IAAF to discuss false start rule next weekend

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Following a controversial weekend at the World Athletics Championships in Daegu, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) is set to discuss the false-start rule, implemented in 2010, next Sunday.

The rule, which results in an instantaneous disqualification of any athlete who starts before the gun, has certainly affected the morale of Team GB as both Christine Ohuruogu (400m heats) and Dwain Chambers (100m semi-finals) both left the blocks early in their respective distances.

The most notable exit, however, was that of the sprinting celebrity Usain Bolt who – quite clearly – jumped the gun in the showpiece 100m final; this meant that fellow Jamaican, and promising young athlete, Yohan Blake ran to gold in 9.89 seconds.

In the semi-finals, Bolt breezed through to win in an effortless 10.05 seconds and thus, without the presence of Jamaica’s veteran sprinter Asafa Powell and of Bolt’s biggest rival, the USA’s Tyson Gay, the race was set to be his.

Ahead of the start, Bolt was his usual self as he responded to his name being called in his characteristically playful manner – shaking his head to both Walter Dix and Yohan Blake. Confidence was rife and the world was watching, hoping to see a race develop between the 25-year-old Jamaican and the clock.

But the one-man-show failed to meet expectation. The favourite, normally praised for his execution on the starting blocks, undeniably began before the gun was sounded.

I was in shock. The crowd were in shock. The rest of the world watching were in shock. Even before it was announced that the offender was, in fact, Usain Bolt, the Jamaican had stripped off his shirt and walked off the track in a rage – an image far from his usual, joyful poses to the cameras.

This, to me, undoubtedly highlights the ludicrousness of the rule. Not only was I extremely upset that I didn’t get to watch my favourite athlete sprint to glory, I was annoyed that the best sprinter at the World Championships was not racing because of a one-time error. Whether it be nerves, excitement or adrenalin – even an amalgamation of all three – room should be made to accommodate human error.

Even Bolt’s competitors, Walter Dix and Kim Collins acknowledged the fact that their individual victories in claiming silver and bronze were tainted by the fact that Bolt had been disqualified. The race was not as it should have been. Dix was reported saying that he hoped the rule would be changed by London 2012, and Collins stated that it will be interesting to see what becomes of the rule following on from this event and what it has done to the sport.

The rule was introduced by the IAAF last year to make the start of races quicker. Previously, if one person false-started a charge was put to the field and then if another person false-started they were disqualified. This was fairer, although less so on the second athlete if they hadn’t jumped the gun the first time. Nonetheless, it allowed for an element of fallibility.

Essentially, it can be seen that there are clearly no perfect start rules, and to be fair, I agree with the fact that an athlete should be measured upon how quickly they react to the gun fire and not in how they try to get ahead of the game. However, as previously said, and as seen over the weekend, these athletes are only human and it can quite evidently be seen by all those who were disqualified that it wasn’t a bid to simply ‘get ahead’; they were eager (maybe too eager) to do their absolute best.

Thankfully, it seems as if the IAAF are now taking this into consideration, albeit at the expense of the 100m men’s final and the individual performances of Dwain Chambers and Christine Ohuruogu, who in particular was looking to rectify her extremely weak season. A spokesperson for the governing body stated that the rule had scope to be altered and “could be changed” but that he ultimately could not speculate on the matter.

Let us just hope for the sake of athletics that it is reconsidered so we can see the best performances from the best athletes at London 2012.

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