The IAAF deserves credit for innovating with the inaugural World Relays, a two-day track meet held last weekend in Nassau, The Bahamas that was attended by teams from about 30 countries. There’s nothing wrong with trying something new, and the format of this meet was definitely new, consisting of five relay events each for men and women. According to LetsRun’s coverage, the meet attracted large crowds and created a great atmosphere. From what I can tell by viewing video clips of the events after the fact, the races were exciting.
So it probably seems pedantic of me to point out all the things I found puzzling about the meet. But then again, why not. It’s not as though I’ll hurt anyone’s feelings through this blog, so here goes: four suggestions — from the perspective of a high school coach — for improving World Relays.
1. Include the rest of the sport
In almost any team track meet at almost any level, from middle school to the Olympics, there are two canonical relays: the 4×100 and the 4×400. At championship meets, it’s not uncommon to have other events, for example the 4×200 or 4×800. And then there are relay carnivals and meets with the word “Relays” in their title. At these meets, a wide variety of relay events are common, including medley relays (including legs of unequal distances), shuttle hurdle relays, and field event “relays,” in which individual marks from team members are totaled to produce a team score.
World Relays limited itself to five events: 4×100, 4×200, 4×400, 4×800, and 4×1500. I guess if this was a prototype, it’s OK that they left out so many potential events, but if I were a hurdler, jumper, or hurdler, I think I’d be miffed.
High school relay meets regularly include the sprint medley (400-200-200-800), distance medley (1200-400-800-1600), shuttle hurdles, and field event relays. Why not here, as well?
2. Rethink the 4×1500
With only five events, you wouldn’t think one of them would be unorthodox, but what else can you call the 4×1500 relay? The race begins at the common starting line, but because each leg is 3 3/4 laps, the baton exchanges occur at the “corners” of the track. The unfamiliarity of the athletes with the exchange zones and protocol surely contributed to the really spectacular collision between the US’s Katie Mackey and Australia’s Zoe Buckman, as the latter remained in lane 2 after passing the baton to a teammate.
Wouldn’t it make more sense to have a 4×1600 instead?
One could argue that the 1600 is not an event at all, so having a 4×1600 would be strange. But having a distance leg end at the 300-meter mark of the track just seems way stranger to me.
3. Use a different scoring system
Individual relay teams had big cash incentives to win and set records, and that was great. But there was also a team (country) competition for the “golden baton” (see photo above), with points being awarded in every event. The US won this competition handily, and the US women in particular were dominant, winning 4 of the 5 events and finishing 2nd in the other one.
But the way points were distributed was a bit bizarre. It was 8 points for first, 7 for second, etc., all the way down to 1 point for 8th. No meet I’ve ever heard of uses such a flat scoring system that makes so little distinction between first and second. Also, points were awarded regardless of how many countries competed in the event. So Romania scored 5 points for finishing last in the women’s 4×1500 because there were only four countries entered.
It seems to me there’s an obvious fix: use a more common scoring system of 10-8-6-4-2-1. This would assign a higher value to top finishes, and would decrease the value of finishing last in an incomplete field.
4. Consider a three-turn stagger for the 4×200
The 4×200 was run entirely in lanes for the full 800 meters of the race. That makes for safer handoffs, for sure. But it also means that it’s pretty difficult to tell who’s ahead for the first 3/4 of the race. Also, it removes the incentive of getting the pole position after the third leg. Maybe at this level, it’s just too dangerous to have sprinters navigating a chaotic exchange zone, running on each other’s shoulders, cutting in too soon, but boy it would be exciting.
Do all these things, and I promise I’ll actually watch the meet next year.