Devon Allen knew what stood in his way on Sunday night.
Ten hurdles, each as tall as a standard doorknob, are carefully spaced nine meters apart on Lane 3. There is never a variation in the 110 meter race where only two men have ever outpaced Allen. No matter where, when or against whom the race is held, these hurdles are constant.
Equally reliable, however, is the obstacle Allen collided with: a sport that keeps finding ways to keep its best athletes from competing.
If there’s one thing international athletics can be counted on to be right, and there could only be one, it’s to strictly enforce its most archaic and arbitrary rules.
With six nights remaining in the sport’s global showcase at Eugene’s revamped Hayward Field, the only question is whether any remaining moment can overshadow Allen’s disastrous disqualification due to a false start on Sunday night.
Honestly, it might not matter how many world records are broken between now and next Sunday night. Or how many more Americans lay claim to gold.
These World Athletics Championships, being held on American soil for the first time, have already had their climax.
For a sport thirsting for greater domestic support ahead of the Los Angeles 2028 Olympics, Sunday’s ruling perfectly illustrated why athletics can seem so inaccessible to casual viewers.
Allen, a former two-sport star for the Oregon Ducks who will return to Philadelphia Eagles training camp later this month, is just the kind of athlete who could attract a new breed of viewer. But anyone who tuned in to NBC on Sunday saw Allen explode out of the blocks only for the race to be stopped and Allen sent off the track.
It was a false start. At least that’s a term football fans are familiar with. But in this case, he didn’t go before the snap—er, the starting pistol. He left too early after it.
Imagine what kind of reaction Philadelphia fans would have had to that statement.
“I’ll make sure next time I just don’t react so quickly,” a confused Allen told reporters after his early departure.
Track officials long ago decided that a typical reaction time is a tenth of a second, an arbitrary number that sports scientists have tinkered with. Anything faster would be counted as a false start and disqualification.
Allen jumped to 0.099 seconds. A thousandth of a second too fast.
By rule, Allen had to be disqualified. No one on site could dispute this or reverse the decision.
But it’s a stupid rule, and it’s hard to imagine a fan tuning in on Sunday night coming to a different conclusion.
A barely noticeable difference, faster than a heart breaks.
And it’s the same sport that kept dynamic sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson out of the Olympics last year because of a positive marijuana test, even though she’d already qualified.
Athletics is the only sport that seems so intent on finding loopholes to sideline its stars, but it’s far from the only one with intriguing procedures.
I have long scratched my head at the logic behind finding the ball in football. The umpire decides the first three downs in a series. The accuracy of the spot is only as good as his last prescription glasses.
No one questions whether it’s accurate to a thousandth of an inch.
But in fourth place – oh, fourth place! – The chains come out. The crowd falls silent. The spot is theatrically determined with the precision of a surgeon cutting into the human brain.
This is how games are decided. whole seasons.
Track officials found a way to eliminate the possibility of human error. The sensors tell officials when there’s a false start. But human error gave machines so much power over the outcome of what should be the simplest and purest sport.
Imagine attaching sensors to the cleats of offensive linemen.
They would still play somewhere first.
Great moments will surely come in Eugene. Allen’s disqualification, while ridiculous, doesn’t affect the performances that await. Perhaps Sydney McLaughlin can break the world record in the women’s 400m hurdles – for the third time. Or the US men can sweep the 200-meter dash just like they did in the 100.
But would any of it penetrate the mainstream consciousness of American sports like Sunday’s Technicality?
We can only hope so.
The sport of track and field is fueled by the belief that through training, diet and determination, people will forever be able to beat a record time by a tenth of a second. To run a little faster than anyone has ever done before. Jump higher or longer. keep throwing.
But not react faster?
Maybe one day athletics will get out of the way.
It’s just too bad that couldn’t have happened before Allen tripped up.
– Bill Oram | [email protected] | Twitter: @billoram