Batons were first used in athletics relays in 1893 but exchange zones, where athletes hand over the baton between legs, were not introduced until 1926.
While the standard format for relays nowadays for both men and women is the 4x400m and the 4x100m, at the first international women’s athletics tournament the Jeux Olympiques Féminins (1921 Women’s Olympiad) in Monte Carlo, August 1921, the relay distances were 4x75m and 4x175m owing to the short length of the track.
At the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam - the first at which women’s athletics was permitted - the men ran the 4x100m and 4x400m relay, while the women ran only the 4x100m. It took until 1969 to see the first international 4x400m women’s relay, run at that years European Championships.
More recently mixed relays were introduced at the IAAF World Athletics Relays event and then at the 2019 World Athletics Championships and onwards. Mixed relays consist of two male and two female athletes per team. Initially teams could choose who they put on each leg, but since 2022 it has been fixed so that the pattern runs male-female-male-female.
Photo by Mark Shearman
This article in partnership with
The Athletics Museum