It turns out that the threshold of 100 milliseconds is appropriate, the researchers found. Using statistical methods, they calculated that it is highly unlikely that a man can react faster than 109 milliseconds or a woman faster than 121 milliseconds at the Olympics. These numbers appear, at first, to show that men react faster than women. But Ashton-Miller and his colleagues don't believe that's the case.
Because men have more powerful leg muscles, they can more quickly develop the amount of force necessary for their movement to register. By requiring women to develop the same force as men on the start blocks, the current method makes women appear to have slower reaction times, Ashton-Miller said.
"This study suggests that the method used in the Olympic Games to detect a false start is male-oriented," Ashton-Miller said. "A woman who gets into the 100- to 120-millisecond window is really false starting, but under the present measurement method she wouldn't get penalized for that false start."
The researchers are calling for changes to be made in timing procedures before the London 2012 summer games.
"In terms of the Olympics, it's important for races to be fair. One way to address this would be to lower the force threshold for females," said David Lipps, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Biomedical Engineering.
Male sprinters have 21 percent greater ankle extensor strength than female sprinters. As such, the researchers recommend reducing the allowable increase in force on the starting block for women to a 19.4 kilogram force.
And, Ashton-Miller suggests, perhaps future automobiles with brake-assist features should be notified whether the driver is male or female.
"The study suggests that in the future, automobiles should "know" whether it is a man or a woman that gets into the driver's seat," Ashton-Miller said. "If the auto "knows" a woman is driving, the s
|Contact: Nicole Casal Moore|
University of Michigan