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Original Issue

Under The Gun

Track's false-start rule draws fire

It's said in track and field that you can lose the 100 meters before it begins, so crucial is the start. That's more true than ever, thanks to the one-and-done false-start rule that the IAAF introduced last year.

Until 2003 an athlete had to false-start twice to be disqualified. The rule was changed so that the first false start by any athlete was charged to the field and any subsequent false start disqualified the offending runner. In '10, in an effort to reduce delays, the rule went to the strict one-and-done.

The change has met with negative reviews from athletes and, earlier this month at the Prefontaine Classic with selective neglect by officials. At Pre, officials ignored several times the rule following false starts that would have DQ'd big-name runners, including reigning 200-meter world champion Allyson Felix.

Eighty-two percent of respondents to a poll on said that the rule should be nixed. "At a major championship you can have a top athlete out just because of one false start," Felix says. That prospect looms over this week's U.S. nationals, back in Eugene, which serve as the qualifier for the worlds in Daegu, South Korea, in August. Fans hoping for fireworks in that meet (a Tyson Gay--Usain Bolt showdown, for example) know they're one flinch away from disappointment.



ALL ON THE LINE The sport needs stars like Gay in the race, not out at the start.