw. The 800m was cut from the program in the next Olympiad and would not be included again until the Rome Olympics in 1960.
  25. On April 30, 1956 Australian Jim Bailey beat fellow countryman John Landy at the Los Angeles Coliseum in front of 40,000 people who were there for the USC-UCLA dual meet. There are reports that another 40 million people watched the race on television, as the race followed the 1956 Kentucky Derby.
  26. In the second running of the Boston Marathon, a Boston College student from Canada named Ronald MacDonald won the race.
  27. Nurmi won the 1500m in 3:53.6, 5000m in 14:31.2, the 10.65km cross country race in 32:55 and as a member of the 3000m team race in 8:32 for his split.
  28. The race date was May 6, 1954. George Dole from Bath, Maine via Yale and Oxford drew lane 1 for the record setting mile. A 4:10 miler at Yale, Dole finished fifth in a 4:25 that day.
  29. Mussabini coached Albert Hill of Great Britain to the 800m/1500m gold medals in Amsterdam 1920 Olympics. At age 31, Hill is the oldest athlete in Olympic history to win those events.
  30. Eric Liddell won the 400m race in the 1924 Olympics.
  31. The 120-yard race is 109.73m. The 110m hurdles is longer by about 10 inches.
  32. Thorpe’s 5 events were: the long jump – 7.07m or 23’4”, javelin throw 46.71m or about 154’2”, the 200m – 22.9, discus – 35.75m or 117’11 ¾” and the 1500 – 4:44.8.
  33. Winners were given silver medals at the first of the modern Olympics.
  34. Authorities believe a stade was 192.27 meters.
  35. James Connolly of the USA won the first event contested at the 1896 Olympics – the triple jump.
  36. Derek Ibbotson ran the first 4:00.0-minute mile. He was also a bronze medalist at the 1956 5000 at the Melbourne Olympics.
  37. Norris McWhirter was the announcer for Bannister’s race. He is better known for starting the Guinness Book of World Records with his twin brother.
  38. The pole vault world record can be set in a facility “with or without a roof.”
  39. Olympic Gold Medalist Gail Devers fell at the 1988 Seoul Olympics after winning the women’s 100m. Two-time World Champion Lolo Jones faced a similar fate in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Oddly, most coaches agree that both runners were running “too fast” to negotiate the final hurdle.
  40. Bolt routinely ran the 100m in 40-41 steps.
  41. From the start line to hurdle #1 is 45’. From hurdle #10 to the finish line is 46’.
  42. Princeton was the college and the Boston AA, the club that started the Boston Marathon, was the club.
  43. The pole vault and the high jump.
  44. Javier Sotomayor of Cuba high jumped 8’ on July 29, 1988. His current mark of 8’ ¼” or 2.45m is the longest standing world record dating back to 1993.
  45. Charlie Dumas jumped 7’ on June 29, 1956 at the US Olympic Trials in Los Angeles. He went on to win the Olympic gold medal in Melbourne.
  46. Kenya’s national team of Asati, Nyamau, Bon and Rudisha. Rudisha is the father of current 800m record holder David Rudisha.
  47. The four US runners were: Vince Matthews, Ron Freeman, Larry James and Lee Evans. The team broke the old record by 3.4 seconds. This record was not broken until the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and is still the #7 time of all-time.
  48. Renaldo Nehemiah did it in 1981. Coincidentally, he was the first high school boy to run under 13.0 for the 120 high hurdles in 1977.
  49. Bill Russell was ranked #7 in the world in the high jump in 1956 with a mark of 6’9 ¼”.
  50. Johnny Mathis opted to miss the 1956 Olympic Trials to pursue a recording opportunity in New York City. His best mark of 6’5” was just two inches below the Olympic record at the time. He was a pretty good golfer also, scoring 9 holes-in-one. Chances Are may be his most famous song, his second to sell over a million records.

Off the Road Archive

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The 100-Point Scale

The Bad Race

The Code of Tactical Commands

Specialization in Sports

Racing Adversity

Race Starting

The Long Trail: Running and Hiking

Morton's Neuroma

The Bijou Mile ... Jog Down Memory Lane

Running Economy

Off the Road: Peaking

Athletic Prehab Exercises


Multi-Lateral Development and the 7 Primal Movements


When I Was a Child

Russ Ebbets, DC, is a USATF Level 3 Coach and lectures nationally on sport and health related topics. He serves as editor of Track Coach, the technical journal for USATF. He is author of the novel Supernova on the famed running program at Villanova University and the sequel Time and Chance. His most recent book, A Runner’s Guide, a collection of training tips and running has been nominated for the Track and Field Writers of America Book of the Year 2019. He can be contacted at

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