THE EDITOR, Sir:
While agreeing with Hubert Lawrence's statement (from his article 'Sprint relay magic', 22/8/13) that our ladies in Moscow proved that slick baton passing is as important a contributor to relay success as is speed, I crave the opportunity to advance the view that although both are important, in general, the quality of the baton passing has a far greater impact on the outcome of the race vis-à-vis speed.
I write from the perspective of someone who has been a keen, discerning observer for more than 50 years, with the added benefit of the experience of both competing in and coaching sprint relays at the highest level.
The three exchange zones together, totalling 60 metres, constitute a mere 15 per cent of the 400 metres race, but in general, far more shifts/changes in the status of the race occur within that relatively small distance compared to the remaining 340 metres (85 per cent), which is dedicated to the sprinting aspect of the race.
It is a familiar sight - that of teams exiting a 20-metre exchange zone in positions that bear no resemblance to that which obtained when they entered it. Such are the big shifts that often occur in that tiny distance, and that scenario can be repeated
The baton, the most vital element in any relay, in its brief (approximately two seconds)
ONE PASSING ERROR
At the junior, youth, and senior levels, it would be highly unusual for the team with the best (on paper) overall sprinting ability to have as much as a one-second (approximately 10-metre) sprinting advantage over the next best team, but should such an advantage exist, it all could be erased by a single error in just one of the exchange zones. The American ladies' team in Moscow lost approximately 10 metres with the second baton exchange.
We just don't see the kind of gross shifts in status of teams while they are engaged in sprinting the curves and the straights as we see while they are engaged in passing the baton.
Though it is impossible to measure definitively, for decades now, I am convinced that in general, each relay box has the potential to influence the outcome of the race by 25 per cent and the combined sprinting prowess by 25 per cent. With three baton passes (75 per cent), speed (25 per cent), baton passing trumps speed, by far, in general, in determining the outcome of sprint relays.
PATRICK ROBINSON (Dr)
Olympian - Tokyo, Japan, 1964
Stony Hill, St Andrew