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Sunday, August 28, 2011
Is new false start rule really a good idea?

By Jim Caple

Perhaps track would be better off by adopting football's penalty for a false start. Just back up the offending sprinter five yards and go again. In Usain Bolt's case, that might make the race even more exciting.

Heck, after watching Bolt cruise to the 2008 Olympic gold medal in the 100 meters, you would think the world's fastest human could wait around at the start of the race, linger over a light lunch and espresso while reading the paper, get up, stretch, sign a few autographs and still recover in time to win. Instead, Bolt jump-started and was quickly disqualified from the 100 final Sunday at the world track and field championships.

Usain Bolt
Usain Bolt's reaction after Sunday's disqualification in the 100 meters: "Looking for tears? Not going to happen. I'm OK."

"I didn't really think they were going to kick him out," second-place finisher Walter Dix told reporters. "How can you kick Usain out of the race?"

This is probably a question asked by many fans in Daegu, South Korea, who paid good money to watch a 100 final that did not have Bolt (DQ), Asafa Powell (who withdrew due to a sore groin) or Tyson Gay (rehabbing from hip surgery).

Track's ruling body changed the false start rule last year so the first false start results in an automatic disqualification. The previous rule had a warning for the first false start and the next false start by any runner would result in a DQ. Before 2003, everyone had been allowed one false start.

The reasoning behind the change was the view that the rule essentially allowed each sprinter a free chance at jumping the gun. If they timed their start correctly, they gained an advantage over everyone else at essentially no risk because, if they false started, they just lined up and tried again. Now, they don't have that luxury.

The irony is, the new rule should make it harder to beat Bolt because sprinters are less likely to take a chance at a quick start. Instead, the biggest name of the sport was disqualified from track's marquee event, and the other runners' subsequent times were underwhelming. Jamaica's Yohan Blake won in 9.92, which was the only time of less than 10 seconds. Compare that to the 2009 world championships when Bolt won with a world-record 9.58, Gay finished second with an American-record 9.71 and only one runner finished slower than 10.00.

I understand the reasoning behind the zero-tolerance rule change, but it's never a good thing for a sport when its top athletes aren't able to compete for a championship. We can only hope Bolt waits a split-second longer in London next summer. Perhaps he should start from his trademark lightning bolt pose.

Meanwhile, the other big news in Daegu was Oscar Pistorius, who advanced to the 400 semifinals.

Pistorius is the South African runner with carbon blade prosthetic legs who is either one of sport's most inspiring athletes or is receiving an unfair advantage from his artificial limbs. For a time, Pistorius was banned from competing at able-bodied championships because of concern about a possible advantage. He was cleared to compete in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but did not run a fast enough time to qualify there or in the 2009 world championships. In his first big race on Sunday, he had the third-fastest time in his heat (45.39) to advance.

What a day. The world's fastest man did not finish his race, but a man with no legs advanced to the next round. Such unpredictability is the beauty of sport.