I know the sun has barely set on the 2012 season, but if you’re going to fix something it’s never too early to get started. While I think that several things could use an overhaul in this sport, the most glaring is the false start rule!
Fortunately, the Games did not suffer from the disgrace that was Usain Bolt being tossed out of the World Championships final in Daegu. But we did see several high profile athletes wave good bye in other meets on the Circuit. Athletes like Tyson Gay, Kelly Ann Baptiste and Aries Merritt were among many that were casualties of this rule in 2012.
If someone has a rationale that explains the benefit of having these athletes leave the track without competing please tell me, because I would love to hear it. From my perspective, Zurich lost a Gay v Blake matchup – a race I’m sure many in the stands paid specifically to see. Similarly, fans in New York and Lausanne missed their chance to see Aries Merritt perform during his all conquering, record breaking season. Almost certainly missing a live sub13 performance!
In a sport that desperately needs to have it’s best athletes perform on the track as often as possible, getting rid of competitors is as counter intuitive to the growth of the sport as one can get! We should be doing everything we can to get top level athletes competing against each other, not watching races from the sidelines.
I understand that every sport need rules. But those rules should be designed to attempt to reduce the chance of injury, or to ensure as level a playing field as possible. The false start rule that exists today does neither of those things. I mean, just why do we call false starts at all.
In its simplest form, calling a false start makes sure that everyone starts as evenly as possible. Which means that if someone does break early and the race is stopped, the reason the rule exists has been accomplished – we’ve prevented that athlete from getting an unfair advantage in the race. Now the question is: what should the punishment be? For my money, eliminating an athlete at this point is ridiculous. Why, because we had to reset the race? Ostensibly that’s the logic of the current rule – if you cause us to reset the race (and lose TV time) then you can’t run. Who cares if you are the center piece of the race; a headliner; or a key cog in a matchup that thousands came to see? You see the point of the race isn’t the competitors but ensuring that things run on time! At least from the standpoint of the current false start rule.
Granted we can’t afford/allow any race to be reset over and over and over again as athletes break early at their pleasure. That would not be good for the sport either. If for no other reason than it would actually encourage false starting. After all, an athlete could simply keep attempting to “guess” the gun if there is no penalty. So we do need to place a limit on false starts to preserve the integrity of the sport. The question is what is a fair and equitable rule.
Personally I didn’t like the previous rule either – the first false start charged to the field and any subsequent false starts causing elimination. In that scenario the first person to break early had the advantage of a second false start as well as the ability to "freeze" the field if he or she desired. Too much potential power, especially in a championship situation.
The rule before that was in force for most of the life of track and field – each person got two false starts and you were eliminated on the second one. This worked just fine for nearly a hundred years. Only on rare occasions would we see several athletes false starting in a race. Unfortunately one such race occurred at an NCAA Championships in the 70’s causing a TV delay, and rules makers to have a knee jerk reaction to "fix" the problem.
I say knee jerk reaction, because I’m not sure you needed to fix something that worked just fine over 90% of the time. But IF we were going to make adjustments to the rule at that point, how about treating the "field" like an individual and giving the first two false starts to the field with automatic elimination after that? Given this scenario, more than one person can make a mistake, but everyone has to get it together fairly quickly. A happy medium perhaps?
I have one other complaint, and that’s that the athletes are being held to a non human standard. What do I mean? I mean that if the human eye can’t detect a false start then a false start shouldn’t be called. The fact that a machine can detect the slightest touch of the foot pad does not mean that an advantage has been gained. As a matter of fact, one might argue that “twitching” causes a slower start as the athlete is thinking about not moving further instead of exploding off the blocks. I would also argue that since block clearance and early drive are the real components of the start and not reaction time, early movement in the blocks prior to clearance means almost nothing. Therefore our focus should be on athletes actually leaving the blocks early and that can be determined visually.
Put the starter back in charge of the race. Humans should run things, not computers. The starter should be able to determine whether or not an athlete got an unfair advantage by sight. And the computer equipment should be there in the event that the starter feels he needs verification of what he thinks his eyes saw – or feels his eyes may have missed.
That’s my input on the false start rule. Move to two false starts to the field and then immediate elimination, and allow the starters the discretion of actually calling false starts. Of course I’d love to see the sport adopt my line of thinking, but if not it still needs to make some sort of change to this rule. Because as it stands right now this is a horrible rule that is hurting the sport.