The CHill Zone of T&F: Conway's View From the Finish Line

Worlds Day Two – Bolt One and Done

Aug 28th, 2011
8:13 am PDT

One and done, that’s what we fans of the sport call the “new” false start rule. Simply put, it means that if you false start you’re done, thrown out of the race. There’s no “oops”. No do overs. You can’t wobble, flinch or shake. You can’t say you heard a camera click, it was too noisy near the track, or the plane flying overhead distracted you. Your day is done. It’s over. One and done.

Since the inception of this “new” rule two years ago I’ve been saying that it is a disaster waiting to happen. That one day it was going to bite the sport “where the sun don’t shine”. That day is today! Because today Usain Bolt became the most well-known casualty of “one imageand done” when he false started out of the final of the men’s 100 meters! The world record holder. The man who cruised through his qualifying rounds. The favorite to perhaps win yet another sprint double, was somewhere other than on the track as the race he has dominated in the last two Major championships was run without him. Not because he lost during the rounds, but because he had an “oops” moment at the wrong time. And as the gun went off, the sport shot itself in the foot, as its marquee athlete walked off the track defeated by perhaps the dumbest rule in sport!

Sadly I saw it coming, as on day one there were several false starts – just none quite this big. First there were false starts in the decathlon 100, but the rules are different for them – no one and done. Then in the first round of the women’s 400 we lost the defending Olympic champion, Christine Ohuruogo (GBR), but she had a poor season and was low profile, so not much noise was made. But I made note after these occurrences that at some point in this meet something bad was going to happen.

During the morning session we had more false starts in the decathlon 110 hurdles, but they don’t have the same rules – they get a second chance. Then in the heats of the men’s 400 we had another false start and Nigeria’s Abdou Samma was tossed – but he didn’t even have a qualifying time and it was said that someone should have taught him the rules. Then as the afternoon session began another Brit was lost to the rule as in semi one of the men’s 100 Dwain Chambers was tossed out to a false start – he knew the rules – and that sparked a little interest. Then shortly thereafter, in the 3rd semi of the women’s 400 Joanne Cuddihy (IRL) was lost to a false start! Which lead us to the “shot heard round the world” as Usain Bolt became the rules most famous casualty.

Not that’s a LOT of false starts – and it’s only day two of the meet. I doubt if any of them were trying to cheat – because that’s one of the primary reason we’re told that we have the false start rule, to stop the cheaters. The other reason is to speed up the sport – because false starts cost time and TV doesn’t’ have time to waste. Well, I don’t think Usian Bolt was trying to cheat, because he was clearly the dominant athlete out there on the track today. And if it’s about TV, well television LOST its biggest drawing card when Bolt walked off that track!

For as long as I can remember, for as long as there has been modern track and field, the rule was that if you false started you got another chance, and if you false started again you were ejected from the race. And that was fair, fair to the athletes, fair to the fans, and fair to the sport. Because frankly, while yes there were those times when an athlete or two might try to get an advantage out of the blocks, there were infinitely more times when it was noise, nerves, the flinch of someone besides you, a plane overhead, or infinitely more reasons why an athlete might leave the blocks a hair early! And the RIGHT thing to do was to reset the athletes and let them try again. After all, it’s the athletes that EVERYONE came to see.

But somewhere along the line, there were a few too many false starts in a race or two and the meet went a little too long and the sport decided it needed to do something. It started with the NCAA (whenever have THEY had the best rules for anything) who went to one and done. Then for some reason so did the National High School Federation – because we have to nip this cheating thing in the bud early! Then two years ago the IAAF adopted the rule, because you know those sprinters are hurting the sport with their false starts. Ironically I will tell you that there are more false starts in the hurdles than the sprints because it is so much more important to get to that first hurdle, well first! But for two years I, and others, have said it’s a disaster waiting to happen. And today lightning struck Bolt!

I’ve ranted enough, but today was important to the history of the sport I believe. And I hope that this will wake up the rule makers of the sport – and that we go back to what actually worked for a hundred years or more. And that in the future we make rules because they are what’s right for the athletes and the sport, not because we are trying to manipulate something as innocuous as time!

Now the 100 was THE key final on the day. Everything was scheduled to build to this moment. Ironically at the start of the year it was supposed to be a summit meeting of the three fastest men in history – but none were in this final! And as I predicted yesterday the semifinals were brutal. In semi one Chambers was lost to DQ, and Trini Keston Bledman failed to advance. imageSemi two saw recent 9.85 man Richard Thompson (TRI) and Asafa Powell replacement Michael Frater (JAM) eliminated. And semi three saw the end of the road for Justin Gatlin (USA) and NCAA champion Ngoni Makusha (ZIM). A lot of speed was watching this final from the stands. At the gun it was Yohan Blake (JAM) and surprise finalist Kim Collins (SKN) bursting from the blocks. 40 meters out Walter Dix (USA) & Christophe Lemaitre gave chase, and Blake burst from the pack – running away to a clear win! Dix caught and out leaned the flying Collins in the final stages to finish off the day’s events. A bit anti climatic with the loss of Bolt.

The 100 overshadowed everything else on the day. Brit Mo Farah lost a thrilling dual in the 10,000 as he was beaten not by Kenenisa Bekele (ETH) who ended up dropping out of the race, but by unknown Ethiopian Ibrahim Jeilan, as this pair and Imane Merga battled over the final two kilometers of the race. It also overshadowed a rather thrilling decathlon competition as Tre Hardee (USA) became a reapeat champion and teammate Ashton Eaton had to run for his life in the 1500 to take silver by 4 points ahead of Cuba’s Leonel Suarez.

In other field event finals, Brittney Reese (USA defended her long jump title and Yanfeng Li (CHN) won the women’s discus.

In earlier qualifying in  the men’s 110 hurdles all the top men came through unscathed including Dayron Robles (CUB), Liu Xiang (CHN), David Oliver (USA) and Jason Richardson (USA). Third American Aries Merritt also looked very sharp in his opening round.

The men got underway with the 1st round of the 400 meters with early world leader Rondell Bartholomew(GRN) getting back under 45 seconds winning heat one in 44,82 with Reny Quow (TRI) right there in 44.84. Then in heat three defending champion LaShawn Merritt threw down the gauntlet with a sizzling 44.35 that left everyone shaking their heads. Merritt looked like the man that ran 43.75 in Beijing and it’s going to take something special for someone to stop him from defending his title this week.

In the semis of the women’s 400 defending champion Sanya Richards Ross got a scare as she struggled in 3rd place in her semi and only made it through to the final as the last qualifier on time! The other top candidates looked sharp including Allyson Felix (USA)also saw the prime candidates get through as Allyson Felix (USA), Francena McCorory (USA) and Amantle Monstsho (BOT) were all semi winners.

I apologize for the lateness of this post but after getting up at 2:00am to watch it all I had to take a nap! Tomorrow should be exciting with semis and finals in the 110 hurdles, and finals in the women’s 100 & 400.


Tomorrow’s Finals

  • Men’s Hammer
  • Men’s Pole Vault
  • Women’s Shot Put
  • Women’s 400
  • Men’s 110 hurdles
  • Women’s 100

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8 Responses to “Worlds Day Two – Bolt One and Done”

  1. John Nehmer says:

    As a track nut, I am devastated to see Bolt DQ’d and not allowed to run, but for the casual fan and for the sake of the sport, we simply HAVE to get this right.

    As in baseball where NOBODY comes to see the umpires making blatant strike and out gestures/quarreling with/ejecting the players; NOBODY comes to a track meet to see the starter disqualify a sprinter or hurdler, ESPECIALLY USAIN BOLT, the only current track athlete that the casual fan has ever heard about!!!!!!!!


    As a regular reader of your blog, I distinctly remember you warning about this possibility several times, and your predictions have now come true.

    Come on IAAF, USATF, and High School Governing Bodies!

    Does ANYBODY care if a track meet runs ten minutes longer because we had four false starts?

    As a sport that has declined dramatically in popularity over the last 40 years, and as a sport that simply HAS TO DO EVERYTHING RIGHT, why are we committing this egregious mental error that is so easily correctible AND WHEN SO MUCH IS AT STAKE?

    Please IAAF, correct this before London.

    John Nehmer

  2. Coach Larry says:

    I've seen a runner DQ'd from a steeplechase event due to flinching on the line prior to the gun. One and done – to the point of insanity.

    Meets should be run for the benefit of 1) the athletes, 2) the fans, 3) the organizers and lastly, TV. (Speaking of TV, US broadcasts (on NBC and ESPN) are filled with incompetent and inane announcing and interviews that waste more time than false starts).

    The 1 false start charged to the field rule was better than the good old days where every sprinter took turns trying to catch the gun just right knowing they'd not be disqualified for the first false start. Going back to the 1 to the field rule would not significantly delay the meet for athletes, fans, organizers or television.

    Anyone whose ever tried to hold a block start for 2+ seconds know how difficult it is – which is why I believe that the old farts who voted in this one and done rule never tried it. I doubt one could find a sprinter (HS – Open) who hasn't false started one or more times, with no intention of doing so.

    If ever there were a silver-lining in Bolt's DQ it has to be that it has shed light on the worst rule in the sport of Athletics and that this rule might get changed.

  3. John Nehmer says:

    One last point: I just got done watching Bolt get disqualified on NBC and I’m heartbroken and I now know what the equivalent would be with other sports.
    1. DQ’ing Bolt is the equivalent of ejecting Aaron Rodgers from the Super Bowl in the first quarter because he questions a placement call for a potential first down too vociferously.
    2. It is the equivalent of ejecting Lebron James in the first quarter of the seventh game of the NBA Finals for questioning a travelling call.

    3. It is the equivalent of ejecting Tim Lincecum in the first inning of the seventh game of the World Series for arguing a strike call.

    The 100, 200, and 110H are arguably the events that are by far the most impacted by this rule.

    But more importantly, they are three of our “glamour events.”

    No casual fan cares if Aleksey Zagornyi is disqualified in the hammer throw for stepping outside the ring three times.

    (I’m a track nut and I don’t care if Aleksey Zagornyi is disqualified in the hammer throw for stepping outside the ring).

    But the 100, 200, and the 110H are three of our highest-profile, most important events that we can present to the World.

    I may be overstating this, but not by much: the 100 meters is arguably the only event that the casual fan hears about/cares about, and to the non-fan it is arguably more important than the other 23 Olympic events combined.


    Other sports change their rules like I change my socks.

    Why can’t we?

    John Nehmer

  4. Anderson says:

    Honestly people need to stop complaining over the ejection of Bolt. Yes it was a big hit for the sport since he is the Face of track and field, but I knew that if this happened, it would way over shadow the great race that unfolded.

    Yohan Blake becomes the youngest 100m champion ever. Walter Dix proves his championship running and runs to a silver medal after years of injury. Kim Collins, becomes the oldest runner to compete AND win a medal in the 100m.

    Also check the depth that Jamaica has displayed this year. First Mullings is banned, then Asafa is injured, then Frater is eliminated in the semis. Then Bolt false starts, then Nesta Carter cramps and finishes last. Then Blake comes through and wins it. Not many countries, even USA in its hey day are capable of that.
    Also when was the last time that the top 8 fastest in the world did not run in the final, then the 9th fastest finishes last!

    Bolts FS was pretty dramatic, But the race in itself was amazing and historic.

  5. Jason says:

    I’ve ranted enough, but today was important to the history of the sport I believe. And I hope that this will wake up the rule makers of the sport – and that we go back to what actually worked for a hundred years or more.


    Agree with all previous commenters except the last.

    @Anderson: no-one wants to stop you talking about the race. But this rule needs to be changed. The 'drama' isn't the point — the point is the stupidity. Only stupider thing that could have happened would be Bolt getting shot in the foot by the starting gun.

    There needs to be a fuss made. Don't tell me that race wouldn't have been better with Bolt in it!

    Ironically he'd probably have won if he started a second behind.

  6. Anderson says:

    You know whats crazy though. Would we be talking this much about Bolt if he would have strolled through with another easy win? I doubt it. This situation is actually bringing more publicity.

    Its disappointing that Bolt had a FS, but fact of the matter is rules are rules, and this rule has been in place for about 2 years.
    Someone explain to me why people don't complain when this happens at the HS or College level? They have had this rule forever.

    I do like the previous FS rule, but what if that was in play and Bolt went on the 2nd time as well. Would it be ok, or would you still be complaining that he is gone? Because most people would be doing the latter. Bolt is like everyone else he must follow the rules.

  7. Jason says:

    I do like the previous FS rule, but what if that was in play and Bolt went on the 2nd time as well. Would it be ok, or would you still be complaining that he is gone?

    I wouldn't like the fact that he was gone, but I would not think it was stupid and unfair that he was gone.

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