FALSE START #1 by David E. Ortman

[June 1999 National Masters News Reprinted by Permission]


Somewhere between high school track and masters track something got lost. At high school track meets there were three constants at the finish line - cinder tracks, old guys in caps with their thumbs on stop watches, and young girls holding a piece of yarn across the track.

If you were first to the "tape," the yarn would slip out of the lovely hands of the young girls and wrap itself around your chest, a sort of body laurel wreath streaming behind you like a comet tail as you blazed past. If you had the tape, you had the race. Breaking the tape was the mark of a champion, although it was sometimes hard to focus on the tape and not on the young ladies holding the tape.

Of course, coach always told us to "run through the tape, donít lunge at it." In high school what did we know? We always lunged at it. Makes as much sense as sliding into first base, but there was something irresistible about throwing your chest forward in the belief that your heart and mind, and perhaps legs and arms would somehow follow. I think the coach told us not to lunge because doing so created a high probability of nose-diving into the track, after which you would dig cinders out of your chest instead of yarn.

Unrecorded is the name of the official who decided that the front of the chest crossing the finish line designated the winner. Since it is possible in a race such as the 100m to start with the front of the chest beyond the starting line, the actual distance covered by the front of the chest may actually be less than 100m.

On the other hand, in an event like the high jump, I was delighted when I realized that although my personal record is only 6 feet, my body thickness is about eight inches. Thus, when laid out over the bar, I was actually able to elevate my chest and belly button to 6-8, which sounds much more impressive.

If you were not first to the tape, confusion sometimes set in. Suddenly, the finish tape, the focal point at the end of your lane vanished, sucked up by the lead runner into some localized black hole along with the finish line.

This is the same confusion that faces master track runners -- no finish tape. On some tracks the finish line is so faded that, without a finish tape, it is often extremely difficult to tell where the finish of the race is at all. The legs ask the eyes, "Is it time to stop running?" and the eyes say, "Canít tell, keep running!" Perhaps the finish tape disappeared when electronic/photo timing came into being. Maybe the tape and the young girls got in the way of the camera; although, I seem to recall photo finishes with the tape flying.

I suppose itís too late to bring back cinder tracks, old guys in caps with their thumbs on stop watches, and young girls holding a piece of yarn across the track. In any event, although there have been many attempts to gain a sprinting edge, to date, no male sprinters have given breast implants a try in order to break the tape a little sooner. It would sure give the old guys in caps with their thumbs on stop watches something to talk about.

David E. Ortman grew up in South Dakota and moved to Seattle after graduating (í75) from Bethel College, KS, with an environmental studies degree. He is married with two children. He was the 1992 National Masters M35 400mH champion; 1994 National Masters M40 Pentathlon champion; 1996 NCCWAVA (World Regional) M40 110mH Champion; 1998 National Masters M45 110mH champion; 1998 World Masters Games M45 400mH champion; and 2003 National Indoors Masters M50 Pentathlon, Long Jump and 60m Hurdles champion.

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