It casts no disrespect on the other Olympic events for the athletics programme to be recognised as the centrepiece of the festival.
With more than 2,000 competitors challenging for 47 gold medals, athletics is the biggest sport, throwing up some remarkable double challenges, including the 100 metres and 200m, 800m and 1500m, 5,000m and 10,000m, and with the marathon building a tradition of its own.
Typically, the action starts about a week after the opening ceremony and almost amounts to a Games within the Games, attracting the biggest crowds to the showpiece stadium and creating the major heroes.
American Ray Ewry's 10 gold medals include two from the unofficial 1906 Games in Athens, but there are no disputes about the validity of the nine golds won by Finland's Paavo Nurmi at distances ranging from 1500m to 10,000m between 1920 and 1928 - or the nine won by Carl Lewis at 100m, 200m, the sprint relay and the long jump for the United States between 1984 and 1996.
In 1984 Lewis emulated the 1936 feat of Jesse Owens and the 1900 achievement of Alvin Kraenzlein in winning four athletics golds at one Games, while Dutch runner Fanny Blankers-Koen was the first woman to achieve the feat in 1948.
Merlene Ottey-Page of Jamaica never won a gold medal, but she earned her place in history with nine silver or bronze sprint medals in a career that took her to six Games for Jamaica and a seventh for Slovenia.
Al Oerter, of the United States, also entered the record books in the men's discus by claiming four consecutive golds from 1956 to 1968, while the Soviet Union's Viktor Saneyev won the triple jump crown at three successive Games from 1968 before striking silver in 1980 and Jan Zelezny, of the Czech Republic, followed his javelin silver medal in 1988 with three golds in a row.
Athletics has featured at every Games and the United States have dominated, with more than 300 gold medals. But the solitary golds for Syria and Burundi in 1996, for the Dominican Republic in 2004 and for Panama in 2008 give hope to all competitors in London.