From The Editor — October 2010: Time To Bring Back Old Rules?

Allow me to suggest that our sport could be improved for one and all (especially fandom) with some simple tweaking of the rulebook. And the tweaking I have in mind actually involves a fair amount of retro, back-to-the future thinking. Our forefathers may not have done so badly when they originally crafted the sport.

For a start, I’d modify the false-start rule. No, I don’t mean rescinding the new no-falsies stricture. I mean apply that rule only to the events started out of blocks (and I’m not so sure the 400 should be included).

Errors at races longer than the 200 are few, and when they do happen, it’s not because somebody was trying to steal the race. The rule was intended to speed up the meet, and simply putting the runners back on the line, methinks, takes less time than a formal DQ process.

I’d also get rid of 100th-second timing for any event longer than the 400. I don’t mean get rid of automatic timing, per se; I mean get rid of the display of long times to such a fine tolerance. To represent 10,000 times to 2 decimal places is the same as fine-tuning a 100 time to 4 places. You can still use the 100ths (or even 1000ths) in your photofinish work; just don’t confuse the public with more needless numbers.

In common parlance, athletes and fans alike tend to knock a digit off the end anyway. Only a geek would refer to somebody as a 10.23 sprinter instead of a 10.2 sprinter. Yes, we’re all geeks here at T&FN, but being geeky doesn’t help sell the sport to the general public.

There has been much to-do about the IAAF’s tweaking of the wind rules for the multi-events this year, with talk that they’ll go back to the old way. How about an even better way: ignore wind altogether when talking about the decathlon and heptathlon. Think about it; if there’s a wind strong enough to aid the sprints, it’s a wind that’s going to take away a like amount of points in the high jump and pole vault, and may well also influence the discus and javelin one way or the other.

While we’re getting rid of wind gauges, let’s stop worrying about “legality” in the straightaway hurdles. There is almost no correlation between stronger tailwinds and faster times, because the extra push can actually have a deleterious effect, running the athlete into the hurdle. Moreover, not all athletes in the race are affected equally, based on their body type, stride length and clearance technique.

You may find this one nitpicky, but I think USATF needs to break with the IAAF when it comes to measuring the high jump and pole vault, going back to Imperial measure so that the bar can progress in logical even inches. The manual indicator boards that 99% of meets use can’t show fractions anyway, so a 7-2 and-a-fraction will show up as 7-2 or 7-3, depending on the whim of the operator.

How about the NCAA men’s high jump this year: think John Q. Public isn’t befuddled when the bar goes thus: 6-8¾, 6-10¾, 7-¼, 7-1½, 7-2½, 7-3¾, 7-5, 7-6? Wouldn’t you prefer to see 6-9, 6-11, 7-1, 7-3, 7-5, 7-6? With the option always open, of course, to go to a fraction and/or metric height when there’s a record of some sort involved.

Those with good memories will be quick to pounce on me, of course, for the concluding statement in my April column, in which I said the sport needed to lose its 19th-Century thinking!