Athletes heading for the changeover in the men's 4x400m heats at the IAAF World Championships Beijing 2015 (Getty Images)

4x400 Metres Relay

4x400 Metre Relay

How it works

Four athletes each complete one 400m lap. The first lap is run in designated lanes, as is the second – until the beginning of the back straight. Thereafter runners usually battle to hold the inside line. Each runner must carry a baton during his or her leg and hand it to the subsequent runner within the changeover zone, which is sited 10m either side of what will be finish line.


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 4x400m relay for men took place in 1912; the first for women was in 1972.

Did you know

Michael Johnson ran a staggering split of 42.91 to anchor the USA to gold at the 1993 World Championships.

Gold standard

The USA has dominated the men’s scene, winning 17 of the 21 Olympic titles. US women, meanwhile, have won four of the nine Olympic golds. Jamaica, The Bahamas and Great Britain (among the men) and Russia and Jamaica (among the women) are the other major forces.


Jeremy Wariner

The two-time world 400m champion was a key member of the USA 4x400m squad in the 2000s, picking up two Olympic relay golds and three world titles. He also boasts the second-fastest relay split in history with his 42.93 from the 2007 World Championships.

Sandie Richards

The Jamaican featured in five successive Olympic 4x400m finals, picking up a silver in 2000 and bronze in 2004. She also contested three World Championship finals, winning medals in all three – her best being gold in 2001.