“Oh…no” would have been the collective exclamation of the millions around the globe who would have watched Usain Bolt getting off the blocks ahead of the starter's gun last Sunday in the 100 metres final of the World athletics championships.
Of course, the whole of Daegu Stadium would also have expressed similar sentiments.
It is not often that you see a World champion, Olympic champion and world record holder disqualified before a race.
The fact that the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) is contemplating to have at least a cursory re-look at the ‘no false start rule' in a week's time of the Bolt disaster at one of its meetings shows that everyone has been shaken up by the shocker in the 100 that denied the world the spectacle it was looking forward to witnessing.
Bolt had easily come through the rounds and though he had not shown the kind of form that catapulted him to stardom in the Beijing Olympics, and then taken him beyond the reach of mere mortals in the Berlin Worlds in 2009 (9.58s for 100m, 19.19s for 200m), he was the odds-on favourite in Daegu.
The debate begins…
Bolt has not commented on his disqualification; the world has debated it of course. Should this rule be changed? What if there is a repeat in the 2012 London Olympics?
Changing it will mean going back to something before the IAAF brought in this ‘one-false-start-and-you-are-out' rule in January, 2010. It had debated this for years before voting 97-55 in the IAAF Congress in Berlin in 2009 to bring in this change.
From 2003, the IAAF had followed a new false start rule of disqualifying anyone in a race after one false start. No matter who the first ‘offender' was, anyone who caused a second false start got the red card. Prior to it, the rule allowed one false start for an athlete and the second one by the same runner resulted in his elimination.
That routine invariably ended up in boos from the crowds when more than two or three false starts occurred.
Swimming follows a ‘no false start' regimen. That was cited to bring the rule into athletics as well. Not just to cut down on delays for television audiences but also to ‘protect' the ‘genuine' athletes from the ‘pretenders.'
The pre-2010 rule could, and might well, have been used by those who wanted the best of sprinters or the most explosive starters get nervous on the blocks.
Interestingly, Bolt, not a great starter when he burst onto the scene, had been quoted in 2009 in an AP report as saying, about the rule change to come a few months later: “For me, I have no problem; I have never false started yet. It will be better for the sport. It will be a problem for some people but not for me.”
American Tyson Gay, the only man to have beaten Bolt since Beijing 2008 through 2010, however, disagreed at that time.
“You come to watch people run, not false start. I don't really agree with it, I don't know if it is all for television or what not, but I don't do this for television,” Gay said. The American was out with an injury this time.
The IAAF is bound to have a re-look at the rule. The former stars, including Sebastian Coe, an influential council member of the IAAF, who is also chairman of the London Games Organising Committee, has warned that any knee-jerk reaction would be inappropriate.
“You have to be consistent. You have a rule and you don't suddenly revisit it because a high-profile athlete has fallen foul. I'd rather not have Usain false start in London. But the start's not separate from the race; it is part of the race,” Lord Coe was quoted as saying.
That should be the right approach. No one ever bothered to change the ‘no-heighting' rule or the two-minute rule for each jump after pole vaulting great Sergey Bubka sensationally went out of the Barcelona Olympics.
The story was repeated this time when Steve Hooker, World and Olympic pole vault champion from Australia, no-heighted.
Briton Christine Ohuruogu, Olympic 400m champion, was among the disqualified athletes — another Briton Dwain Chambers was also one of them — for false starts in Daegu. Their eliminations almost went unnoticed in India.
Sure, they can have a new rule by the London Olympics; perhaps allow one false start in a final. They do allow that in decathlon and heptathlon.
The Chambers disqualification for the mere movement of a foot and his reaction should sum it up, however: “This is what we have to learn to cope with; I knew I had to run beyond my best to qualify for the final but ended up false-starting.”