August 29th, 2011
03:32 PM ET

Is it time to change false-start rules?

Should the rules be changed to prevent disqualifications like Usain Bolt's on Sunday?
Should the rules be changed to prevent disqualifications like Usain Bolt's on Sunday?

Take a trip with me in my imaginary time machine, back to an era of circus entertainment. Listen to the moustachioed ring master bellow, “Roll Up, roll up. Come and see the fastest man on earth. So quick, he’s known as the ‘Lightning Bolt’ - speedier than anyone in history. Roll up, roll up.”

The crowds swarm to see the star attraction, abuzz with excitement. What will this freak of human sprinting do? How fast can the Lightning Bolt strike this time, they wonder.

The ring master cracks his whip; our hero sets off, then, oh dear: “Sorry folks, our star attraction started a fraction of one second too early. The race is off.”

And in response to the groan of disappointment from the expectant audience? “Rules are rules.”

In our make-believe, bygone age the ring master would have been hauled away, put in the stocks and had rotten tomatoes thrown at him.

The IAAF, athletics’ governing body, and the equivalent of the ring master for the World Athletics Championships, can count themselves lucky that we live in more enlightened times.

However, there will be plenty of Usain Bolt fans wishing they could haul track and field bosses away following the superstar Jamaican sprinter’s false start in the 100 metres final.

Due to a rule change last year, there was no second chance for Bolt - and the man everyone had come to see was forced to sit out the Championships’ blue riband event.

It's often said that no single athlete is bigger than his or her sport, but Bolt’s astonishing error is the exception that proves the rule. And, in this case, the false start rule - one strike and you’re out - needs changing.

Ironically, Bolt supported the rule when it was introduced in 2010. And in a statement after the race - released through the IAAF - he refused to criticize it.

However, even if the 100 and 200 meters world record holder can take such misfortune so well, his fans aren’t so magnanimous.

Just a glance at social-networking sites shows the global disappointment from people denied the chance to see the fastest man on the planet doing what he does best.

The rule was changed, in part, to suit sponsors and television executives who were frustrated at the delays caused by multiple false starts. Those same “suits” will be even more annoyed if their star attraction is disqualified again at next year’s Olympic Games.

Yes, everyone knows the rules but it doesn’t make it any easier for an athlete to stick to them in the pressure-cooker atmosphere of a major final.

Human beings make mistakes, and Usain Bolt is such a top draw the regulations should be changed to stop what happened to him from happening again.

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Filed under:  Athletics
soundoff (53 Responses)
  1. Will Edmonds

    I completely agree. Track and Field Athletics is about as pure a sport as there is. So when rules replace "the fastest man on Earth" with the "Winner of the race as determined by a rules committee", there's a major issue with the purity of the sport.

    August 29, 2011 at 3:52 pm | Reply
  2. amos juma kitisha

    The rule should be change should be at least two false starts on the same individual...that rule is so unfair and humiliating.

    August 29, 2011 at 4:23 pm | Reply
  3. ND


    The sport is suffering because of TV networks and suits, that's wrong on so many levels. The rule needs changing back to everyone being allowed at least one false start. Bolt is the fastest man in the world but because of a ridiculous rule was denied a gold medal and the fans denied watching him after buying tickets. What a joke. If that happens next year at the Olympics it will be a travesty.

    August 29, 2011 at 5:01 pm | Reply
  4. Sachiko

    Many cheating false start in the past made new IAAF rule this year, simple and fair to everyone. I love it. no need to change. It doesn't matter whether super star or anonymous, man versus man in battle field. Bolt was a fair loser. Sport is surely entertainment but not a circus, has no-scenario-drama, that's why "incredible", isn't it?

    August 29, 2011 at 5:52 pm | Reply
  5. Philip

    Absolutely straight talking, not because i'm Jamaican but your article is a wake up call for the world athletic body to act now, before the Olympic.

    August 29, 2011 at 6:20 pm | Reply
  6. jim slim

    This Clown Is the Kanye West of athletics, If he spent more time concentrating on the job than acting like a jerk in front of the camera he would have one, twice his showboating has cost him, he could have set a real untouchable world record if not for clowning for camara. Legend NOT that time he set Will be beat and he will have to live with his clowning around when it goes.

    August 29, 2011 at 6:33 pm | Reply
  7. Debbie

    The networks and elitists need to leave the sport alone and quit catering to the couch potatoes who don't want to watch more than one false start. These men and women athletes work hours every day for YEARS so they can prove their dominance in their sport, which is over in a matter of minutes in various competitions. Who in the heck are we as spectators or the fat pockets at the top to mess with their sport???!!! It's the impurity of money and politics in sports which is ruining all competitions.

    August 29, 2011 at 7:02 pm | Reply
  8. Iggy

    I think the rule needs to be there. If you allow one false start per runner, each sprinter will try to time the whistle and risk a false start (the reward of guessing is s afantastic start and no downside). It's no different than in baseball. If you get three strikes you will take at least two swings. We would have eight false starts (one per runner). It's simple. Don't jump until you hear the whistle.

    August 29, 2011 at 7:16 pm | Reply
  9. Armchair Athlete

    The rules should be changed so that multiple false starts are allowed. BUT each false start moves the offending athlete a meter behind the start line and the starting blocks are removed.

    August 29, 2011 at 7:33 pm | Reply
  10. GDH

    I saw this race and I'm extremely disappointed with the new rule.

    What was wrong with the old rule of every racer being allowed one false start?

    August 29, 2011 at 7:36 pm | Reply
  11. Marc

    The rules should be changed. One should have one chance to make a mistake and then, if they do a second false-start be disqualified, but being disqualified on your first false-start is ridiculous.

    August 29, 2011 at 7:39 pm | Reply
  12. Amalia Maniatopoulou

    I agree. Enough with a rule which suits only the tv networks

    August 29, 2011 at 7:39 pm | Reply
  13. stewarts

    The rule while harsh, was brought about because of jokers playing mind games at the start line. But a determination needs to be made about how much influence television schedules have in sports.

    August 29, 2011 at 7:50 pm | Reply
  14. Jon

    Very much agreed.
    Although there should be some form of "punishment" for starting early, because it disturbs the other racers.
    But one-strike-youre- out is way too harsh.
    It should be two-strikes-youre-out. That would be like a yellow and red card in soccer. That way the early starter gets a warning, and knows he cant start early the second time, and will probably have to hold back a little bit the second time, which actually works as punishment for the first early start, because his start will in most cases be slightly worse than it normally would be (because he has to hold back a little).
    There could also be something similar to soccers yellow cards in that if you get a yellow card two matches in a row, you have to skip the next match, the similarity could be that if you start early in one race, and get a warning, that warning is carried over to the next race, so if one starts early in two races in a row, its first-strike-youre-out in the second race. That enhances the punishment a little, to compensate for the disturbance an early start causes on the rest of the racers.

    August 29, 2011 at 8:02 pm | Reply
  15. Dennis

    Two false starts apiece definitely will not work. How many starts before there is a real one. The old rule was one false start and then the next one caused a disqualification. Often people false started to psyche out opponents. This false start and you are out is really the best and most fair rule.

    August 29, 2011 at 8:05 pm | Reply
  16. Alehandro

    The tale wags the dog again and screws it up for everyone. Sick of live sports events having to pander to TV. Zero tolerance rule was a calamity waiting to happen. Can't believe those paid the big bucks didn't see a high profile casualty on the horizon. The world wants to see the best compete against the best. The winner of the men's 100m should have beaten Bolt to do it, but we were denied the spectacle on a minor technicality. Shame on you IAAF. Change the false start rule or, alterbatively, here's a suggestion - start the sprints from boxes, like greyhounds and horses. That way nobody can get a jump on the gun as you can't go until the gate's open ergo no false start fiasco's

    August 29, 2011 at 8:17 pm | Reply
  17. WidenerAlum

    Agreed, and this sport needs all the help it can get. But they should make that rule standard for ALL sanctioned levels of the sport.
    For example, at High School and College levels, its always been (at least for the last 35 years or so) that it was one false start and you are out- so in that respect, it was harder, as High School & College runners didnt get a "second chance" if they false started, but these other elite folks did. That never quite seemed fair. I don't have a problem with the rule (either no one gets a second chance or everyone at every sanctioned level of the sport gets a second chance) as long as it is consistent among all sanctioned levels of the sport.

    August 29, 2011 at 8:19 pm | Reply
  18. Eshi

    That rules is anti sports.... it is anti athletics and anti human.. the people who made it should be ashamed of themselves.... Jacques Rogge should resign for this..
    the sports is for the people of the world to see, not for a few who think that everything is all about money..

    August 29, 2011 at 8:20 pm | Reply
  19. kriticharka

    I completely agree. Maybe it's a little bit shameful of us to pay attention to this rule now, when Bolt did it, and not when other athlets would. But I think that this rule is far from useful. I don't like it.

    August 29, 2011 at 8:55 pm | Reply
  20. Runner

    The rule was changed because to discourage false starts. False starts are very damaging to the runners in short distance races and often lead to significantly decreased performance by the overall field. At the elite level of competition this rule makes sense and seeks to encourage fair races. At lower levels of competition this rule is unnecessary.

    August 29, 2011 at 8:57 pm | Reply
  21. Tony Bowling

    I started off just being interested but when I got to "suits" my blood started to boil! Of course money is needed to pay for things but when money becomes senior to purpose then there is failure - as this example shows.

    August 29, 2011 at 10:02 pm | Reply
  22. The Dane

    The rule was changed to its current wording to please TV-companies (i.e. commeciral interests) that didn't want timetables to slide due to false starts. But on no, this turns out to rob the TV-companies for the event they had promised their viewers, so now the rules need to be changed again.

    Surely no viewer wants to wait for restarts by some guy that's never going to be a top-three contender. So how about just allowing false starts for the three fastes people. Come to thing about it; why should the athletes that the viewers demand to see in a final, even have to go through qualifying, the best (and also the most popular) athletes should be allowed straight through to the final. Now, that's something that really would please commercial TV interests.

    Alex Thomas is apparently so much part of the commercial TV world, that he is only able to see things form a commercial perspective. I.e. what would gain businees. So sad. Let's instead hear some ideas about what rules would further the sport and good sportmanship, and not just serve the TV-companies and viewers.

    Very saying that Alex Thomas sees sport as a circus, where the most importaint thing is not to disappoint the spectators (whos presence is need to attracts advertising money). How utterly sad and unsymphatic.

    August 29, 2011 at 10:11 pm | Reply
  23. tmarket

    The following rule is quite easy to implement and fair:
    You get two false starts but after the first, you get penalized by moving your starting block back 1% (so 100M = 1M back, 200M = 2M back). The second false start you are out.

    The reason the rule was changed to single false start in the first place was because under the old rule there was basically no penalty for the first false start and runners were abusing that rule. In the above proposed rule, there will be a definite but not absolute penalty.

    August 29, 2011 at 10:21 pm | Reply
  24. noName

    Rules made not because of safety but because of sponsors or TV are a joke to begin with. It's time we stop letting ppl not directly involved in the sport govern what happens on the field.

    August 29, 2011 at 10:34 pm | Reply
  25. Petar

    Please don't force us read half the article before getting to the news...

    August 29, 2011 at 10:34 pm | Reply
  26. Slow

    The problem with the "everyone can make two false starts" is that it will take way too much time, because everyone WILL start too fast at least once. What do you got to loose ?

    And that split second is important, seeing how everyone ends close to one another.

    Bolt knew exactly what he was doing. Every professional athlete does. He started his maneuver too fast, to get an advantage over others. He failed and paid the price.

    Seems fair to me.

    August 29, 2011 at 11:05 pm | Reply
  27. Ivan C

    Will E: "Track and Field Athletics is about as pure a sport as there is." Agree. That is precisely why the new rule is perfect. You jump the gun – you leave the race. Such a rule has worked fine in swimming for some time. Why should T&F be any different?

    August 29, 2011 at 11:06 pm | Reply
  28. Muyundo John

    It was a very disappointing evening when the fastest man on Earth was denied a chance !Though it was rules that the body was trying to implement ,however,human being ought to be given a second chance if not a third chance.We all know that human is to error and nobody is perfect.By imposing those rules and regulation,we have to know their consquences in the long run.These rules kills the spirit and morale of the athletes.It also demoralize the fans that attends those events to see specific sportsmen.Infact,the outcome of those results mostly are likely to be biased because the body depends on the sportsman that follows the rules but not the real winner.

    August 29, 2011 at 11:55 pm | Reply
  29. mtawa

    I agree 100%. It was unfair.

    August 30, 2011 at 12:08 am | Reply
  30. Alex

    I agree, change the rule.

    We should be more scientific about it. Have every runner run 5 trials, and get the fastest time. It won't be as exciting, but the best will truly win!

    I like sports, but in so many of them the best does not win (because of role of luck, rules, etc). If the best doesn't win all the time, what's the point?

    August 30, 2011 at 12:17 am | Reply
  31. Esther

    I don't like the comparison of the IAAF governing body as the ring master and Bolt as the freak of human sprinting.
    But I do agree the rules must change.

    August 30, 2011 at 12:23 am | Reply
  32. why change the rules?

    Why change the rules?? ok bolt is the fastest man on earth but it doesn't mean that the rules should be changed.. Why should he be treated different than others? the rules are for everyone and everyone obey the rules without any exceptions, so stop crying over him getting disqualified and admit that he made a mistake and he's a human after all...

    August 30, 2011 at 12:48 am | Reply
  33. MH

    You have got to be kidding. Why not have 3 or 4 or 5 false starts before the DQ. If everyone is in the same race and knows the rules it is fair and equitable for all. Bolt AGREED to the rule change if you remember.

    August 30, 2011 at 12:59 am | Reply
  34. Rafael Reynal

    Whoever thinks Track and Field is clean hasn't been watching or listening. If you loosen the rules is back to cheating. Especially with the sprints. Who is not going to jump the gun if there is no punishment? The question really becomes: How many false start are we going to allow? And to the runners: Which one (star)t will count?; Should I sprint in all of them? If you have two or more runners from the same team or country, will they work together to produce false starts, and confuse and exhaust other runners? Just give a minute of thought.

    August 30, 2011 at 1:09 am | Reply
  35. Ramón Burgos Pol

    iI totally agree with Mr Alex. This rule makes no sense at all. Indeed, i can not figure out any other similar rule in other sports. Can you imagine football if Cristiano Ronaldo just casually kick once to a rival and because of that has to go out from the match?

    August 30, 2011 at 1:13 am | Reply
  36. seppe

    I think,that instead of talking about how bad or good the ruling is ,we should sujjest how to change the way the start signal is being done to eliminate the false starting,my sujestion is to have every atlete should have individual clock on the starting post and finish lane and connected to a computer that will mesure the amount of time on each one of them and then the shorted runing time will be the winner,it's that simple

    August 30, 2011 at 1:24 am | Reply
  37. Kenjam2

    As long as the next rule does not give any athlete the way to deliberately false start just to throw off others in that said race...I am all for a change in those rules......

    August 30, 2011 at 11:15 am | Reply
  38. Larry_Rollins

    First of all as a life long track and field athlete, I would like to say that no one cared about the rule before Bolt was disqualified, and NOW you are all experts on race dynamics.....

    In other events YOU DON'T GET SECOND CHANCES. If the wind blows wrong 3 times in a row for a good pole vaulter he has 60 seconds to jump NO MATTER HOW GOOD HE IS. That means his head has to be there, there is NO second chance on a third attempt jump because the wind doesn't blow your way.

    Why should 100m runners get second chances, your head needs to be there no matter what, and no matter how good you are. DQs and NMs happen even to the best athletes.

    Maybe Bolt should have had his head ON the race instead of the VICTORY DANCE he wanted to do afterward. Then he wouldn't have false stated.

    Long comment short, the race isn't decided on PAPER it's on the track, you have to run to win, no matter how good you are.

    August 30, 2011 at 1:40 pm | Reply
  39. Larry_Rollins


    Have you watched the 100m before the new rules?

    There were about 3 false starts on every heat, used as tactics to psych out your opponents.

    Or if you don't feel good in the blocks, just false satart and reset, people would do it all the time.
    Steven Hooker, the returning Pole vault champion No heighted in the qualis, people bought tickets for the finals to see him too, SHOULD THEY CHANGE THE RULE THERE??

    No. Dissappointment is a part of sport, the rule stands, deal with it.

    August 30, 2011 at 1:46 pm | Reply
  40. Alehandro

    @tmarket. That wouldn't work as the very reason they brought in the zero tolerance rule was to cut down on the TV time wasted by false starts. Moving the false start back a metre or two would require time for athlete to reset his/her blocks, so the TV guys would be back to square one.... To those who are happy with the rule as it is may I point out that athletics, like all sport, is showbusiness, and who wants to see a show with the main star or stars missing?

    August 30, 2011 at 3:18 pm | Reply
  41. Adam

    Completely agree.. such a ridiculous rule!...when i read the part that says its due to tv execs and sponsors i was even more infuriated...are you kidding me?

    August 30, 2011 at 4:49 pm | Reply
  42. Fairaz

    Athlete A false starts – entire field is charged.

    Athlete B then false starts – he is immediately disqualified TOGETHER with athlete A.

    August 30, 2011 at 5:24 pm | Reply
  43. ALford Henry

    The rule is absolutely out of reality, if one should examine another sporting event such as the pole vault where competitors are allowed repeated chances if the miss or bring the bar down during vaulting. It is hypocritical of the IAAF to have instituted a draconian rule as this one of automatic disqualification due to a false start. They should have kept the previous rule where the first false start is charged to the field and we know the rest. IAAF you need to revisit the draconian new rule that you have instituted and reverse the decision.

    August 30, 2011 at 6:07 pm | Reply
  44. Wayne

    If I remember correctly the false start rule everyone is talking about began before 2010. The first false in the 100m is charged to the field. The next athlete to false start is automaticall disqualified. Has this rulechanged? If not, I think it is silly to think about changing the rule because of Usain. Clearly those who what the rules changed don't pay attention to track and field and are just Usain Bolt followers and don't know a thing about Track and Field. The rule was around before he became famous in 2008 and it will remain around. Usain knows the rules. React to the gun, don't anticipate it.

    August 30, 2011 at 6:08 pm | Reply
  45. Peter

    If these athletes are training for years then the start is one place they have focused on. look at any sport involving speed – if you false start in drag racing – you're gone, false start in F1 you're penalized. in many sports round the world there are rules and regulations – just because the big names get penalized doesn't mean they should change the rules. The athletes should get it right. If you allow a false start then you are penalizing the other athletes who are focused and ready to run properly. Blame the athlete for getting it wrong and not the rules – And remember he supported the rule change. But yes it would have been good to see him run.

    August 30, 2011 at 6:25 pm | Reply
  46. Wayne

    I just researched the false start rule change made in 2010. Yes, it's true. One false start and you are disqualified. Does this change how I feel about Usain being disqualified? Well.... No. I did Track and Field for 10 years from 1996 – 2006 and false starts are always heartbreaking but part of the 100m dash. We all know that Usain can run fast (Very Fast) and he PROBABLY would have won the race, but when all is said and done all that matters is that you win within the parameters of the rules and Usain knows that you cannot flinch in the starting blocks. He was disqualified fair and square. Get over it. I also personally don't think he would have broken the world record again. Then again, he still has the 200m and he still have London 2012. It's not the end of the world.

    August 30, 2011 at 6:27 pm | Reply
  47. Steve

    I know I am in the minority. The IAAF rule where first false start is charged to the field and the second offender is ejected gave one an advantage because they could take a chance by anticipating the start. If they left the blocks before 0.10 seconds after the sound of the starter’s pistol, they had another chance. I think it is less fair to have first false start charged to the field.

    The rule where everyone would be allowed one false start could drag the meet. The delays would impact other runners. They warm up and prepare for their event based on the schedule. A multitude of false starts has messed me up. I ran the 880/800 … the start was delayed 38 minutes because of all the false starts.

    A false start is not the only way to be DQed ... plus there other lapses in memory, an injury and other events that can impact the outcome of years of training.

    The IAAF should keep the one and out rule, like the NCAA and (USA) high school.

    By the way, I have only seen someone with such a big jump one other time … and he did it on purpose. He also was the fastest person on the track (and the state) … 10.2 vice 10.6.

    August 31, 2011 at 12:47 am | Reply
  48. Rambo

    It's funny how people who have never competed in their life (except to see who can eat the greasiest chips while watching tv) are always the first to be commenting about how the rules should NOT be changed. This was a high profile event that people pay big money to see, only to be robbed of that just because a stupid rule. As a former sprinter, when you compete the adrenaline takes over and every nerve in your body is on edge no matter how many times you have done it before. I'm surprise more people do not false start. Rule MUST GO!!!!!

    August 31, 2011 at 4:06 am | Reply
  49. Richard Owen

    The false start rule penalizes sprinters unfairly. If you overstep in long jump, or javelin etc. you lose that jump or throw; but when you make a false start in a sprint, its all over. Since sprints last only 10 or 20 seconds, it seems reasonable to allow a one false (per athlete?) starts before disqualifying them ... after all, the event will still be a lot shorter than say the 1500 m or the long jump.

    August 31, 2011 at 5:05 am | Reply
  50. Dennis

    They should remove the "human voice" in the start process. Runners are thrown off by the style of the starter. It should be changed to electronic pulses.

    September 1, 2011 at 12:23 am | Reply
  51. Manheim

    Isn't the sport supposed to be measuring who can run the fastest?
    I can see why they have to do something about false starts for the sake of fairness, but in close cases this could be easily fixed by just video-taping it and reimagining based on if the runner had started running at the same time in order to see if he still would've won. It's an easy fix.

    July 19, 2012 at 6:39 pm | Reply
  52. jerry

    It shoulsd also pertain to swimming....

    July 19, 2012 at 6:44 pm | Reply
  53. tmhamel

    I agree with tmarket's solution: Allow each competitor one false start but move their starting block back 1% – I would add that false starts should also have the cumulative effect of adding the penalty for each false start in each subsequent heat, e.g. –
    – A runner suffers a false start in his/her first heat, moves back 1% but still manages to qualifiy for the next heat.
    – In the next heat they start at the original starting line but if they false start their penalty is to move back 2%.
    – If they qualify for next heat and false start again their penalty is 3%.

    Two false starts in one race disqualifies the runner.

    July 20, 2012 at 7:20 am | Reply

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