Sports Zone


File photo

Eight teams of four runners each take their places on a 400-meter oval track. Eight runners start the race carrying the Holy Grail, a colored baton they must hand to the next runner.
If the handoff is too slow, momentum is lost. If the handoff is too fast, runners risk dropping the baton or ”overrunning” the 30-meter window where the baton must be passed.
So much depends on the transfer of a stick, with Gold, Silver or Bronze medals at stake – testimony to coordination, speed and synchronicity.
You think you’re at the track, but in fact, you’re in the Exchange Zone!
There are three relay races in Olympic competition: the 4×100, 4×400 and a mixed 4×400 race consisting of teams of four runners with two women and two men, making its Olympic debut later this year in Tokyo.
Relays are sprint races with the added complexity of handing off a baton to the next runner.
Typically, relay teams are made up of the fastest sprinters available during the Olympic games and often include hurdlers. The American women’s 400-meter relay team at the 2019 World Championships in Doha featured the two hurdlers previously featured on this page, Dalilah Muhammad and Sydney McLaughlin.
Baton exchanges are critical.
The efficiency and fluidity of the handoff are as crucial as the sheer speed of the runner. The 2016 Japanese Olympic 4x100m team did not have a single athlete at the level of the other leading teams but placed second to the extraordinary Jamaicans. The Japanese compensated for their speed deficit by perfecting a more efficient underhanded exchange of the baton that allowed them to successfully compete with the best.
Track and field is always a sport of dedication to technique and practice. Throughout history, many teams have seen their Olympic dreams shattered by a weak exchange or a dropped baton.
The 4x100m is run entirely in lanes, while in the 4x400m the first leg is run in lanes, the second leg is run in lanes until after the second turn (100 meters into their leg), and then they break. Baton exchanges after the break are often a chaotic gathering of runners as they jockey to hand off and receive the baton and also try to get good position.



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