One false move and you’re done
If Lois Hernandez had false started in an international meet instead of a Nevada regional competition on Saturday, she and her South Tahoe High 4-by-100 relay teammates wouldn’t have been disqualified.
Varying rules for sports are sometimes hard to understand, but in this case Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association officials had a 10-year track record for following national policy regarding false starts.
As heart-wrenching as it was to tell the Viking relay team that they’d jumped the starting gun and were done for the day, the NIAA didn’t have an alternative. The national federation makes the rules that the individual states must follow. Sound familiar?
“It’s been one false start and you’re out for every state in the country for at least as far back as I can go back,” said NIAA Sports Information Director Donnie Nelson.
United States of America Track & Field starter Anthony Davis, however, remembers a time when states, including Nevada, permitted one false start per race. But that rule of the late 1980s and early 1990s was even more insensitive than the one now.
“It was a field false start and then the next person who false started was done,” Davis said. “That’s not fair to any of the athletes.”
The way the rule was written, a runner could intentionally false start to put more pressure on the top competitors in the field.
“It’s been thought of and done, that’s why they went back to the one false start,” he said.
Time constraints and staying on schedule are reasons why the national federation doesn’t permit each athlete one jump of the gun.
“If each person had one, you could be shooting the gun for 20 minutes and not disqualifying anyone,” Davis said.
The strict false start rules even apply to middle school athletes.
“As a starter it’s the worst feeling in the world me,” Davis said. “All I can do is say, ‘I’m sorry, you false started, that is the rule.’
“The opposition view is that they’re kids, but as a USATF official I think if you teach the kids the rules, you teach them the rules they have to live by the rest of their lives.”
The National Collegiate Athletic Association follows the same policy, but the International Association of Athletic Federations is a little more forgiving. They give their world-class athletes — the pros — a chance to make an honest mistake. They are only DQ’d after their second false move.
But the IAAF leniency is based upon money, not compassion.
“If you get Maurice Green to show up for a meet, it’s already costing you $100,000. If he false starts, did you make money?” Davis said. “When you’re at that level, you don’t want to false start because then you are taken out of your game plan.”
Even the best of the best, the Olympians, are granted one false start.
However, that doesn’t mean that the indulgent rule doesn’t catch some of the world’s elite athletes. Sprinter Linford Christie, the 1992 Olympic 100-meter gold medalist in Barcelona, was disqualified in the 100-meter final at the 1996 Summer Games.
Hernandez isn’t the first STHS athlete to false start in a big meet. Jake Hurwitz, now a sprinter for Sacramento State, was disqualified in the 100-meter state final in 1999.
And they won’t be the last. The way the rules are written it’s more important for the meets to stay on schedule than it is to give a kid a second chance.
“You’ve got to be ready to go and you can’t jump the gun,” Nelson said. “They know what the consequences are.”
But at least South Shore elementary school runners will be getting a break next month. Davis will permit competitors in the annual South Shore Fourth- and Fifth-Grade Track and Field Meet one false start, then disqualify runners upon their second infraction.
That sounds reasonable and will likely keep teary-eyed 9- and 10-year-olds to a minimum.
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