One false start in any race -- even from the likes of Usain Bolt or Allyson Felix -- will still result in the disqualification of a sprinter at the Olympics. But the chances of that false start being called have been dialed down after the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) tweaked their rules ahead of the Olympics to allow more movement in the starting blocks.
Reuters reported Tuesday that the IAAF's adjusted rule requires an athlete's hands to leave the ground or his or her feet to leave the blocks to be called for a false start. Previously, starters could disqualify an athlete for the barest of flinches.
"This allows a safety valve," international starter Tom McTaggart told Reuters. “It takes a little pressure off the starter in general, the recall crew and the athletes. They know 'I got a second chance here'."
In the event of an athlete moving in the blocks, starters are now encouraged to call the field out of the blocks and reset the race.
"I think it will save some people," American 100-meter dash medal hopeful Tyson Gay said. "Because if a person flinches and they don't call it a false start, it can allow another person to flinch and they call it on that person. [The starting crew] didn't see the first person."
The tweaks won't make everyone happy, of course. Sprinters would unanimously agree to a return to the IAAF's pre-2009 approach, when the first false start was charged to the entire field and a second false start resulted in the offending athlete's disqualification. The IAAF changed the rule in order to speed up major international meets, principally to keep them within their allotted television windows.
The change was immediately greeted with opposition from both athletes and officials, protests that sharpened when Bolt was disqualified from the 2011 World Championships 100-meter final.
Some expected the IAAF to relent on the rule before the Olympics, due to the danger that Bolt or a sprinter of similar stature might be disqualified in the glare of track's biggest spotlight. Bob Podkaminer, secretary of the rules committee for USA Track and Field, said the tweak announced Tuesday allows the IAAF to save some measure of face.
"I believe this gives them the wiggle room they were looking for without saying we were wrong [to institute the one-and-done rule],” Podkaminer said.
But even with the adjustment, Bolt still would have been disqualified in 2011 -- having come out of the blocks -- and there's still the ever-present, looming danger that he or someone like him will be disqualified in London with the planet watching. The IAAF deserves some credit for meeting the athletes part-way on this rule. But they'd still be better off backing off of their 2009 decision completely.