- Sensors determined Devon Allen was one-thousandth of a second faster than allowable reaction time.
- Threshold of 100 milliseconds set by World Athletics, international governing body for track and field.
- Allen could have run under protest if “information provided by the (sensors) is obviously inaccurate.”
Controversy punctuated Day 3 of the 2022 track and field world championships.
And future Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Devon Allen was at the center of it.
Allen, who has the fastest time in the world in the 110-meter hurdles this year, was disqualified from Sunday night’s final for a false start – leaping out of the blocks too quickly by only by one-thousandth of a second.
It was the tightest of calls, a difference so small that it is completely undetectable to the human eye. And it happened what could have been a dream night for Allen, who was not only running on home soil but at Hayward Field – the very town and stadium where he competed collegiately at the University of Oregon.
“That is as tough a break as I have ever seen in this sport,” NBC analyst Ato Boldon said on air.
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Here’s a quick rundown of why Allen was disqualified, the ins and outs of track’s false start rule and whether (or how) it could be changed.
Why was Devon Allen DQ’d?
Allen, who owns the third-fastest time ever in the 110 hurdles, was lined up in Lane 3 next to fellow American Grant Holloway, who ended up winning the world title.
TV replays show the two men accelerating off the line almost simultaneously, but the electronic sensors in the starting blocks determined that Allen was about three-hundredths of a second quicker – and one-thousandth of a second faster than the minimum allowable reaction time.
That limit is set at 0.1 seconds. Allen’s reaction time was 0.099 seconds.
So he didn’t actually jump the gun?
Nope. Allen started pushing off the blocks after the gun went off, but so soon afterward that it fell within the confines of the false start rule.
The threshold for the rule, of 100 milliseconds, has been set by World Athletics, the international governing body for track and field. Critics have said it’s an arbitrary number. The reasoning behind it is a belief that humans are not capable of reacting in less than a tenth of a second, so they must be anticipating the gun and leaving early.
However, there is evidence – including from a World Athletics-commissioned study in 2009 – that “simple audit reactions” of as fast as 80 milliseconds are possible.
Could Allen have run under protest?
After realizing what happened Sunday night, Allen talked with the officials and appeared to be asking if he could still run under protest – stay in the competition, then deal with the false start issue later.
The rulebook allows this in some cases, but not if the false start was determined by the electronic sensors in the blocks, which detects the time at which force is applied by the runner. Allen would only have been allowed to stay in the competition if officials determined that “the information provided by the (sensors) is obviously inaccurate.”
Why a DQ, instead of a warning?
Runners used to be issued a warning after a false start, and allowed to try again. But World Athletics changed the rule in 2010 to an automatic disqualification, in part because some sprinters would purposefully false start to throw everyone else off. The repeated false starts also slowed down the carefully-orchestrated timing of meets.
How did Allen react?
Allen lamented the fact that he was both “so, so close” to the 0.1-second limit, and that the rule is “so absolute.”
“One one-thousandth is pretty close to the limit. I’m one one-thousandth slower, and everybody’s happy,” he told reporters.
“Track and field is so difficult, because you train your whole year for one competition that lasts 12 seconds, 13 seconds. And that’s that. It’s kind of like your identity is based all on that one competition, which is frustrating. But it happens I’ll learn from it, and I’ll make sure I just kind of react not as fast next time.”
Allen, who also played football in college, is now set to head to Eagles training camp, with hopes of making the team as a wide receiver.
Should the rule be changed?
Some prominent names in the track community certainly think so.
Legendary sprinter Michael Johnson, who won four Olympic gold medals, called the rule “antiquated” and “stupid.”
“To be clear unfortunately Devon Allen was robbed because of an antiquated World Athletics rule, not by the officials,” Johnson wrote on Twitter. “Officials can’t just decide in the moment to disregard a rule violation even if it’s a stupid and unfair rule. WA need to change the rule!”
Former NFL quarterback Robert Griffin III, who also was an accomplished hurdler in high school and at Baylor, signaled his agreement.
“He didn’t jump the gun. He didn’t flinch,” Griffin wrote on Twitter. “He got punished for being TOO FAST.”
Any changes to the rule would have to be passed by the World Athletics council, which meets three times a year. Its most recent meeting was last week, before the start of worlds. It typically also meets in December and March.
Contact Tom Schad at email@example.com or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.