Saturday, April 3, 2010

Texas Relays Shines Light on the Dumbest Rule in Sports

Watching the live streaming of the Texas Relays - thank you CBS Sports. The Invitational Section of the Men's 4x1 just completed. At the initial start of this race the USA Blue Team in lane 4 was called for a false start and thrown out of the race. The fans reacted by booing vehemently, and stomping their feet for several minutes. Finally to satisfy the fans who had paid their hard earned money to see this event - among others - they inserted the team back in the race to run "under protest". To the delight of the crowd, the Wallace Spearmon anchored team WON the event in 38.81!

The infield announcer has interviewed Spearmon as the anchor of the winning team. Unfortunately the "live" online scoreboard has stopped updating, and there has come just come word from the announcer that "while the winning time appears to be 38.81 we will have to wait approximately a half an hour while the "protest" is reviewed.

The sad thing is that, as with the women's 60 meter final at the US Indoor Championships where a false start was called on Lisa Barber, the second start of the race went off without incident. And Ms Barber - who also ran under protest - got no advantage over the other athletes and finished in third position. Which based on her performances over the course of the season was where she should have finished. Unfortunately in that instance, Barber was not awarded third as her original false start was upheld - even though she got NO advantage in the final!

This has to be the dumbest rule in all of sport. This meet reminds me of two high school instances that were very similar - one of them happened at THIS same meet. At the Texas Relays of 1985 one of the biggest high school sprint showdowns in history never occurred as Henry Thomas of Hawthorne High School in California was tossed out of the race for a false start after the starter held them for some 3 or 4 seconds - an eternity in sprinting and clearly the starter was at fault. Roy Martin went on to win the final in a blistering 10.18 (#2 time ever at the time) over Joe Deloach at 10.26. Thomas himself was defending California Champion and a 10.25 performer who went on to run a blazing 44.5 anchor on the winning 4x4 that set the still standing national high school record of 3:07.40. With Thomas in that race there is no telling what the final outcome - and time - may have been.

The other instance that comes to mind is the boys 400 meter final at the California State Championships of 1987 where Steve Lewis - one of the biggest favorites in meet history - was tossed out for a false start. Like in Texas today the crowd went nuts, until finally the starter reinserted Lewis in the race. Lewis simply went out and beat the field by a country mile in 46.7 over second place 47.2. Again the second start of the race was even for all with no one getting an advantage.

Which I THOUGHT was the idea of calling false starts! Not to eliminate individuals but to ensure that no one athlete gets an unfair advantage. As I've said on more than one occasion this rule has simply become punitive in nature and is nothing about the races themselves any more. I watched Usain Bolt commit a false start in a race last summer, I can only imagine what will happen if he does so again with the current rule in effect!

Crowd noises, being off balance, catching a glimpse of your neighbor moving, the click of a camera, there are so many reasons why athletes false start. It's rarely about "trying to cheat"! The recent change to the false start rule is just as dumb as the recent change in the wind requirements for the decathlon. This sport is hurting its athletes and doing damage to its fan base with rules that make absolutely NO sense. The fans in Texas had it right today - just as they did in California in '87 - let the athletes compete, just make sure they all get a fair shot! Lewis was the right winner in Cali. USA Blue was the right winner today even though as I get ready to post this it says online that their protest was denied - just as Jeter was the right winner indoors. We need to worry less about throwing athletes out of the race and simply make sure everyone starts equally. Then let the athletes sort out who is best!

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