The best teams often do not win the race since they are disqualified namely when transitions are made between runners.
The transition or exchange zone is 20 meters long (changeover box that’s situated 10m before and 10m after the start of each subsequent leg) and the baton must be passed within this area. Exchanges made outside this zone (based on the position of the baton and not on the runners’ feet) result in disqualification. Passers must remain in their lanes after the pass to avoid blocking other runners. Runners may not wear gloves or place substances on their hands in order to obtain a better grip of the baton.
The relay baton shall be a smooth hollow tube, circular in section, made of wood, metal or any other rigid material in one piece, the length of which shall be 280 to 300mm. The outside diameter shall be 40mm (±2mm) and it shall not weigh less than 50g. It should be coloured so as to be easily visible during the race.
Dropping the baton does not necessarily leads to a team’s disqualification. It can be recovered by the athlete who dropped it and he may leave his lane to retrieve the baton provided that, by doing so, he does not lessen the distance to be covered. In addition, where the baton is dropped in such a way that it moves sideways or forward in the direction of running (including beyond the finish line), the athlete who dropped it, after retrieving it, must return at least to the point where it was last in his hand, before continuing in the race. Provided these procedures are adopted where applicable and no other athlete is impeded, dropping the baton shall not result in disqualification.
Any athlete entered in the Olympics may compete on a country’s relay team. However, once a relay team begins competition, only two additional athletes may be used as substitutes in later heats or the final. For practical purposes, therefore, a relay team includes a maximum of six runners – the four who run in the first heat and a maximum of two substitutes.
If one divides the world record time of 4×100 metres – the amazing and first ever mark below 37 seconds of Jamaica’s team in London olympics (36.84, 2 tenths of a second better than the previous record!!) – by four one would obtain an average way below the 100 metres World record (9.58)?
That average would be 9.21 seconds and is explained by the fact that the last 3 athletes have a rolling start instead of having to jump out of the blocks. By the way, did you know that 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. That’s an average speed of 41.4 Km/h!!!!
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.
Differently from all other athletics events, qualifications for the Olympics are not determined on the basis of a minimum Olympic time. Instead the 16 best world teams as determined in the 2 previous years will join the Olympics.