FALSE START #13 by David E. Ortman

[April 2003 (Letter to Editor) National Masters News Reprinted by Permission]


On your mark, get set, go. Did you get a record? Who knows? Ken Stone has recently documented major problems with WMA record keeping. Some of this can be explained by the fact that there are elite athletes that continue to break masters age group records at open meets. There is a different problem, however, with the USAT&F masters records. Hand timed records for 400m/440yds. and under are still listed. This is directly contrary to Article IV Records Rule 183.5: "For races up to and including the 440 yards, only performances timed by an approved fully automatic timing device shall be approved as records." < http://www.usatf.org/about/rules/>

There have been more than one occasion when a masters athlete was denied an American or World Record because his "automatic" record time, was just over the old "hand timed" record. The 1994 Age-Graded Tables give the following rule of thumb for conversions from hand to automatic times: an additional 0.24 seconds for hand times from 50m-300m, an additional 0.14 seconds for hand timed 400m races, and no conversion for hand times over 400m. One member of the Federation of American Statisticians of Track claims that high school athletes (and masters times are closer to high school times than to open/elite marks) have a 0.3-0.5 conversion factor spread.

The reason the automatic times are slower than hand times is because fat thumbs on stop watches can not accurately detect the smoke of the starting gun or the crossing point at the finish. Of course, when you think about this, it makes absolutely no sense to use the same conversion factor for the 50m dash, where the starting gun is 50m from the finish line, as for the 200m, where the starting gun is nearly four times further. Presumably, the distance from stopwatch to starting gun shouldn't matter because the watch starts on the smoke of the gun firing, not on the sound. But what then explains the fact that the conversion for the 400m is only 0.14? However, to provide a fair start in the 400m, the starter is often situated out at the first turn, more than 50m from the starting line. In other words, in the 50m you get a 0.24 conversion, but in 400m where the starting gun may be further than 50m from the finish line, you get a 0.14 conversion. And if a conversion is needed for a hand timed 400m, why not for the 800m? No reason is given, other than that above 400m, hand timed marks can count as records.

The USATF Competition Rules do not recognize hand conversions for record purposes and yet there are still numerous hand timed US Masters Indoor/Outdoor records on the books: Indoor - 200m M90 76.4; 400m M90 2:54.0. Outdoor - 100m M35 10.3, M60 11.8, M65 12.6, W85 p34.7; 200m M35 20.8, M55 23.6, M70, 26.8 W85 p.58.4; 400m M70 62.2, M75 68.5, M80 75.4, M90 2:00.2, W35 56.8; 400mHurdles M45 55.7, M50 58.1.

The only rule that discusses the conversion factor is Article III, Rule 76: "For seeding purposes only, the conversion factor of .24 seconds between fully automatic and manual timing must be used when conversions are made (i.e., the manual time plus the conversion factor equals the fully automatic time for seeding purposes under Rule 75)." Interestingly, before 2003, this rule used the 0.14 conversion factor for events above the 200m including the 400m. Now the conversion factor for seeding purposes is 0.24 regardless of the distance.

A couple of other things to keep in mind. Under Rule 182, no record (including masters) is acceptable unless it is in a competition advertised before the day of competition at an USATF sanctioned meet, and includes a printed program with the names of the entrants for the events. In addition, there must be at least three competitors. Under Rule 250.8 masters records may be made in mixed age and/or mixed sex competitions. Also, don't forget that you are responsible for any record paper work. A record application can be found at: http://nationalmastersnews.com/record_application.html

In summary, it is time for Masters Records to get its house in order and recognize all records through 400m as automatic timed. As for the older hand timed marks? These can be recognized as "Noteworthy Performances" as set out in Article IV Rule 188.

Copyright 2003, David E. Ortman

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