Written by Margot Wells
Coach to Allan Wells 1980 Olympic 100m Gold medallist
Director of Wellfast Performance Ltd.
The rules are simple. The lead runner has to start when the gun goes and not before and run with the baton in their right hand and run on the inside of the lane but not ON IT. The outgoing runner has to stand on the outside of their lane to accommodate the incoming runner. When the incoming runner hits a prearranged mark on the track the outgoing runner runs as fast as possible until an audible shout is heard signalling that the incoming runner is able to reach the outgoing runner’s outstretched hand and place the baton in it. There is a changeover box in which the exchange of the baton MUST take place and an acceleration line where the exchange of the baton must not take place. This is then repeated another twice around the track until the baton safely reaches the finishing line. Simple! So what can go wrong or in the case of the GB team goes wrong more often than not!
It is not easy to practice race conditions before the event, as sprinters like to focus on their own individual performance first and thoughts only turn to the relay after they have finished. They are invariably tired by the time they reach the relays especially if they have made the finals. Sprinting is mentally tiring as well as physically tiring as the sprinter takes his mind and body to the limit in a sprint. So any practice that does take place is done when the sprinters are fresh and this has an effect on the position of the markers. Very rarely will the incoming runner practice running the whole 100m in practice sessions so someone coming in at full pace having only run 50m or less will not be running at race pace during the practice. Relay practises are usually done earlier in the season when the athletes are not at their peak and therefore they are difficulties with practising changing the baton in race conditions
They are the same rules for every other country so why does the GB team consistently make mistakes that other countries do not? I am not part of the GB athletics set up so it is easy to come up with reasons which seem obvious but there may be things happening on the inside that we don’t know. Have we set up ideas in the sprinters minds that they now expect to drop the baton? Are we so used to telling them not to make mistakes that they make mistakes? Whatever the reasons it must be kept simple and the athletes must believe that they can get the baton around the track because if they don’t then they cant win a medal of any colour.