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During a relay race, members of a team take turns running, orienteering, swimming, cross-country skiing, biathlon, or ice skating (usually with a baton in the fist) parts of a circuit or performing a certain action. Relay races take the form of professional races and amateur games. In the Olympic games, there are several types of relay races that are part of track and field.
Relays in swimming
A swimming relay of four swimmers usually follows this strategy: second-fastest, third-fastest, slowest, then fastest (anchor). However, it is not uncommon to see either the slowest swimmer racing in the second slot (creating an order of second-fastest, slowest, third-fastest, and then fastest), or an order from slowest to fastest (an order of slowest, third-fastest, second-fastest, fastest).
FINA rules require that a foot of the second, third or fourth swimmer must be contacting the platform while (and before) the incoming teammate is touching the wall; the starting swimmer may already be in motion, however, which saves 0.6–1.0 seconds compared to a regular start. Besides, many swimmers perform better in a relay than in an individual race owing to a team spirit atmosphere. As a result, relay times are typically 2–3 seconds faster than the sum of best times of individual swimmers.
The three standard relays raced at the Olympics are the 4 × 100 m freestyle relay, 4 × 200 m freestyle relay and 4 × 100 m medley relay.
Relays in athletics
In athletics, the two standard relays are the 4 × 100 metres relay and the 4 × 400 metres relay. Traditionally, the 4 × 400 m relay finals are the last event of a track meet, and is often met with a very enthusiastic crowd, especially if the last leg is a close race.[A] It is hard to measure exact splits in a 4 × 400 (or a 4 × 100) relay. For example, if a team ran a 3-minute 4 × 400, it does not mean every runner on the team has to run a 45-second open 400, because a person starts accelerating before he/she has the baton, therefore allowing for slightly slower overall open 400 times. A 4 × 400 relay generally starts in lanes for the first leg, including the handoff. The second leg then proceeds to run in lanes for the first 100 metres, after which point the runners are allowed to break into the first lane on the backstretch, as long as they do not interfere with other runners. A race organizer then puts the third leg runners into a line depending on the order in which they are running (with the first place closest to the inside). The faster teams pass first, while the slower teams have to slide in to the inside lanes as they come available.
4 × 200, 4 × 800, and 4 × 1600 relays exist as well, but they are rarer, especially at the high school level, where schools generally have only one or two competitive strong runners in such events.
Rules and strategy
Each runner must hand off the baton to the next runner within a certain zone, usually marked by triangles on the track. In sprint relays, runners typically use a "blind handoff", where the second runner stands on a spot predetermined in practice and starts running when the first runner hits a visual mark on the track (usually a smaller triangle). The second runner opens their hand behind them after a few strides, by which time the first runner should be caught up and able to hand off the baton. Usually a runner will give an auditory signal, such as "Stick!" repeated several times, for the recipient of the baton to put out his hand. In middle-distance relays or longer, runners begin by jogging while looking back at the incoming runner and holding out a hand for the baton.
A team may be disqualified from a relay for:
- Losing the baton (dropping the baton)
- Making an improper baton pass, especially when not passing in the exchange zone
- False starting (usually once but sometimes twice)
- Improperly overtaking another competitor
- Preventing another competitor from passing
- Wilfully impeding, improperly crossing the course, or in any other way interfering with another competitor
Based on the speed of the runners, the generally accepted strategy used in setting up a 4-person relay team is: second-fastest, third-fastest, slowest, then fastest (anchor). Although some teams (usually middle school or young high school) use second-fastest, slowest, third-fastest, then the fastest (anchor). But if a runner is better in the starting blocks than the others, he is sometimes moved to the first spot because it is the only spot that uses starting blocks.
The largest relay event in the world is the Norwegian Holmenkollstafetten, 2,944 teams of 15 starting and ending at Bislett Stadium in Oslo which had a total of 44,160 relay-competitors on May 10, 2014.
Another large relay event is the Penn Relays, which attracts over 15,000 competitors annually on the high-school, collegiate and professional levels, and over its three days attracts upwards of 100,000 spectators. It is credited with popularizing relay racing in the sport of track & field.
The world's longest relay race is Japan's Prince Takamatsu Cup Nishinippon Round-Kyūshū Ekiden, which begins in Nagasaki and continues for 1,064 kilometres (661 mi).
Long-distance relays have become increasingly popular with runners of all skill-levels. These relays typically have 5 to 36 legs, each usually between 5 and 10 kilometres (3.1 and 6.2 mi) long, though sometimes as long as 16 kilometres (9.9 mi). Races under 100 kilometres (62 mi) are run in a day, with each runner covering one or two legs. Longer relays are run overnight, with each runner typically covering three legs.
Medley relay events are also occasionally held in track meets, usually consisting of teams of four runners running progressively longer distances. The distance medley relay consists of four legs run at distances of 1200, 400, 800, and 1,600 metres, in that order. The sprint medley relay usually consists of four legs run at distances of 400, 200, 200, and 800 metres, though a more uncommon variant of 200, 100, 100 and 400 metres (sometimes called a short sprint medley) also exists. See also Swedish relay.
In medley swimming, each swimmer uses a different stroke (in this order): backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly, and freestyle, with the added limitation that the freestyle swimmer cannot use any of the first three strokes. At competitive levels, essentially all freestyle swimmers use the front crawl. Note that this order is different from that for the individual medley, in which a single swimmer swims butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, and freestyle in a single race, in that order.
Relays on coinage
Relay race events have been selected as a main motif in numerous collectors' coins. One of the recent samples is the €10 Greek Relays commemorative coin, minted in 2003 to commemorate the 2004 Summer Olympics. In the obverse of the coin three modern athletes run, holding their batons while in the background three ancient athletes are shown running a race known as the dolichos (a semi-endurance race of approximately 3,800 metres distance).
The game show Triple Threat had a bonus round called the "Triple Threat Relay Round" which was played like a relay race. The winning team had to take turns matching song titles to its corresponding musical artists.
Notes and references
- Each segment of the relay (the distance run by one person) is referred to as a leg.
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