Bolt and track losers in the sport's Gong Show
Usain Bolt reacts to his false start disqualification in 100 meters. (Phil Noble / Reuters / December 16, 2013)
But the false start also built tension, and instances of multiple false starts were not common in major championships, seeming to happen most often in the high hurdles.
International track officials claimed the rule needed to be changed because athletes were using the false start as a strategic measure to play mind games with opponents. That may have been true, but the real reason behind the change was that in a world of split-second attention spans, track and field's leaders thought such delays were among the things contributing to lower interest in their sport.
So they changed the rule to one-false-start-and-you're out, hoping the draconian nature of the punishment would be enough to make athletes disinclined to risk a false start. Swimming long has had a similar rule, but swimming's shortest race, the 50-meter freestyle, lasts twice as long as the 100 in track, making the risk / reward for cutting it close much less significant.
(And who cares about the world records in swimming, anyway? It's the 100 record in track that comes with the fastest-on-earth title.)
In track, a reaction time faster than one-tenth of as second, measured electronically from when the runner releases pressure on the blocks, is considered a false start. To break a world record in the 100 or the 200 meters, most runners need to push the reaction time envelope.
Bolt, a notoriously slow starter, had by far the fastest reaction time in the field when he clocked an otherworldly 19.19 seconds into a slight headwind for the 200 meters at the 2009 world meet, breaking his own world record by a stunning 11/100ths of a second.
What does that mean?
A major part of sprinting's spectator appeal, especially in major championships, especially in the 100, is the chance you might see a world record.
Bolt already put the 100 and 200 world records into a new zone, as Michael Johnson had done with the 200 record, which lasted 12 years until Bolt broke it the first time. The one false start rule will make it nearly impossible for anyone to challenge Bolt's marks.
"I kept sitting in the blocks, and I couldn't move," Dix said, explaining his poor first 30 meters in the semifinal and final. "That false start (rule) was killing us, and hopefully it will change by London (the 2012 Olympics.)"
If not, the public may give track and field the hook.