Examining the 4×100 Relay Completion Rate

After the 4×100 relays at the Diamond League meet in Monaco last Friday, Flotrack interviewed US relay coach Jon Drummond.

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It’s hard to hear everything he said, but it appears that Drummond downplayed recent US troubles with the baton. Everyone has trouble sometimes. Is this true? Well, you know you can count on me to examine the numbers.

I looked at the last ten World Championships and Olympics (which takes us back to 1999) and examined the numbers. The following is what I noticed.

Everyone does have trouble sometimes.

In those ten competitions, there were a total of 214 men’s teams and 183 women’s teams. 22% of the men’s teams were a DNF or a DQ sometime during the meet (baton dropped or exchange out of the zone), and 16% of the women’s teams were.

If you’re involved enough in high school track to have a good feel for relays, you might find this to be an unusually high error rate. You usually don’t get four out of the sixteen teams at the Ohio state championships with a drop or a DQ, for example. I think there are a couple of reasons for the higher miss rate at the international level. One is that these are all-star teams, whereas a club or school team practices together for months. But I think the other is that it’s a much riskier business when you’re going this fast; an 11.1 high school runner has a lot more time to make an adjustment within the exchange zone than does a 9.8 professional. The significant difference above between the men and the women supports this theory.

Not everyone has trouble at the same rate.

Some national teams are far worse at getting the stick around the track than are others.

The USA really does have as much trouble as anyone else. In these 20 competitions, the USA has failed to complete the task seven times (although it’s hard to blame them for last year’s men’s DNF, when Doc Patton tangled with another runner and fell). If you figure it as six failures and one TKO, it’s split evenly between the men and the women. But in terms of pure percentage, there are worse national teams.

The others that have stick trouble are Germany, Great Britain, and Poland at five failures each. These national teams did not compete in all 20 of these meets, though. That makes the Poles’ failure rate of 31% (5 out of 16) actually worse than the Americans’. The Brits failed 29% of their outings (5 out of 17) and the Germans failed in 28% of theirs (5 out of 18).

What about the USA’s major rivals, the Jamaicans? They haven’t had an error-free existence. The Jamaican men had trouble in 2003, and the women in 2003 and 2008. That gives them a 15% failure rate, much better than average and only half that of the USA. The other major men’s sprint power is Trinidad, and they’re batting 1.000 on the men’s side (Drummond was mistaken when he said they DNFed at last year’s Worlds), although the Trini women haven’t been error-free. The other major women’s sprint power, Russia, is about average with two women’s failures for a rate of 20%.

Actually, not everyone has trouble sometimes.

The only medal-winning nation since 1999 that hasn’t dropped somewhere along the line is Belgium. With a women’s bronze in 2007 and silver in 2008, neither their men’s nor women’s relay teams have had a DNF or DQ in their nine appearances in the last twenty Worlds and Olympics. Apparently they know to keep their mayonnaise on their pommes frites, not on their batons.

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4 Responses to Examining the 4×100 Relay Completion Rate

  1. Vince Anderson says:

    superb analysis. rational interpretation of facts.
    great work.

  2. Dennis Grady says:

    Keep in mind that Great Britain, the Poles, Germany (the Netherlands?) and
    any country except Jamaica must use their exchanges to make up for lack of foot speed in order to have any chance for a medal. That means they must take more risks than does the US which has been very cautious on their exchanges (the reason for the early touch in Berlin for the US men).
    Taking that into the discussion the US failure rate is by far the worst.
    Drummond is just plain wrong in his belief that there are no problems with the US relays. In fact, the biggest problem is Drummond himself who believes the US must use two substitutes in the 4×1 prelims in order to get 6 athletes a medal, not just 4.

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  4. Speedfirst says:

    A horrible oversight. How can you have concluded a study on womens sprint relay passing and fail to include the Bahamian women. They have only been perennial sprint relay finalists and medalists in this event for over a decade?!!