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What Are Olympic Sprints and Relays?

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What are Olympic sprint and relay races? They are among the most fast-paced, energetic and exciting events in the Olympic Games. One misstep in a short sprint race can mean the difference between a gold medal and no medal at all.

THE COMPETITION

The modern Olympics include five sprint and relay events, for both men and women, all of which take place on a track:

  • 100-meter dash
  • 200-meter dash
  • 400-meter dash
  • 4 x 100-meter relay
  • 4 x 400-meter relay

100-meter dash
The 100-meter race is run on a straightaway and all runners must remain in their lanes throughout the race.

200-meter dash
All runners in the 200-meter race must remain in their lanes, but the start is staggered to account for the curvature of the track.

400-meter dash
As in the 200, all runners in the 400-meter race must remain in their lanes, but the start is staggered to account for the curvature of the track.

4 x 100-meter relay
All runners in the 4 x 100-meter relay must remain in their lanes, but the start is staggered to account for the curvature of the track. Runners pass the baton within a 20-meter long exchange zone.

4 x 400-meter relay
In the 4 x 400 relay, only the first runner remains in the same lane for a full lap. After receiving the baton, the second runner may leave his/her lane after the first turn. The third and fourth runners are assigned lanes based on the position of the team’s previous runner when he/she is halfway around the track. Runners pass the baton within a 20-meter long exchange zone.

EQUIPMENT AND VENUE

All Olympic sprint and relay events are run on a track. Runners in the individual sprints, plus the leadoff relay runners, begin with their feet in solid starting blocks.

Relay runners carry a baton, generally a smooth, hollow metal tube between 28-30 centimeters long and between 12-13 centimeters in circumference. The baton must weigh at least 50 grams.

GOLD, SILVER, AND BRONZE

Athletes in the individual sprints must achieve an Olympic qualifying time and must qualify for their nation’s Olympic team. A maximum of three runners per country may compete in any individual sprint. The top 16 relay teams qualify in the 4 x 100-meter and 4 x 400-meter events. Only one relay team per country may compete in each event.

All Olympic sprint and relay events include eight runners, or eight teams, in the final. Depending on the number of entries, individual sprint events include two or three preliminary rounds before the final. Sixteen teams qualify for the Olympic 4 x 100 and 4 x 400 relays. Eight teams are eliminated in the opening round heats while the other eight advance to the final.

All sprint and relay races end when a runner’s torso (not the head, arm or leg) crosses the finish line.

Read more about Olympic Sprint and Relay Rules and Scoring

Back to Olympic Sprints and Relays main page

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