Views on false-start rules

This came from the darkwing listserve, I thought it was interesting on different viewpoints.


The false-start delay of 0.1 second, though I understand the thought behind it, makes no sense. Is there any other event in our sport that has a presumed limit built in to the expectation of what an athlete is capable of? Not every hundred-meter sprinter has the same capacity to react to the gun, just as not all have identical pick-up to top speed, or have identical ability to hold speed before decelerating, or ability to lean at the tape, or…(I could keep going about the various factors that contribute to great or poor sprinting).

Armin Hary (for example), the Thief of Starts competing 45 years ago, was a legitimately great starter with off-the-charts reaction time and pick-up. Dave Sime said that Hary had the best second and third steps imaginable, which film would seem to corroborate. Would it have been fair to penalize Hary for this part of his talent?

Some draw a distinction between reacting fast to (that is, “after”) and anticipating (that is, “before”) the gun. This is not a practical difference, since it’s between the athlete and his Maker. Couldn’t one athlete anticipate the gun and still not move as quickly as a Hary who believes in his heart (if in fact he does believe in his heart) that he has waited for the gun to sound in his neurons?

It gets even murkier when the arbitrariness of the time delay is considered. In other words, why exactly 0.10? Why not .08? Or .012? What physiological tests or data sets set the mark at 0.10? (If I recall right, Linford Christie would not have been thrown out of the Olympic final if 0.14 had been the standard–and would 0.14 have been any less legitimate? Say what you will, but any interval is articifical and arbitrary.)

I say that even if the athlete moves off the blocks .0000000…1 after the report of the gun, that’s a chance she took, and the start must be considered legitimate. Seems to me that’s fairer than any arbitrariness.

Does any other event in our sport have an arbitrary assumption like this?

Long jumpers can use every millimeter of the board, for example.

All the best,
Mitch Orfuss

My guess is that ‘taking a chance’ is what poorer starters or lesser athletes with no hope of winning would do - moreso than the best guys. Add in the opportunity to fluster the better athletes even if their flyer is unsuccessful by glueing them to the blocks on the second start, and it’s win-win for the less talented guys.