What are running relays?

Athletics Relay

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There are two standard relay events in track and field: the 4X100m relay and the 4X400m relay. 

The 4X400m relay finals are traditionally the finale of a track meet, and is therefore often met with a very enthusiastic crowd, particularly if the last leg is a close race. 

A 4X400m relay generally starts in staggered lanes for the first leg; runners are then allowed to break into the first lane on the second leg after the first 200m, as long as they do not block with other runners. This is the point of the race when runners jostle for the best position and try not to get ‘boxed in’, or stuck between runners which makes overtaking later on very difficult. 

The race organiser then lines up the runners of the third leg; the team with the first place gets to be closest to the inside of the track. Slower teams have to slide in to the inside lanes as they come available.

Rules of a relay

1. Passing the baton

Each runner must pass the baton to the next runner within a certain zone, marked by triangles on the track. 

Runners typically use a ‘blind handoff’ when the second runner begins accelerating before entering the passing zone, and then opening their hand behind them after a few strides. By this time, the first runner should have caught up and be able to pass the baton. Auditory cues such as “stick”, or “up” are repeated several times for the recipient of the baton to put out his hand. 

2. Disqualification

A team may be disqualified from a relay for the following reasons:
1) A runner loses the baton
2) Makes an improper pass
3) False starts more than once
4) Improperly overtakes another competitor
5) Prevents another competitor from passing 
6) Willfully impedes, improperly crosses the course or in any other way interferes with another competitor.

3. Basic strategy

The sequence of the relay is usually set as such: the second fastest starts first, followed by the third fastest, slowest and then the fastest. The fastest runner is also known as the ‘anchor’. 

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