How to Pass a Relay Baton

Two men passing golden baton in stadium, close-up

Four runners make up a team in a relay track event; the baton is passed to mark a change in runners. Though relay races of various lengths take place at most track meets, only the 4x100 meter relay uses a non-visual -- or blind -- handoff of the baton as runners maintain their lanes throughout this event. A non-visual handoff means that the outgoing runner does not look back when receiving the baton, which adds a challenging aspect to the race. An effective non-visual handoff can mean the difference between winning, losing or being disqualified from the race.

Determine, as a team, which pass style will be used in each leg of the race -- overhand, underhand or push. The outgoing runner’s palm is face-up and held behind the hip in an overhand pass, while the incoming runner uses a downswing to place the baton in the waiting hand. The reverse takes place during an underhand pass; the outgoing runner’s palm is face down and the incoming runner uses an upswing to meet the hand. The incoming runner’s hand faces the outgoing runner in a push pass off; the outgoing runner then pushes the baton into the expectant hand.

Carry the baton in the correct hand, depending on your running position. Hold the baton in your right hand if you are running the first or third leg of a 4x100 relay, where the pass happens on the curved section of the track. During the straights, which are the second and fourth leg of the relay, the baton is held in the left hand.

Maintain your pace as you enter the exchange zone. The outgoing runner starts to run in the exchange zone and should match your speed at the pass-off point. If you slow or accelerate your speed, you can throw the outgoing runner off and he may not be able to receive the baton before reaching the end of the exchange zone, which would result in a disqualification.

Steady your passing hand. As the incoming runner, you are responsible for getting the baton to the outgoing runner. This can be difficult to do if your passing hand is moving back and forth or side to side. Keep your hand fixed in front of you once you enter the exchange zone.

Put the baton into the outgoing runner’s hand. The outgoing runner will move his receiving hand into position behind his body once he starts to accelerate in the exchange zone.


Use a visual handoff for the 4x400 and 4x800 relay races. Run on the inside part of the lane. Hold the lower half of the baton in your right hand at face height; this allows the outgoing runner to grab the upper half of the baton in his left hand. Let go only when the outgoing runner has a firm grip on the baton.

Include baton passing in your relay team practice sessions; valuable seconds, and the race itself, can be lost through sloppy baton passing.


Check that the outgoing runner has a tight grip on the baton before you let go; a dropped baton will result in a disqualification.