Currently, the IAAF, the world governing body for athletics, enforces a false start rule that disqualifies an athlete on first violation.

According to the IAAF rule book, “any athlete responsible for a false start shall be disqualified by the starter.” A false start occurs when a runner takes off before the starter’s gun, or within 0.1 second of the start signal. The zero-tolerance rule came into effect in 2010 with minor revisions since. Prior to that, the first false start was charged to the entire field.

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Trent Stellingwerff, physiology lead at the Canadian Sport Institute – Pacific, raised an interesting idea on Twitter on Thursday, following the conclusion of the Oslo Diamond League. He suggests that a distance penalty should be assessed to any one who commits a false start. Steve Magness, former coach with the Nike Oregon Project and author of Science of Running, agrees adding that in other sports, there’s a minor infraction for first time offenses.

Series of tweets

Perhaps the most notable false start in recent years came in 2011 at the IAAF World Championships in South Korea. In the men’s 100m final, Usain Bolt left the starting blocks prematurely and was disqualified. The DQ in 2011 remains the only time that Bolt has not won gold in an individual senior race at either the Olympic Games or World Championships since 2008.

Interestingly, as Cole Peterson pointed out on Twitter, at the 1904 Summer Olympics, there was a one-yard penalty for false starting. Perhaps a distance penalty is a topic of discussion that will be expanded upon going forward.


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