The baton—a 12-inch cylinder that can either make you or break you in the track world.

It is the sound no runner wants to hear—the pinging of a baton hitting the track in the midst of a crucial relay race. Just ask past American Olympians. In the 2008 Beijing games, both the men and women’s 4 x 100 relay teams botched exchanges. They went home without medals and a promise from the chief executive of USA Track and Field to review the entire relay program.

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