Relays Coaching Information - Synopsis by Alasdair Barker
Unlike almost every athletics event the relays are very much a team game, with the team who can get the baton from start to finish (within the rules) quicker than everyone else winning. The most commonly run relays (and only ones at Championships) are the 4x100m and 4x400m and both are completely different.
4 x 100m
The 4x100m relay is one of the most exciting events to watch as due to the technical challenges it’s not always a case of the team with the 4 fastest runners winning every time. The race is run in lanes for 1 lap of the track with a team of 4 athletes who must negotiate getting the baton round as quickly as possible. There are set change-over boxes spaced out around the track for the baton exchanges to take place: these consist of a 10 metre acceleration zone and a 20 metre change over zone. The baton needs to be exchanged between the start and the end of the change-over zone, the outgoing runner can however make full use of the acceleration zone to get as close to full speed as possible before the change is made – this allows for each runner to run approximately 100m with the baton.
There are various methods of how the baton is passed from one athlete to the other although there are also similarities. The three main methods can be classified as downsweep, upsweep and push pass. Each has their own pros and cons, for instance the UK senior teams currently use the push pass – which is arguably the safest but it can be argued that it is not the quickest. It also required good shoulder mobility to pass efficiently, the movement it uses does allow for multiple attempts to exchange the baton should this be required.
4 x 400m
The longer relay is similar in many ways to the 4x100 but there are also some major differences, the main one being the extra 300m that every athlete has to run. In the longer relay it is only the first athlete who runs fully in their lane, the second athlete then runs the first bend in lanes before breaking for the inside of the track – having a similar change-over area to the shorter relay. The remaining changes happen around the finish line where there is a change-over box – starting 10 metres before the finish line and finishing 10 metres after. Due to the reduced speed of the 400 in comparison to the 100 there tend to be fewer errors when the baton is exchanged. One of the differences in receiving the batons is athletes will tend not to do a blind pass –so they will look at their incoming runner for the baton unlike the shorter relay. Valuable time can still be gained in this relay by a fluent exchange of the baton and this can often be the difference at the finish.
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