OBJECTIVE OF RELAY: Have the final member of your team cross the finish line before all other competitors.
NUMBER OF PLAYERS: Usually 4 per team
MATERIALS: Running attire, batons
TYPE OF GAME: Sport
OVERVIEW OF RELAY
Relay, often referred to as a “relay race”, is any event that involves a team of competitors completing individual portions of a race. While relay races are most used competitively by runners and cyclists, they’re also widely used in recreational activities, especially those participated in by children (obstacle course relays, egg-and-spoon races, etc.). Historically and most popularly, however, relays are best known as a track and field athletics event.
The concept of relays began in Ancient Greece when messages would be delivered via a string of couriers, each handing it off to the next. It wasn’t until 1880, however, that relays would be incorporated into actual races. During this time, charity races held by the New York fire service had participants hand red pennants off to another racer every 300 yards.
In 1908, the first-ever Olympic relay race was held. This race consisted of four legs—two 200m legs, one 400m, and one 800m. At the next Summer Olympics held in 1912, the traditional 4 x 100-meter and 4 x 400-meter races were introduced.
- Running Attire: All runners should wear appropriate clothing and shoes while on the track. Sprinters may also consider wearing spiked shoes for more traction.
- Batons: Aluminum batons are passed between racers during a relay.
There are three (five if counting men’s and women’s events separately) track-and-field relay events held every four years at the Summer Olympics:
1) 4 x 100m Relay (Men’s and Women’s)
This event involves four athletes spaced every 100 meters on the track. Each athlete runs 100 meters before passing the baton to their waiting teammate. In total, all four members combine to run 400 meters, a single lap on the track.
2) 4 x 400m Relay (Men’s and Women’s)
In this event, each athlete runs an entire lap (400 meters, or 1600 meters combined) around the track before passing the baton to their next teammate. All four team members combine to run a total of four laps, a full mile.
3) 4 x 400m Mixed Relay
Featured in the Olympics for the first time in 2020, this event featured teams of two men and two women running 400 meters each.
All relays are races, meaning the team with the fastest finishing time is the winner. Since each team member runs their own leg of the race, the team whose final (fourth) runner crosses the finish line first wins the race.
- In the 4 x 100m relay, each team must stay within their designated lane for the entirety of the race.
- In the 4 x 400m relays (including mixed), all runners must stay in their starting lanes for the entirety of the first lap. There are no lane restrictions for the second, third, and fourth legs of runners.
- A baton cannot be dropped. If an incoming athlete passes and fumbles a baton and it touches the ground, they are disqualified.
- An outgoing runner must stay within their lane while receiving a baton.
- Batons must be handed off within a 20-meter “exchange zone”. Failing to exchange the baton in this zone results in disqualification.
- False starts can result in disqualifications. This is when a runner begins running before the incoming runner holds the baton and has completed the baton exchange.
- In some relay races, there may be specific rules or restrictions on how the baton must be carried or exchanged.
RELAY LEGS/POSITIONING RUNNERS
Although each member of a relay team has to run the same amount of distance, there is still a strategy involved in choosing which athlete runs which leg of a race. For example, in 400-meter relays, how a team positions its runners isn’t a major factor. In 100-meter relays, however, this can provide a team with the slightest edge needed to take home the gold.
The runner who starts the race is the only one who uses traditional starting blocks. This means this first runner should be the best at using these starting blocks, be the fastest accelerator, and have quick reactions to the starting gun.
The athlete who runs the second leg is usually the team’s fastest runner. While teams traditionally put their fastest runner as the final anchor leg, the second runner technically has to run farther since they have to hand the baton off. Therefore, the reasoning behind putting the fastest runner second instead of fourth is that they’ll be running more of the race for the team.
The next runner, the third runner is usually the best at running curves for the third leg, as they’re the only leg that does so other than the starting leg. Statistically, this is usually the runner with the highest stride frequency or the least amount of time between steps.
The final leg, known as the “anchor”, is either a team’s fastest runner or slowest runner. Many times, if a team doesn’t choose their fastest runner (for reasons stated above), this final runner is the one who isn’t best at a single thing—they’re not the fastest accelerator/starter, they’re not the fastest straightaway runner, and they’re not the best curve runner. Instead, this athlete should be great at running in a pack and being able to catch up to other runners in front of them.
END OF GAME
The team whose final member crosses the finish before all other racers wins the relay race.