Thursday, 2 October 2014

The mechanics of Relay and Baton Exchange

Relays in athletics are the time when athletes get to come together as a team (usually made up of 4 athletes), passing a baton from one teammate to the other. The ultimate goal of the relay is to move the baton around the track and across the finish line in the fastest way possible without getting disqualified. There are two main types of relays which are the 4x100 metres and the 4x400 metres. 



In the 4x400 metre relay, each member of the team must run a 400 metre leg of the race. The lead-off runner must stay in lane for the entirety of the 1st lap as well as the 1st 100m of the 2nd lap, after which runners do not have to stay in their lanes. Each runner must carry a baton during his or her leg and hand it to the subsequent runner within the changeover zone, which is sited 10 metres either side of the finish line. The receiver of the baton looks at the incoming runner who is moving at a slower speed and must concentrate on taking the baton out of the incoming runner's hand rather than being "given" the baton. Baton changing is therefore Visual


  • Lead-off Leg RunnerGets the team out in front. Must be aggressive and strong, have a good sense of pace and the to run in lane the entire lap.
  • Second Leg Runner - Keeps the team in the race. Must be physically strong, able to handle bumping. Must also be able to negotiate the breakpoint. If the team is not in first place, job is to get team in first place.
  • Third Leg Runner -  Puts team in a position to win. Must be able to run well from behind or maintain a lead and build upon it. Often, this is second best possible anchor on team.
  •  Fourth Leg or “Anchor” Leg - Secures the victory, puts the relay away. Must be able to run well from behind or maintain a lead. Ability to catch and pass runners. Often, the strongest/fastest leg — the “horse.”
In the 4x100 metre sprint relay, each member of the team covers a distance of 100m before handing over the baton. The rules require the baton to be exchanged within a 20 metre changeover zone which is situated 10m before the start of each subsequent leg. This is to enable the incoming runner place the baton in the hand of the outgoing runner when he or she has achieved maximum acceleration. The receiving athlete can commence his or her run 10 metres before the changeover zone known as the acceleration zone.



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 or 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
During the exchange, the outgoing athlete must keep in mind that he or she does not have to look at the incoming runner once they have begun to run. The incoming athlete will call 'Hand' when in a position to safely pass the baton. The outgoing athlete reaches back with the left or right hand and the incoming athlete places the baton into the hand completing the exchange. Hence a non visual exchange.

  • The first runner runs on the inside of the lane, carrying the baton in the right hand and passes the baton to the 2nd runner with the same hand. Needs to get a good start, be good out of the blocks and can hand off well. Usually runs about 105 metres.
  • The second runner receives the baton in the left hand and runs closer to the outside of the lane, passing the baton to the next runner with the same hand. Needs to be good at receiving and handing off. Usually runs about 120 yards and
  • The third runner receives the baton in the right hand and runs close to the inside of the lane, passing the baton to the next runner with the same hand. Needs to be good at receiving and handing off. Must be a good curve runner. Runs about 125 meters from start of acceleration zone to end of hand off.
  • The fourth runner receives the baton in the left hand and runs in the outside of the lane finishing the race. Must be good at receiving the baton and run well under pressure. It is important to have a strong finisher with a very high competitive spirit. The distance run by the 4th member is about 120 meters.



It is important to note that for both relays, when the baton is exchanged outside the changeover zone, a team is disqualified even after finishing the race.  


There are various techniques employed in baton exchanging but 3 are most popular. The major distinction between the 3 is in the positioning of the hand and fingers and the way the baton is placed in the outgoing runner's hand.

The first type of baton exchange is the Upsweep Technique. In this technique, the receiving hand of the outgoing athlete is extended behind at hip height, with the palm facing down and the thumb and fore finger making a V position. 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.
The second type is the Downsweep Technique. In this technique, the receiving hand of the outgoing athlete is extended behind just above 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.


The third technique is the Push Pass Technique. Here, the outgoing athlete's arm is extended out behind parallel to the ground and the hand is open with the thumb pointing down. The incoming athlete holds the baton vertically and pushes it straight into the open hand.  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.

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