FALSE START #D - June 2003 by David E. Ortman


On your mark, get set. . .wait, wait. Everybody up. Oh, sure, we all roll our eyes when it comes to Winter Olympic figure skating judging. "I'll trade you the Canadian pairs gold for the French singles gold." "She fell three times, but let's give her a 5.9 anyway." And don't get me started on the judging for synchronized "smiling", I mean swimming.

Let's hear it for the pure sport of track and field. Running against the stop watch. A throw, put or jump with a simple metric measurement. At least there is no subjective judging going on by officials in track and field.

So, here we go. On your mark, get set. . .wait, wait. It's the finals of the 1995 WAVA-Buffalo M40 110 meter hurdles. Into a nasty 15 mph gusty headwind. We are being held by the starter in the set position so long that I'm being blown out of my blocks. But there is a no-false start rule in effect. What should I do? What should the starter do? What do the rules say?

Rules? What rules?? No one that I know runs around with a copy of the rules of track & field competition. In fact, I'm willing to bet that most masters have never sat down and read the USAT&F Rules of Competition (and Masters exceptions) or know where to find a copy. See http://www.usatf.org/about/rules/

Back to the 110m Hurdles. What did I do? Just as I began to stand up and raise my hand to signify my predicament, the gun went off, leaving me literally standing in the blocks and then chasing the rest of the field. What should I have done? I was later told that I should have popped up out of the blocks, waved my hands and yelled "Stop, stop!." What do the rules say?

Article III, Section 1, Rule 60, 10. "If a competitor commences the starting motion after assuming a full and final set position, and before the report of the pistol, it shall be considered a false start." Yipes! So if you are being blown out of your blocks and are forced to stand up to regain your balance, you go home? But wait. Rule 60. 12. says "The Starter or any Recall Starter who is of the opinion that the start was not fair, shall recall the competitors by firing a pistol." Ummm. What is this? Subjective judging? "Let's give lane two a 4.3 on his start and call them back." Sounds like figure skating.

Here is another example. It's the 1994 M40 Pentathlon at the National Masters Championship in Eugene, OR. The fourth event is the Discus with three throws. I'm aware that in throwing events, one must exit the throwing circle out the back half of the ring. (Rule 91.7). So after my first discus throw I exit out the back only to see a red flag from the official signifying a foul. Foul? What foul? "Leaving the circle before the discus has touched the ground." (Also in Rule 91.7). Wait a minute. I've never heard of this part of the rule. If the official is watching when and where the discus lands how can he tell I've left the circle too early? Ummm. What is this? Subjective judging? Although I won the Pentathlon by 20 points, at the time I really could have used that first throw. And without a video camera, how could I have protested? (Rule 73). Nor did I know that an immediate appeal can be taken and the jump or throw measured if possible, but only announced if the appeal is upheld (Rule 90.14).

Although Track & Field is not quite as subjective as figure skating judging, there are plenty of opportunities for track & field officials (summarized below) to use their discretion:

Rule 65.4. The Referee shall have the authority to rerun a race or to permit a competitor affected by jostling or obstruction to complete in a subsequent round of a race.

Rule 65.6. In events in lanes, each competitor must keep in the allotted lane from start to finish, but a competitor shall not be disqualified if he or she is pushed or forced out of a lane if no material advantage has been gained.

Rule 65.8. Any competitor conducting him/herself in an unsportsmanlike manner may be disqualified by the Referee from future competition.

Rule 66.4. In a field event, an athlete may not leave the immediate area of the event and engage in dialogue with persons outside the area. Does this mean you can't walk twenty feet to say hello to Uncle Louis?

Rule 66.6. Preliminary winning times may not be communicated to the athletes by persons in the competition area without the prior approval of the Referee. What is the competition area?

Rule 72. Numbers must be worn as issued without cutting or folding. Not even a little?

Rule 79.5. In the hurdles, a competitor who trails the leg or foot below the horizontal plane of any hurdle at the instant of clearance or "in the opinion of the Referee" deliberately knocks down any hurdle by hand or foot shall be disqualified. "Ummm. Did lane four run into the hurdle or knock it down? Let's give 'em no points and a DQ."

Rule 90.4(c). In non-championship competition, in the discretion of the Games Committee, the number of trials in the filed events other than High Jump and Pole Vault may be reduced to four. "But my sixth jump is always the best!!"

Rule 90.8(c). A Referee or Chief Field Judge may allow a competitor to take a trial out of the regular order if entered in two events simultaneously. But remember, "may" is not the same thing as "shall". Better say "please."

Rule 93.8. In the High Jump or Pole Vault if a gust of wind knocks the bar off after the competitor has cleared the bar without touching it, the attempt will be considered successful. In any other circumstances, a new attempt will be awarded. ("Did you hear the one about the high jumper who walked into a bar. . . .?")

Rule 93.10. In the High Jump or Pole Vault, the uprights or posts shall not be moved during competition unless the Referee considers the take-off or landing pit has become unsuitable. This seems to mean that if there is a crater at your high jump take off point, you should ask for the uprights to be relocated before, not after, the start of competition.

Rule 262(m). Masters competitors are allowed to touch the landing area before clearing the bar, but not to any advantage as determined by the Field Judge.

Rule 332.3(b) When an individual or relay team, having qualified for a subsequent round, withdraws for any reason, the fastest non-qualifier may be advanced to fill the vacated position. When an individual or team is disqualified, Rule 166.7 applies. This is a masters exception to the open rule where no one is allowed to advance if there is a scratch. Note that weasel word "may" be advanced. More discretion, but it might come in handy someday if you had the next fastest time.

By the way, there are a couple of dumb rules and even some super-smart ones.


Rule 78. When a competitor withdraws, no additional individual may advance to fill the vacated position. Why not? What's wrong with a full heat for the finals? There is a Masters exception, however, that says that the fastest non-qualifier may be advanced to fill the vacated position. But apparently this is at the discretion of the official. Art. VI. Rule 262.1(d).

Rule 90.12. Except for Hammer and Weight Throwing, the use of gloves in field events is not allowed. This means no long jumping or high jumping with gloves, no matter how cold it is.

Rule 250.4. The age of a competitor on the first day of the meet determines the competitor's division for individual events. "Wait, I'm 49 on the start of the meet, but turn 50 tomorrow when we run the 400m hurdles. Help!! I need discretion."


Rule 99.5. Javelins must be carried back to the start, and never thrown back. This means no points for javelin catching.

Copyright 2000, David E. Ortman

"False Start Index" OR NEXT COLUMN