The anchor runner carries the baton the shortest distance of the four. All things (like starting ability and curve running) being equal, ideally your fastest runner should lead off--the first runner carries the baton the longest.
Clearly you are a distance guy.
It depends on th estrength of the team. Usually they make the curve guys run the shortest. The second leg is usually the longest in most iterations.
For your education. The legs are all 100 m, with the international zone the same distance behind the back of the box. There are plenty of things happening in the change and the only constant is the athlete's run in point. They can't go behind or touch the international zone.[/quote]
I guess people missed my "all things equal (like starting ability and curve running)" caveat. Anyway:
The idea in the 4x100 is to have the baton carried the whole time by someone who's at (or close to) top speed. Each outgoing runner gets a 10m "fly" zone for acceleration, then a 20m zone in which to complete the pass. But no good sprinter can reach his or her top speed, or even approach it, with 20 meters of acceleration or less--so any outgoing runner who takes the baton in the first half of the exchange zone is slowing down the team.
[Hence having your fastest sprinter "take the baton early in the zone" is counterproductive, because s/he's still accelerating. How do we know that? Because the incoming runner is able to catch up to the outgoing one!]
Okay, so we know that ideally every pass will be made in the second half of the exchange zone. In fact, the *ideal* would be to complete it just before the baton exits the zone: that way, the outgoing runner is nearly up to the speed of the incoming runner and the baton is slowed down the least.
But let's say, for safety's sake, that you aim at completing each pass about three-quarters of the way through the zone--after 15m of the 20m allowed for an exchange, in other words. Then your leadoff runner has the baton for 105m, your #2 and #3 runners have it for 100m, and your #4 has it for 95m.
All else being equal (did you catch it that time?), you'd like your fastest runner to have the baton for the longest distance. And that means your fastest runner should lead off--as Ben Johnson led off for Canada in the 1984 OG. (It also helped that he was the world's best starter at the time.) And your slowest runner should carry the baton for the shortest distance.
Now, I grant that all conditions are rarely equal, but IF your fourth-fastest sprinter can understand his/her role in the relay and stay cool-headed, s/he will be on the anchor. This way, your fastest people run first, often putting pressure on other teams that find themselves way behind in the early going--and sometimes prompting them to mess up their own passes.
I have coached relays that won major conference titles--or came much closer to winning than they "should" have, based on seed times--following precisely this reasoning.
But I'll admit that someone who coached college sprinters for a quarter-century, as I have, would probably have a few success stories regardless.