Running the Relay: Drills with John Smith & Jon Drummond

This is a 5 part article, but I decided to write it as a single post rather than chop it up.

Since the indoor season is upon us, I’ll start with the 4x200m & 4x400m Relays.


  1. Baton Exchanges: How to Run the 4x200m & 4x400m
  2. Push Pass or Upsweep?
  3. John Smith Video on the drills and exchanges
  4. Jon Drummond classic video (whilst as an athlete with HSI, not head coach of the US Olympic team)
  5. Other Articles

Baton Exchanges: How to Run the 4x200m & 4x400m

I prefer to use a visual exchange for both 4×200 and 4x400m relay, indoors or outdoors.  The 1968 Olympic USA 4x400m team used blind passes! Scary! 

The 4x200m is tricky because the incoming speed is still relatively high, but the runner is more fatigued than the 4x 100m.  I’ve seen plenty of DQ’s and DNF’s at indoor meets using a blind exchange for the 4×200.

In Youth 4×100 meter relays, I find it’s easier to keep consistent with the "give with the right, receive from the left" even if it means changing hands. I rarely see the baton fumble once they have the stick in hand. Their biggest problem is the incoming runner always runs into the outgoing runner, who is usually standing still.

I’ll focus on tips and cues for the 4x200m and 4x400m visual exchange but some of the concepts apply to the 4x100m as well.

Visual Exchange Relay Tips

1) Pass with Right, Receive with Left. Pass with your right hand, and receive with the left. Incoming runner gets the inside part of the lane, outgoing runner gets the outside. (This is opposite of a 4x100m 2nd exchange where you only get one chance to pass the baton, with the incoming on the outside, he has to run further)

2) Change Hands Immediately. Once you get the baton, you change hands immediately. You’ll notice Carl Lewis do this when anchoring a 4x100m relay when it doesn’t matter. I guess Carl is more comfortable using his right hand. (please, no jokes here)

3) Share the Stick. Incoming runner gets the lower half, the outgoing runner gets the upper half.

baylor-4x400m-relay.jpg

Photo courtesy of CSTV.com

4) YELL first, THEN reach. Do not give the verbal command of "STICK" or "UP" and reach at the same instant. SHOUT the command, keep running, and wait for the outgoing runner’s arm to extend, then reach and place the baton in the open hand.

5) Hold the Stick High at face level (see photo)

6) Outgoing Runner Grabs the Baton. When you feel the baton, grasp firmly, THEN use your arms to run. You can see in slow-mo replays how Tyson Gay didn’t have a firm grasp on the baton and his arm started to move forward before the stick was secure.

7) Don’t Let Go. Yet. Incoming runner does not let go until baton is firm in other hand.

8) Face the inside. For the 2nd and 3rd exchanges, when lining up on the track, ALWAYS face inside the track.

9) Incoming Runner Must "Attack the Zone". Do not slow down or even relax until the baton is passed. Keep good running form.

10) Stay in your Lane. After the exchange, stay in your lane. Do not jump out to the left or right as there are runners behind you. Always look back before leaving the track preferably to the infield.

jeremy-wariner-4x400-meter-relay-beijing-2008.jpg

Photo courtesy of publicradio.org

11) Hammer time. I prefer to grasp the baton firmly like a hammer. That may lead to tightness, but it’s better than having it knocked out of your hand which I’ve seen from experience. Some runners, like Michael Johnson or Jeremy Wariner holds the baton like a pencil which I’m not a fan of (see photo)

12) You be the Judge. Don’t take off too soon or too fast. Outgoing runner must judge the speed AND fatigue of the incoming runner. 75% speed is safe enough.
If you have any more tips and cues, please post your comments below.

Push Pass or Upsweep?

Personally, for the 4x100m relay, I don’t care what relay passing technique you use, whether it’s the Push Pass or Upsweep Pass.  As long as both runners (incoming and outgoing) are near full speed, and you can maximize the free distance with outstretched arms, then either one will work.  France & Japan are known for using the Upsweep Pass, despite the rest of the world using the Push Pass.

See 4×100 Relay Baton Passing – Upsweep, Downsweep or Push Pass? The article has a good video of the French National team relay camp training with the upsweep pass. Remember when France had the 4×100m WR?

John Smith Relay Tips Video

John Smith is the most famous track coach with the anonymous name. I’ll bet he gets strange looks with the hotel clerks when he checks in!  Here is the video on YouTube:

TD-00090-Sprints-Starts-and-RelaysIf you like this video, please support John and Championship Productions by purchasing the video here:

Sprints, Starts and Relays – Track & Field — Championship Productions, Inc.

Jon Drummond Relay Instruction

This video of Jon Drummond was filmed while he was an athlete at HSI.  Several years later  as the head relay coach for the USA 2012 Olympic team, he came back with 4 medals, 2 of them gold and one World Record.  Pretty good if you ask me!

Maybe he showed this clip to the 4x100m team?

Other Articles

Take your best four 100 meter sprinters, and see how this formula works for you, assuming perfect exchanges. Theory is good, but you have to get the baton around the track!  Read:

Calculating 4×100 meter Relay Potential  and  Exploiting your 4×100 meter Relay Personnel

Here are previous articles from technique, strategy and history over the past 5 years:

  • Another outstanding video is the 2000 SuperClinic Sprint Relay presentation by Rob Johnson. Coach Johnson had managed several USA relay teams in the 80’s and 90’s as well.

    Credit might also go to Stan Wright who worked with that fabulous ’68 team. Those camps in Tahoe were very dynamic with style, swagger and immense talent.

  • @Jimson I just had a comment on Jon Drummond being the head relay coach for the USA. How much of a difference do you think that he made and what do you think he worked on? Do you think he focused on the 4x100m teams just getting the baton around considering the number of problems that hard at the last few championships before 2012.

    Looking at USA women’s relay the changes weren’t amazing and they still broke managed to break/smash East Germany world record.

    In the UK a lot of money had quite a bit of money into the relays more so on the men’s side I think and this still hasn’t seemed to stop the all the baton drops and other issues.

    • @Jon, I’ll ask Coach Drummond directly.

      RE: fast times. I think Mondo doesn’t want to read this, but the “fast track” surface could be a result of the WRs in the relay, especially when you consider all 4 runners are running at top speeds (a 400m has a lot of deceleration)

      RE: UK. Yes, UKA spent a lot of money on coaching 3.5 years prior to the Games. In a way, Canada spent a lot of money in the Relay Program, too, and we could have/should have/would have won the bronze medal! At the end, we only won one medal in the HJ.