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Anchor leg refers to the final position in a relay race. The term is commonly used with respect to relays in athletics. Typically, the anchor leg of a relay is given to the fastest or most experienced competitor on a team. The athlete completing the anchor leg of a relay is responsible for making up ground on the race-leader or preserving the lead already secured by their teammates.
Famous anchor leg runners
"Bullet" Bob Hayes ran a legendary anchor leg for the United States 4 X 100 relay team in the 1960 Tokyo Olympics. Receiving the baton in 5th place, Hayes demolished the field passing four runners to win going away. A rival runner groused: "All you had is Bob Hayes" to which the Americans replied: "All we needed was Bob Hayes."
Carl Lewis never failed to win a race when he 'anchored' the U.S. 4 x 100 m relay team. He regularly ran under 9 seconds for his anchor legs and helped the U.S. team break the World Record in the 4 x 100 m relay five times. The record set by the U.S. at the 1992 Summer Olympics of 37.40 seconds stood for 16 years.
Anchoring the U.S. sprint relay team at the 1984 Summer Olympics, Evelyn Ashford ran a reported 9.77 seconds, the fastest time ever for a woman over 100 metres. The U.S. team of Alice Brown (first leg), Jeanette Bolden (second leg) and Chandra Cheeseborough (third leg) won by the biggest margin in the event's history.
In some cases, athletes who are not top performers in individual events excel when given the responsibility of anchoring a relay. Phil Brown, a U.K. 400 m runner, won Olympic, World and European championship medals as the anchor leg runner for his national 4 x 400 m relay team despite never having won a medal and rarely having advanced beyond the preliminary rounds individually. Although she placed 8th individually in the 100 m, Pam Marshall ran the anchor leg for the American 4 x 100 m team at the 1987 World Athletics Championships in Rome and beat Marlies Göhr in the final with an anchor leg timed at 10.11 s to Gohr's 10.41 s.
Usain Bolt anchored the 2012 Jamaican 4x100 metres relay and helped set a new world record with a time 36.84 seconds.
Famous anchor leg swimmers
At the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, Jason Lezak was the oldest male on the U.S. swim team. He anchored the U.S. 4×100 m freestyle relay team that won the gold medal and set a new world record.
At the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, Michael Phelps swam the anchor leg of the 4 x 200 m relay becoming the most decorated Olympian of all time with his 19th career medal (15th gold medal).