One man not bigger than a sport
Nicole Jeffery, in Daegu
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."