Photo: José Goulão via Flickr
“How would it look if headliners Usain Bolt, Tyson Gay or Asafa Powell got tossed from Sunday’s final because of one false start?”That’s exactly what happened this week when Bolt – the fastest man alive – was disqualified from the 100 meter final at the World Championships this week, thanks to the IAAF’s new one-and-done false start rule.
The thing is, that quote above was written two years ago, before track and field’s governing body even instituted the new rule that disqualifies runners after the first false start of a race.)
In other words: it’s a bad rule, everyone knew it was a bad rule when it was created, and it’s only a matter of time before a major Olympic final is ruined by having a superstar athlete get ejected for a harmless mistake.
As this piece by ESPN’s Jeff MacGregor points out, not only does it ruin the drama and intensity of major races, it potentially robs us of the chance to see more world records fall. All racers will be more hesitant out of the blocks, knowing that a single slip up could cost them four years of their life.
We sports fans only get so many chances to watch a supreme athlete like Bolt perform at the highest levels. He breaks world records without breaking a sweat. So when he gets disqualified from a race over a technicality, the whole race gets disqualified.
Does anyone think Yohan Blake’s 9.92 was a true gold medal performance? Does Blake even feel like a champion knowing that he didn’t have to face his big threat ever?
False starts may delay races or get abused as “mind games” by opponents … but so what? Mind games are a part of the sport. You don’t think Bolt – who, before he was DQ’d, reminded the runners in the lanes next to him that they were wasting their time – can find other ways to play mind games? That’s all part of the drama and spectacle of high-stakes races.
Bolt and other runners will surely adjust (just like they did to the “first false start goes to the field” rule that track and field has operated under for several years.) But if one Olympic sprint final – men’s or women’s at any distance – is ruined because of one mistake like this, then we all lose.
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