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2 Contrasting Views on the False Start Rule

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One man not bigger than a sport

Nicole Jeffery, in Daegu
From:The Australian
August 30, 201112:00AM

IF the IAAF capitulates to demands to change its false-start rule in the wake of Usain Bolt's disqualification from the 100m final at the world championships on Sunday night, it will have proved one man is bigger than the sport.

Despite much inflammatory commentary in the wake of Bolt's dramatic premature exit from a race the world was waiting for, such a move would be more reactionary than rational.

There is nothing wrong with the IAAF's no-false-start rule. It prevents the kind of gamesmanship and strategic breaking that dogged sprint finals for decades before the IAAF finally found the courage to eliminate it.

An identical rule has been in place in swimming for 13 years and has attracted little controversy in that period. The highest-profile victim of swimming's sudden-death rule was Ian Thorpe, when he fell in before the start of the 400m freestyle at the 2004 Olympic trials.

Swimming's record convinced the IAAF to take the same step to sudden-death starts.

If swimmers can stay on their blocks until they hear the gun, so can runners. That requirement is clearly not so onerous that it cannot be achieved in most races.

Those calling for the IAAF to revert to previous rules, including the eventual silver and bronze medallists from Sunday's 100m final on Sunday night, Walter Dix and Kim Collins, have clearly forgotten that past rules have had their own problems.

The IAAF has changed the false start rule twice in the past decade. The original rule stated that each runner was allowed one false start but would be disqualified for a second break.

But even that generous allowance did not ensure there were no major casualties at the Olympic Games or world championships.

Australia's great sprinter Raelene Boyle lost her last chance of an Olympic gold medal when she broke twice in the 200m final at the 1976 Montreal Games, and Linford Christie was disqualified in the 1996 Olympic 100m final as the reigning champion.

In 2003, the IAAF cut back the allowance to one false start, before the second athlete to break the start was disqualified.

But that did not reduce the controversy.

At the world championships six months later, the men's 100m descended into farce after leading American sprinter Jon Drummond staged a lie-down protest on the track when he was disqualified from his quarter-final.

Another argument being raised against the no-false-start rule is that if sprinters cannot anticipate the start, then times will be slower.

That argument was also advanced when the 2003 rule change came in, and then along came Bolt running 9.58sec in 2009.

The available evidence in swimming suggests this is the best solution to the perennial problem of false starts.

The rule wasn't at fault on Sunday night; Bolt was.

As Bolt's coach Greg Mills said: "He's human."



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Oh no: Jamaica's Usain Bolt comes to grips with his false start in the 2011 Athletics World Championships 100m final. Source: AFP

Usain Bolt's sensational disqualification is a black mark for International Athletics Federation

Mike Hurst
From:The Daily Telegraph
August 30, 2011

SPRINT king Usain Bolt's disqualification at the world championships is the fault of putting profit before performance. Mike Hurst reports.

THEY'LL burn the London stadium down if this stupid false start rule prevents them seeing Usain Bolt race in the Olympic 100m final next year.

The mob who torched the city recently might do that anyway, but those who pay 750 pounds a ticket to watch the definitive track race will feel justifiably robbed by a rule brought in only last year for the expediency and profit of TV moguls whose only vision of sport is through the prism of profit.

You see, false starts are time wasters and time is money so at the behest of TV rights holders, the International Association of Athletics Federations bent to their demands and introduced this sudden death rule.

Bet they never anticipated this abominable rule would cut down Bolt, an athlete whose personality and performances up until Monday night had brought crowds back to athletics around the globe.

Watching him sprint is one of the electrifying and most memorable moments in sport.

But when his young training partner Yohan Blake twitched in the lane beside him and sent Bolt away before the starter's pistol fired it was Bolt who was red-carded out of the final.

Blake went on to win but this world championship will forever be remembered as the race in which Bolt - larger than life, larger than the sport itself - was cruelly kicked off the track.

Two years ago under the previous IAAF rule which was preferable, Bolt false started in his semi-final of the world championships in Berlin. The rule then allowed one false start to the field and that served as a general warning that anyone who broke thereafter was out.

Bolt controlled his emotions and won his semi in 9.89. Then he smashed his own world record with a time of 9.58sec two hours later in the final.

TV captured one of the greatest moments in the history of sports when Bolt ran that Berlin final. Now we have the Daegu disappointment, Daegu disaster.

Sure these are the rules today but they are punitive to the point of being damaging to a sport which is already struggling to survive against competition for talent and sponsorship against various ball sports.

You don't kick Tiger Woods off the course because he slices one into the gallery. You don't order Michael Jordan off court for a solitary foul, even though it stops the game.

This is a nasty and dumb rule which hurts the sport of athletics.

But IAAF spokesman Nick Davies said a rule change was unlikely before London 2012.

"This is sport not showbusiness," he said. "There's a rule, he's known about it since January 2010 and the rule's the same for everyone.

"The fact it's Usain Bolt of course is unfortunate but it shows that rules are more important than any single athlete.

"Of course rules can be reviewed but for there to be a change there would have to be a massive groundswell of opposition to it and I'm not aware of one."

Davies knows the game better than most but he's wrong when he says sport is not show business. At the highest level, it is pure theatre and people pay to be entertained by experts.

You don't kick Geoffrey Rush off stage because he fluffs a line. And you shouldn't kick the greatest 100m performer in history off the track and leave a world-wide audience gutted and the sport to be ridiculed. This rule stinks.

Kim Collins, the 2003 world 100m champion who, now at 35 became the oldest 100m world title finalist and (bronze) medallist, offered a champion's insight, saying: "I don't think it's right and as much as I want to be on the podium, tonight is a sad night for athletics.

"I don't think fans all over the world are going to be happy. And I wouldn't be if I was defending champion and I lost like that. You want to lose like a man."

Sprinters exist on a hair trigger. Let’s give them a break.

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