In outdoor sports, athletes must often brave the elements to perform at a high level, and track and field is no different. On the track, the biggest elemental challenge to athletes is the wind as it can impact speeds and times.
But why does the wind — it's only air after all — have such a transformative effect on runners and results in the sport?
Well, the wind can add or lessen resistance for an athlete depending on the event. But before diving into that, let's start with some key terms related to wind in outdoor track and field.
Wind assistance is the wind level during a race or event, registered by a wind gauge, that either aids or hinders an athlete in competition.
A tailwind refers to the wind blowing in the same direction an athlete is moving. In simpler terms, if the athlete is running forward the wind is hitting the athlete's back, in effect pushing the athlete forward.
This is also known as running with the wind. Any wind towards an athlete's back, either directly or in a slanting direction, is considered a tailwind.
Tailwinds are measured with a plus sign (+) or no sign at all — ie. +2.0 or 2.0.
A headwind refers to the wind blowing in the opposite direction an athlete is moving. In simpler terms, if the athlete is running forward the wind is hitting the athlete's face, in effect pushing the athlete backward.
This is also known as running against the wind. Any wind towards an athlete's front, either directly or in a slanting direction, is considered a headwind.
Headwinds are measured with a minus sign (-) — ie. -2.0.
Tip: An easy way to tell the difference between a headwind and a tailwind is that a headwind blows towards the head (the athlete's face) while a tailwind blows towards the tail (the athlete's backside).
An anemometer is an instrument for measuring the speed of the wind.
M/S refers to meters per second, a measurement of time.
NWI means that no wind indicator was used. It does not mean that there was no wind or the wind was measured at zero m/s.
Now that some key terms are out of the way, here's everything you need to know about wind and scoring in track and field.
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Measuring the wind
What is used to measure wind?
The wind is measured using an anemometer or a wind gauge. These devices can be hand or remote-operated.
Per NCAA rules, such devices must "be certified for accuracy by an appropriate testing agency in accordance with methods specified by the manufacturer, before the first competition each year and preferably before each major competition."
Who measures the wind?
In large events, a wind gauge operator is recommended by the NCAA for competition for both track and field events. The wind gauge operator(s) is responsible for the following:
- Ensuring the wind measuring instrument is installed and operated in accordance with Rule 13-7.1
- Ascertaining the velocity of the wind in the running direction for each race of 200 meters or less
- Ascertaining the velocity of the wind in the running direction for horizontal jumping events
- Recording wind velocity information and including it in results
What value is wind measured in?
Wind velocity is measured in meters per second, with wind readings rounded up to the nearest tenth of a meter per second — ie. +2.03 = +2.1 and -2.03 = -2.0
Where are wind instruments placed?
- In track events, the wind measuring instrument shall be placed beside the sprint track, inside the oval, preferably 50 meters from the finish line.
- In field events, the wind measuring instrument shall be placed 20 meters from the takeoff board furthest from the pit that is used in the competition.
In both track and field events, the wind measuring instrument shall not be more than 2 meters from the track or runway, and shall be approximately 1.22 meters above the competition surface.
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What events are impacted by wind assistance?
Wind assistance impacts the following events:
- 100m hurdles
- 110m hurdles
In short, any race that is not run around the complete oval of the track can be impacted by the wind and thus requires a calibrated wind instrument.
- Triple jump
- Long jump
How long is the wind measured in an event?
Per NCAA rules, the length of time that shall be averaged for the wind's measurement in each event is as follows:
- Long Jump and Triple Jump — five seconds;
- 100 Meters — 10 seconds;
- 100 or 110 Hurdles — 13 seconds;
- 200 Meters — 10 seconds.
When does measuring the wind start in an event?
Here's when the wind operator starts measuring the wind in an event:
100 meters, 100 hurdles, 110 hurdles
- Starts at the start of the event
- When the 200 Meters is run around one curve, the wind starts to be measured when runners enter the straightaway
- The wind measurement begins when the competitor passes a mark 40 meters from the takeoff board
- The wind measurement begins when the competitor passes a mark 35 meters from the takeoff board
*If the competitor runs fewer than 40 meters in the Long Jump or fewer than 35 meters in the Triple Jump, the wind velocity shall be measured from the start of the run.
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What is the legal amount of wind in a race?
A race is considered to have the assistance of the wind if a TAILWIND exceeds an average velocity of 2.0 m/s (+2.0 m/s or more).
Do headwinds impact track and field times and scores?
While running facing a headwind does create challenges for athletes, a strong headwind (-2.0 m/s or more) does not impact times and scores.
Wind and Scoring
What happens if the wind exceeds the 2.0 m/s threshold?
If the wind exceeds the 2.0 m/s threshold in an event, the result in said event is not legal for World, American or NCAA records nor seeding times for an upcoming meet.
Does the wind exceeding the limit cancel out times?
No, the wind does not cancel out times. If a tailwind exceeds +2.0 m/s, then the time is still recorded for the meet in which it occurred. That means the result is legal for scoring in said meet and athletes can use that time to place in the said meet.
All participants in the event faced the same wind that exceeded the limit, so it did not alter the direct results between said events competitors.
How does wind impact combined events like the heptathlon and decathlon?
Per NCAA rules, "the conditions imposed for recognizing a Combined Events record shall have been complied within each of the individual events, except that, in events that measure wind velocity, the following shall be satisfied: The average velocity (that is, the sum of the wind velocities, as measured for each individual event, divided by the number of such events) shall not exceed positive two meters per second."
This means that in all heptathlon and decathlon events that would typically have wind velocity measured as a stand-alone event, wind velocity will also be measured.
In combined events, the velocity of each wind-measuring event is added together and divided by the number of events.
For example, in the men's decathlon, the following events take place: 100 meters, 110 hurdles and long jump.
Say the wind was measured at the following times for those events: +3.9 in the 100 meters, - 1.5 in the 110 hurdles and +1.7 in the long jump.
The sum of those times is +4.1. The average of those times (divide the sum by the number of events (3)) is +1.4.
Since +1.4 is less than the +2.0 threshold, any records recorded in the decathlon are valid.
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The wind explained
So there you have it, that's a rundown of the wind's impact on track and field. The next time you're at or watching a track meet, you can now be in the loop if it's a windy day.