A world record is the best performance in a particular event ratified by the International Association of Athletics Federations. Records are kept for all events contested at the Olympic Games and some others. Unofficial records for some other events are kept by track and field statisticians. The only non-metric distance for which official records are currently kept is the mile run. a record performance in a non-recognized event is called a "world best."
The IAAF sets criteria for recognizing a world record, including:
- The dimensions of the track and equipment used must conform to IAAF standards.
- Except in road events (road running and race walking), the performance must be set in a single-sex race.
- All team members in a relay race must be of the same nationality.
- Pacemakers are allowed, provided they have not been lapped; lapped athletes must give way.
- Drug testing immediately after the performance is now required for ratification of a record. Existing records which predate this requirement are still extant. Athletes who pass the immediate drug test but are later found to have been on drugs have their performances invalidated.
- In sprint events up to 200 m and in jump events, wind assistance is permitted only up to 2.0 m/s. In decathlon or heptathlon, average wind assistance of less than 2.0 m/s is required across all applicable disciplines; and maximum of 4.0 m/s in any one event.
- In sprint events up to 400 m, photo finish fully automatic timing is required.
- There is no restriction on altitude; since the thinner atmosphere of higher altitude provides less air resistance, locations such as Mexico City and Sestriere are popular in the sprint and jump events.
- In road events, the course is not required to be a circuit, but must not have too great a net drop from start to finish.
- In road events, the course must be accurately measured, by a certified measurer. The course is remeasured following the event as a part of the ratification process.
- Records overview - IAAF
- Official world outdoor records - men - IAAF
- Official world outdoor records - women - IAAF
- Official world indoor records - men - IAAF
- Official world indoor records - women - IAAF
- World Record progression in athletics - athletix.org
- Track and Field all-time performances
- Competition Rules 2008 - IAAF.org (PDF file, 1.3 MB)