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Sprint Relay

The aim of the 100 metre sprint relay is, with the assistance of four athletes, to carry a baton (30 cm long, 13 cm in circumference and no less than 50grms in weight) around 400 metres as quickly as possible.

Baton exchange

The rules of relay competition require the baton to be exchanged within a 20 metres changeover zone. So that the outgoing runner can achieve maximum acceleration at baton exchange the athlete can commence his/her run 10 metres before the changeover zone. The baton exchange should occur 5 metres before the end of the changeover zone. Because of this, each athlete has to sprint more than 100 metres:

  • 1st athlete 105 metres
  • 2nd and 3rd athletes 125 metres
  • 4th athlete 120 metres

Running Track changeover zones

Check Mark

The exchange of the baton requires a matching of the speeds of the incoming and outgoing athletes so that they are together towards the end of the changeover zone. This requires the outgoing runner to commence his/her run when the incoming runner reaches a check mark. The distance of the check mark from the start of the zone needs to take into consideration the:

  • running speed of the incoming runner
  • reaction and acceleration capacity of the outgoing runner

The following is a general guide on the distance of the check mark from the outgoing runner's starting point:

  • Men - 7 to 9 metres
  • Women - 6 to 7 metres
  • Children - 5 to 6 metres

A more accurate calculation of the check mark

Strict correspondence of speeds by the outgoing athlete and the incoming athlete within the passing zone is an essential condition of a successful change-over. Consequently, the optimum correlation of speeds of the athletes in the passing zone may be achieved by means of a precisely calculated check mark.

Deciding on the position of the check mark is a vital aspect of relay running technique. For this we put on the running track in front of the zone a check mark. The moment of crossing the check mark by the incoming athlete is the signal for the outgoing athlete to start running.

The method of deciding the position of the check mark begins with establishing the exact spot of baton exchange (25 metres into the zone). We need to determine the:

  • time the outgoing athlete takes to run 25m from a standing or modified crouch start e.g. 3.24 seconds
  • time it takes the incoming athlete to run the last 25m of their leg e.g. 2.25 seconds
  • difference for the two athletes e.g. 3.24 - 2.25 = 0.99 seconds
  • average velocity of incoming athlete over the last 25 metres e.g. 25 ÷ 2.25 = 11.11 m/s.

With the difference in time (0.99 secs) and the incoming athlete average velocity (11.11m/s) we can work out the check mark as 11.11 x 0.99 = 10.99m

The reaction of the outgoing athlete to the incoming athlete hitting the check mark also needs to be taken into consideration. Investigations with top class athletes indicates that this reaction time is +0.20 seconds. By the time the outgoing athlete commences their running the incoming athlete will have travelled 0.20 x 11.11 m/s = 2.22 metres which will mean the outgoing athlete will begin from a shorter start of 10.99 - 2.22 = 8.77m rather than the calculated 10.99m. The check mark therefore needs to be placed at 10.99 + 2.22 = 13.21m

Calculate check mark

Enter the incoming athlete's time for a flying 25 metres and the outgoing athlete's standing start time for 25 metres and then select the 'Calculate' button to obtain a predicted check mark measurement.

Incoming athlete's time for 25m seconds
Outgoing athlete's time for 25m seconds
 
Check mark distance metres

If the check mark is a negative value then check the entered athlete's times are correct
I would expect the incoming athlete's time to be faster than the outgoing athlete's time

Running line and baton exchange

The running position in the lane and exchange of the baton for each member of the relay team is as follows:

  • first runner carries the baton in the right hand and runs on the inside of the lane
  • second runner takes the baton in the left hand and runs closer to the outside of the lane
  • third runner takes the baton in the right hand and runs close to the inside of the lane
  • fourth runner takes the baton in the left hand

The exchange is 'non visual'. Once the outgoing athlete has seen the incoming athlete reach the checkmark he/she will start as if reacting to the starting gun in a sprint race. The incoming athlete will call 'Hand' when he/she is in a position to safely pass the baton to the outgoing athlete. The outgoing athlete puts back his/her hand, the incoming athlete places the baton into the hand and the exchange is complete. The outgoing athlete does not watch the baton into his/her hand, hence 'non visual'.

Starting Positions

1st Leg

The first athlete will use a sprint start and will have to modify the right hand position in order to securely hold the baton. The athlete has the following options of holding the baton :

Relay start

Other legs

The starting position for the outgoing athlete must allow for:

  • explosive start and a fast acceleration
  • good observation of the approaching incoming athlete

A possible start position for each outgoing athlete is as follows:

Outgoing athlete start position

This is the start position for the 2nd and 4th leg runners. The 3th leg runner will stand to the inside of the lane, use the left hand to support the body and watch for the incoming athlete under the right arm.

Passing Techniques

Upsweep

The receiving hand is extended behind them at hip height with the palm facing down and a wide angle between the thumb and the rest of the fingers. The incoming athlete passes the baton in an upward movement into the receiving hand.

The advantage of this method is that this is a normal position for the receiving hand. A disadvantage is that it may require some manipulation of the baton in the hand to make the next exchange safely.

Upsweep exchange

Downsweep

The receiving hand is extended behind them at hip height with the palm facing up and a wide angle between the thumb and the rest of the fingers. The incoming athlete passes the baton in a downward movement into the receiving hand.

The advantage of this method is that it will require no manipulation of the baton to safely make the next baton exchange. A disadvantage is that it is not a natural position of the outgoing athlete's hand to receive the baton.

Downsweep exchangeDownsweep handover

Push Pass Technique

The outgoing runner's arm is extended out behind them parallel to the ground and the hand is open with the thumb pointing down. The incoming runner holds the baton vertically and pushes it straight into the open hand.

Push Pass

The advantage is the the incoming runner can easily adjust the baton’s position up, down or sideways and can observe the outgoing runner's hand take hold of the baton. It will require no manipulation of the baton by the outgoing runner to safely make the next baton exchange. A disadvantage is that it is not a natural position of the outgoing athlete's arm and hand to receive the baton. This is perhaps the safest method of baton exchange.

Selection of team members

The performance in the relay event primarily depends upon the perfection of the baton exchange and the sprinting ability of the team. In order to select athletes for the different relay legs it is sensible to find out their capacities for a particular section (the second and third runner cover longer distances). It also is advisable to establish each athlete's full potential for running sections on the straight and around the bend. These individuals' abilities must be taken into account in deciding the running order of a relay team, considering the following:

  • First leg - priority goes to an athlete who has a good start, can run the bend and pass the baton well
  • Second leg - the choice goes to an athlete who is confident in receiving and passing the baton, runs well in the straight and possesses sufficient speed endurance. The athlete should perhaps be a 200 metre specialist.
  • Third leg - the selection goes to the sprinter who is confident and reliable in receiving and passing the baton, can run the bend well and possess sufficient speed endurance. The athlete should perhaps be a 200 metre specialist.
  • Fourth leg - here we normally select a runner who receives the baton well, is efficient in running the straight and has a high degree of competitive spirit

Team order and exchange points

The following information on baton exchange for each leg of the relay and team order has been provide by Daniel Maas whose running resume includes being the 193rd American to run sub-four minute/mile, 7 NAIA National Championships for Adams State College and 6 Events on US National teams.

If there are noticeable differentials in the speeds of the runners, it can be a good idea on the first leg to exchange 5 metres into the zone and then on the second leg to exchange 5 metres from the end of the zone and then on the third leg 5 metres from the beginning of the zone. This way your first leg runner goes 95 metres with the baton and hands off to your second fastest runner with a flying start. The athlete on the second leg then runs 110 metres carrying the higher speed. The third leg runner is the slowest and only goes 90 metres before giving the baton to the anchor (the fastest runner) to carry the baton 105 metres. With the running order of 3-2-4-1 it will maximize the distance the two fastest runners carry the baton.

I have seen a running order of 3-1-4-2 to give your fastest athlete a flying 110 metres with the baton. I have not personally run in a 3-1-4-2 order with differential lengths but seen it to be effective. Certainly not as much at the collegiate and elite levels but it can be effective in high school where you can have significant speed differentials at each leg. I have also seen the team order approach used in the 4x400m relay.

Rules of Competition

The competition rules for this event can be obtained from:


Page Reference

The reference for this page is:

  • MACKENZIE, B. (2001) Sprint Relay [WWW] Available from: http://www.brianmac.co.uk/sprints/relay.htm [Accessed

Related Pages

The following Sports Coach pages provide additional information on this topic:

Associated Books

The following books provide more information related to this topic:

  • Sprints and Relays, F. W. Dick
  • Sprinting and Hurdling, P. Warden
  • How to Teach Track Events, M. Arnold