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False starts can sneak by in women's sprinting
Date:10/19/2011

ANN ARBOR, Mich.---Olympic timing procedures don't accurately detect false starts by female sprinters, according to a new analysis by University of Michigan researchers.

Under the current rules, a woman can purposely anticipate the gun by up to 20 milliseconds, or one-fiftieth of a second, without getting called for a false start, the researchers say.

"This is unfair to the other women in the race because a medal can be won or lost in 20 milliseconds," said James Ashton-Miller, the Albert Schultz Collegiate Research Professor in the College of Engineering, the Institute of Gerontology and the School of Kinesiology.

The findings, published in the Oct. 19 edition of PLoS One (Public Library of Science), have implications beyond competitive sports. They provide insights into the fastest whole-body reaction times humans are capable of, and they could possibly inform automobile brake engineering, the researchers say.

Olympic officials use the same criteria to disqualify both male and female sprinters for jumping the gun. A "false start" occurs if an athlete applies an estimated 25 kilogram force to the starting blocks within a tenth of a second (100 milliseconds) of the gun. Why 100 milliseconds? That was thought to be the fastest possible human reaction time. It's a threshold largely based on a 1990 study of eight Finnish sprinters, none of whom were Olympians and none of whom were women.

Ashton-Miller and his colleagues set out to examine: the fastest possible reaction time of an Olympic athlete; whether elite male and female sprinters had similar reaction times; and whether the procedure used to measure reaction time was appropriate for both sexes.

The researchers analyzed the fastest reaction times of the 425 male and female sprinters who competed in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. They coupled this with previous studies in which they measured how rapidly men and women can push on a pedal using ankle e
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Contact: Nicole Casal Moore
ncmoore@umich.edu
734-647-7087
University of Michigan
Source:Eurekalert

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