Former Olympic 100-metre champion Donovan Bailey of Canada says a new rule that will disqualify any sprinter who has a false start is good for the sport.
At its biennial congress just before the 2009 world track and field championships in Berlin, the IAAF voted 97-55 to change the rules. The new rule reads, "Except in combined events, any athlete responsible for a false start shall be disqualified." The rule takes effect in 2010.
The current rules allow for one false start and then anyone false starting subsequently being disqualified. This will be the rule for multi-event competitions.
During his semifinal heat on Sunday, Jamaica's Usain Bolt was guilty of a false start and as he came to a halt halfway up the track, the stadium screen showed him grinning from ear to ear. Just two days earlier, he had told members of the media he had never false started and therefore the new rule didn't concern him. Even the world's fastest man can err, it seems.
Tough rule, but fair
"You know what, I have two opinions, and they differ," said Bailey during an informal chat inside Berlin's Olympic stadium, where he is guest of Adidas and the IAAF. "One, I am happy that I am not competing. It's a little stringent.
"But number two, and perhaps more importantly, I love the idea of the new rule for television contracts, for the professionalization of track and field. I think it's very good.
"At the end of the day we must recognize that the greatest sports events in the world rely on television contracts. I guess it does affect dead time on TV when there are a bunch of false starts."
Although he said he remembers false starting once in a race, he hastened to add it was never in a major championship. That's not to say he has not been affected by competitors who false started.
During the Atlanta Olympic final where he set what was then the world 100 m record of 9.84 seconds, there were three false starts and an interminable wait for the disqualified defending Olympic champion, Linford Christie, to leave the track.
"There were three false starts in Atlanta. Linford had two and Ato [Boldin] had one," Bailey recalled. "It absolutely was distracting but, at the end of the day, you have to understand my own mental and psychological abilities. Dan [coach Pfaff] and I had prepared for everything. We prepared for rain, for snow, false starts. We prepared for everything possible.
"In my case, if someone false started it actually calmed me down. I actually became more focused on my acceleration phase and going through my three phases. If someone false started on me it was a huge advantage for me. Most people get rattled. Ato I think said he was rattled. But I got more relaxed and focused on what I needed to do."
A level playing field
According to IAAF officials, the rule change passed because event organizers want to keep the meets on a tight schedule for both spectators and for the television audience. But for some, the false starts heighten the tension and prolong the drama surrounding a world-class sprint race.
Bailey said sprinters false start for a variety of reasons.
"When I was competing, people would false start to rattle people," he explains. "They false started because they were nervous. People false start because maybe their emotions are different from their opponents and if they false start they can get an advantage over their opponents.
"The new rule is very simple and it's a completely level field for everybody. It is what it is."