1. Sports
Send to a Friend via Email
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

Introduction to Sprints and Relays



Individual sprint races generally include the 100-, 200- and 400-meter runs. Relay events generally include the 4x100 meters (four competitors running 100 meters each), 4x200 and 4x400. Runners use maximum effort for the entire race and need pure speed, as well as sound starting-block technique, to be successful.

Sprint Technique:

Runners begin sprint races and relays in starting blocks.

Sprint and sprint relay races have a different starting procedure than longer events. When the starter announces "on your marks," sprinters must place both hands and at least one knee in contact with the ground while both feet are in contact with the starting blocks. The "set" command, which is only used in sprint and sprint relay races, then follows. Sprinters rise to their final starting positions while their hands retain contact with the ground and their feet remain in the starting blocks as they await the starting gun.


Sprint relay teams consist of four runners. Runners hold a baton, a hollow tube generally made of metal. Each runner passes the baton to the team's next runner. Passes are performed in designated passing areas and must be made at top speed. Passing areas are 20 meters long.

What to Look For:

Watch for fast starts and strong finishes. Quick starts are particularly important in the shorter sprints. In the longer sprints, such as the 400, runners tend to lose speed in the final 10-20 meters.

Men's World Records:

Jamaica's Usain Bolt first beat countryman Asafa Powell's 100-meter record in 2008 with a time of 9.72. Bolt lowered the mark to 9.69 at the Beijing Olympics, then to 9.58 at the 2009 World Championships. Bolt broke Michael Johnson's 200-meter record at the 2008 Olympics (19.30), then topped himself with a time of 19.19 at the Berlin World Championships in 2009. Johnson still holds the 400-meter world mark. He overcame leg injuries to set the record of 43.18 at the 1999 World Championships.

Bolt and Powell teamed with fellow Jamaicans Nesta Carter and Michael Frater to win the 2008 Olympic 4 x 100 gold medal in the record-breaking time of 37.10 seconds, topping the previous mark of 37.40 by the 1992 U.S. Olympic team led by Carl Lewis. Lewis and fellow Americans Mike Marsh, Leroy Burrell and Floyd Heard set the 4 x 200 record (1:18.68) in 1994. The U.S. team of Andrew Valmon, Quincy Watts, Butch Reynolds and Johnson established the 4 x 400 record (2:54.29) in 1993.

Women's World Records:

There is plenty of controversy regarding many women's sprint records. The record-holder in the 100 and 200 is the late American Florence Griffith-Joyner, who ran 10.49 in the 100 at the U.S. Olympic trials in 1988. She added the 200 record, 21.34, at the 1988 Olympics.

When Griffith-Joyner set her record in the 100, the track's wind meter showed that runners in other events received wind assistance. But the meter showed that Griffith-Joyner, nicknamed "Flo-Jo," received none, causing some to suggest that the meter was malfunctioning during the 100. Additionally, Flo-Jo's bulked-up physique led to accusations that she used performance-enhancing drugs. Griffith-Joyner always denied those allegations and never tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. Griffith-Joyner's retirement, just prior to the implementation of stricter drug tests in 1989, added to the speculation.

Like Griffith-Joyner, 400 meter record-holder Marita Koch of East Germany never tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs, but was suspected due to her country's since-revealed doping program. Koch also retired prior to 1989. She set her mark of 47.6 seconds in 1985 at the IAAF World Cup in Australia.

East Germany also holds the world record in the 4 x 100 relay (41.37). The U.S. owns the 4 x 200 record (1:27.46) while the Soviet Union has the 4 x 400 mark (3:15.17).