Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce anchors Jamaica to gold in the 4x100m at the IAAF World Championships Beijing 2015 (Getty Images)

4x100 Metres Relay

4x100 Metre Relay

How it works

Four sprinters, in the same designated lane, each run 100m to complete a lap of the track. During their individual legs they have to carry a baton that must be passed to the next runner within a 20m changeover box that’s situated 10m before and 10m after the start of each subsequent leg. The outgoing runner usually runs at full speed with an arm stretched out behind in order to receive the baton. Failure to adhere to the baton-changing rules results in a team’s disqualification. Slick handovers can compensate for a lack of basic speed – but dropping the baton is a regular occurrence.

The first team across the finish line, baton in hand, wins.


Though the concept can be traced to Ancient Greece, where a 'message stick' was delivered via a series of couriers, modern relays emulate the charity races organised by the New York fire service in the 1880s, in which red pennants were handed over every 300 yards.

The first Olympic relay took place in 1908 – but was split into two legs of 200m, followed by one of 400m and another of 800m. The first Olympic 4x100m relay for men was held in 1912; the first for women was held in 1928.

Did you know

When Usain Bolt ran the final leg for Jamaica at the 2012 Olympics, his final 100m – with a rolling start – was timed at 8.70 seconds.

Gold standard

The USA has traditionally dominated the men’s event. Between 1920 and 1976 US men won all but one Olympic title – an impressive record for an event where mistakes are common. USA also holds the women’s world record at 40.82. But on the men’s side in recent years it is Jamaica who have rewritten the record books, becoming the first team in history to run faster than 37 seconds.


Carl Lewis

The legendary sprinter ran the anchor leg on five US squads that broke the world record between 1983 and 1992.

Evelyn Ashford

The US sprinter ran on three consecutive Olympic gold-medal-winning teams between 1984 and 1992, the latter coming when she was 35 years old.