What are Relays?
So, you've chosen to learn about the sport of relays in track and field, the international symbol of teamwork and cooperation. Great choice! Let's get started.
We'll first discuss the four different distances of the relay race. Next, we'll examine the dimensions and the lines of the track, the surface upon which the relays are held. Finally, we'll jump into the boundaries and the rules associated with each of the four relay events.
Types of Relay Races
There are four main events for the relays in track and field:
- The 4 x 100 m
- The 4 x 200 m
- The 4 x 400 m
- The 4 x 800 m
The 4 x 100 Meter
The 4 x 100 m is the shortest relay evet, and is run over one lap around the standard track. A 4 x 100 m relay team consists of four runners, with each member taking turns running 100 m while holding a baton. The current world record for the fastest 4 x 100 m relay was set by the Jamaican men's team at the 2012 Summer Olympics at 36.84 seconds. This realy team was the only one to have ever surpassed the 37-second mark.
The 4 x 200 Meter
The 4 x 200 m is the second shortest relay event, and takes place over two laps around the standard track. A 4 x 200 m relay team consists of four runners, with each member taking turns running 200 m while holding a baton. The current world record for the fastest 4 x 200 m relay was set by the Jamaican men's team at the 2014 IAAF World Relays with a time of 1 minute and 18.63 seconds.
The 4 x 400 Meter
The 4 x 400 m is the second longest relay event, and takes place over four laps around the standard track. A 4 x 400 m relay team consists of four runners, with each member taking turns running 400 m while holding a baton. The current world record for the fastest 4 x 400 m relay was set by the US men's team at the 1993 IAAF World Championships with a time of 2 minutes and 54.29 seconds.
A mixed-gender 4 x 400 m relay race, the first mixed-gender event in track and field, was introduced for the first time at the 2017 IAAF World Relays, and will be added to the IAAF World Championships starting in 2019, and to the Summer Olympics starting in 2020.
The 4 x 800 Meter
The 4 x 800 m is the longest relay event in track and field, and takes place over eight laps around the standard track. A 4 x 800 m relay team consists of four runners, with each member taking turns running 800 m while holding a baton. The current world record for the fastest 4 x 800 m relay was set by the Kenyan men's team at the 2006 Memorial Van Damme meet in Belgium with a time of 7 minutes and 2.43 seconds.
The 4 x 100 m Start Line
The teammates who are running the first, second, or third 100 m leg of the 4 x 100 m begin their portions of the race on staggered start lines. This is to account for the oval geometry of the track, which causes the diameter of the outer lanes to be greater than the diameter of the inner lanes. Having a stagger start ensures that all competitors are running the same distance around the curved oval track.
The anchors, however, start their leg of the 4 x 100 m on the same straight start line located on the straightaway. Note that the anchor is the teammate who runs the final leg of the relay race. This is a position that is typically reserved for the most skilled or experienced member of the team, as it is the anchor's responsibility to either make up for any lost time or to maintain the team's lead.
The 4 x 200 m Start Line
All four teammates of the 4 x 200 m relay begin their legs on staggered start lines. Although there are multiple different start line locations that can be used for the 4 x 200 m relay, the most common one places the first runners at the same staggered start lines as the first runners for the 4 x 100 m.
The 4 x 400 m Start Line
The teammates who are running the first and second legs of the 4 x 400 m relay begin their portions of the race on the same staggered start line. For the third and fourth runners, however, they begin their legs on the same continuous straight start line, located just before the curved waterfall start line used for the mile run.
The 4 x 800 m Start Line
In the 4 x 800 m relay, only the first runners are required to begin their legs on a staggered start line. The second, third, and fourth runners begin their legs on the same continuous straight start line.
The Break Line
The break line is the continuous curved line, located after the first bend, that indicates when the second runners of the 4 x 400 m and the first runners of the 4 x 800 m are allowed to begin running in lanes other than their pre-assigned ones. Note that the break line does not apply to any other competitors of the relay race except for the second runners of the 4 x 400 m and the first runners of the 4 x 800 m.
The lanes are assigned to the relay teams in a series of three draws.
- The four highest-ranked teams participate in a draw for lanes 3, 4, 5, and 6.
- The fifth and sixth highest-ranked teams participate in a draw for lanes 7 and 8.
- The two lowest-ranked teams participate in a draw for lanes 1 and 2.
The leg refers to one of the four sections that a relay race is divided into. A leg can only be run by a single designated team member.
The Leaf-Off Leg
The lead-off leg is the first leg of a relay race.
The Anchor Leg
The anchor leg is the final leg of a relay race. The teammate who runs the anchor leg is referred to as the anchor. This is a position that is typically reserved for the most skilled or experienced member of the team, as it is the anchor's responsibility to either make up for any lost time or to maintain the team's lead.
Runner Order Strategy
The most commonly used strategy to decide the order of runners in a relay team is based on speed.
- Lead-off leg: Second-fastest teammate
- Second leg: Third-fastest teammate
- Third leg: Slowest teammate
- Anchor leg: Fastest teammate
Every relay event begins with the call from the starter, instructing all runners of the lead-off leg to make their way behind the start line.
On Your Mark
For the 4 x 100 m, the 4 x 200 m, and the 4 x 400 m, all runners of the lead-off leg must assume the crouch start position at the starter's command, "On your mark,". Both feet must be placed in the starting block, and the athlete's hands, feet, and rear knee must all be in contact with the ground. The hands must also be shoulder width apart, and the head should be mostly level with the back.
For the 4 x 800 m, however, all runners of the lead-off leg must assume the upright standing start position at the starter's command, "On your mark." The lead foot is placed just before the starting line, and is about shoulder-width apart from the rear foot. The competitor's body is tilted forward and both knees are slightly bent, with roughly two-thirds of his body weight on the lead foot. A straight line should be able to be drawn between the head, neck, and back as well. Finally, the hands must not touch the ground at any time. All runners of the 4 x 800 m lead-off leg must remain motionless in this position until the firing of the starter's gun.
Although the standing start is not as powerful or explosive as a crouch start, it does help the competitor to enter his ideal upright stride and maximum speed phase sooner, as he does not have to rise and straighten out of a crouched position.
At the starter's second command, "Set," all competitors for the lead-off leg of the the 4 x 100 m, the 4 x 200 m, and the 4 x 400 m must assume the set position, or the four-point start position. The knee of the rear leg rises to an angle between 120 and 140 degrees while the knee of the front leg bends to a 90 degrees. The hips are also held at a higher level than the shoulders, and the majority of the body weight must be between the hands and the front leg.
Note that the command, "Set," is not used to start the 4 x 800 m race.
Firing of the Starter's Gun
The race officially starts upon the firing of the starter's gun. The competitors are now free to cross the starting line and race towards the finish line.
A false start is an invalid start to a race.
For the 4 x 100 m, the 4 x 200 m, and the 4 x 400 m relays, which use starting blocks, a false start is caused by a competitor who either leaves the starting block before the firing of the starter's gun or reacts within 0.12 seconds of the firing of the starter's gun, as measured by pressure-detecting systems on the starting block.
For the 4 x 800 m relay, which does not use starting blocks, a false start is caused by a competitor who moves out of the standing start position before the firing of the starter's gun. A false start is announced by two successive shots from the starter's gun, and results in the immediate disqualification for the offending competitor and the restart of the race for the remaining athletes.
The baton is the smooth, hollow tube that is passed between teammates in a relay race. Each teammate must carry the baton throughout the entirety of their individual leg of the relay in order for their race to be valid.
The baton may be constructed of any rigid material, such as wood or metal, but must be a smooth, hollow, one-piece tube, measuring between 28 and 30 cm in length and between 12 and 13 cm in diameter, and weighing at least 50 g.
Running in the Lanes
All runners of the 4 x 100 m and the 4 x 200 m, as well as the first runners of the 4 x 400 m, must remain in their assigned lanes for the entirety of their legs. This is defined as staying within the boundaries of the lane lines, and applies to all parts of the competitor's body and clothing. An athlete who simply steps on the white lane line is considered having left his lane, and will therefore be automatically disqualified. Furthermore, obstructing or crossing over into another competitor's lane is considered a serious offence, and will also result in immediate disqualification.
The Break Line
The break line is the continuous curved line, located after the first bend of the track. Once the second runners of the 4 x 400 m and the first runners of the 4 x 800 m have crossed this line, they are allowed to begin running in lanes other than their pre-assigned ones. They are also allowed to change lanes at any point in the race, as many times as they wish. However, a competitor who deliberately obstructs another runner's path, or interferes in any way, will immediately be disqualified.
Running Without Lanes
Once they have received the baton from their previous teammate, the third and fourth runners of the 4 x 400 m, as well as the second, third, and fourth runners of the 4 x 800 m, are free to start their legs of the race in whichever lane they prefer. They are also allowed to change lanes at any point in the race, as many times as they wish. However, a competitor who deliberately obstructs another runner's path, or interferes in any way, will immediately be disqualified."
Holding the Baton
The competitor must complete the entirety of his leg while holding the baton. A competitor who drops the baton at any point of his leg, or crosses the finish line without holding the baton, will face immediate disqualification.
At the end of their legs, every competitor, except for the anchors, must pass their batons to the teammate who will be running.the next leg of the relay race. This exchange, known as the changeover, must occur within a specifically designated area on the track called the exchange zone, or the passing zone.
The Exchange Zone
The exchange zone (also known as the passing zone or the changeover box) is the 20 m long section of a lane, often marked by a set of small cones for visibility, in which the changeover must occur. In other words, this is where the baton must be passed from the incoming runner to the outgoing runner.
The changeover may occur at any point within the 20 m exchange zone. The first 10 m of the exchange zone is an extension of the incoming runner's leg, while the second 10 m of the exchange zone is a pre-extension of the outgoing runner's leg. A team whose changeover does not occur within the exchange zone will be immediately disqualified.
The incoming runner is the relay teammate who is finishing his leg of the race and is entering the exchange zone in order to pass on the baton.
The outgoing runner is the relay teammate who is preparing to start his leg of the race and is within the exchange zone in order to receive the baton.
For a successful changeover, the two participants must meet each other at full speed at the point of exchange. Therefore, the outgoing runner, in order to catch up to the incoming runner's speed, may begin running alongside his incoming teammate (within their assigned lane, if applicable) from as far back as 10 m before the start of the exchange zone. However, the changeover itself must occur entirely within the exchange zone.
There are two predominant strategies for the baton changeover:
1. Blind Pass
2. Visual Pass
The Blind Pass
The blind pass is used mostly for changeovers in the 4 x 100 m and the 4 x 200 m. Here, the incoming runner first races ahead of the outgoing runner, then, without pausing or looking backwards, stretches out the arm holding the baton behind him for the outgoing runner to grasp. It is the responsibility of the incoming runner to thrust the baton into the outgoing runner's outstretched hand, and to not let go of the baton until he is absolutely sure that the outgoing runner has taken hold of it.
The Visual Pass
The visual pass is used mostly for changeovers in the 4 x 400 m and the 4 x 800 m. Here, the outgoing teammate, without pausing, looks backwards at his incoming teammate and holds out his hand in order to grasp the baton.
Relay Races Glossary Terms
- The Relays
- Standard Competition Area
- Start Line
- Finish Line
- Stagger Start
- Home Straight
- Back Straight
- Inside Lane
- Standing Start
- Starter's Gun
- False Start
- Exchange Zone
- Passing Zone
- Blind Pass
- The Changeover
- Incoming Runner
- Outgoing Runner
- Lead-Off Leg
- Anchor Leg
- Fully Automatic Timing System
- Photo Finish
- Chief Photo Finish Judge