Despite the fact that the concept for the relay race dates back to ancient Greece, where messages were sent on a stick transported by multiple runners, according to the IAAF the current style emulates the charity races organized by New York City's fire fighters towards the end of the 19th century, in which red flags were passed from one participant to another every 300 yards.
The first Olympic relay race took place in 1908 and was broken down into two 200-meter segments followed by a 400-meter segment and finally an 800-meter segment.The men's 4 x 100 relay race debuted in the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, while the women's race debuted in Amsterdam in 1928.
There are various types of relay races: 4 x 100 meters / 4 x 200 meters / 4 x 400 meters / 4 x 800 meters / 4 x 1,500 meters / mixed relay (100 m – 200 m – 300 m – 400 m), and long distance mixed relay (1,200 m – 400 m – 800 m – 1,600 m). Olympic relay races, up through Rio 2016, have been the 4 x 100 and 4 x 400.
The zone in which the baton is passed from one runner to the next is 30 meters long and demarcated by a line measuring 50 mm wide.The central zone is indicated at 10 meters.
Athletes are not allowed to wear gloves or materials other than those specified in Article 144.4 of the IAAF Regulations (primarily items of a medical nature like bandages, plasters, etc.) or to apply substances to their hands intended to improve their grip on the baton.
If the baton falls, it must be picked up by the athlete who dropped it. An athlete can abandon his/her lane to retrieve the baton, without getting in the way of other athletes and as long as the distance to be covered is not reduced. If the baton falls in such a way that it lands to one side, or forward with respect to the direction of the race (including beyond the finish line), the athlete, after having retrieved it, must return to at least the point in which it lost contact with his/her hand.
Potential disqualifications affect the entire team.
The passing of the baton must take place within the hand-off zone.The hand-off begins when the baton is first touched by the receiving athlete and ends the moment that the baton is exclusively in the hands of the receiving athlete. During the hand-off, it is the baton that must not breach the hand-off zone.
The IAAF regulations specify that the baton: