Starting blocks in athletics: Please sit still! – Sports

A hundred years ago, sprinters came to the races with shovels to dig starting blocks. In 2022, an athlete shifts his weight before the starting gun, the sensitive sensors in the blocks report a false start. Technology has come a long way – sometimes to the detriment of athletes.

The second decathlon day at the European Athletics Championships had started with excitement. In the third hurdle run, the Swiss Simon Ehammer cleared faster than the allowed 100 milliseconds reaction time. Since there can be two false starts in the decathlon, everyone got into the starting blocks a second time. Nobody started too fast this time. At least that’s what everyone involved thought, until the German Arthur Abele had the red card in front of his nose. So he was disqualified.

“Of course that breaks a lot”: Arthur Abele has to tremble for a long time before he gets a second chance after his false start.

(Photo: Simon Hofmann/Getty)

“That completely destroyed me,” said Abele, for him it was the last decathlon of his career: “Of course you don’t want to go out there with any disqualifications.” The verdict was later withdrawn, Abele got a solo over the hurdles. He only shifted his weight briefly, he later said, and the sensitive technology had apparently reacted to that.

Why are new starting blocks tested at major events?

The new technology was already used at the World Championships in Eugene. The American Devon Allen was considered the big favorite at the time over 110 meter hurdles, but was then also disqualified because, according to the sensor, his spikes had already released 99 milliseconds after the shot instead of the allowed 100. Allen was also not aware of any guilt.

Athletics at the European Championships: "This is actually a machine error": One of the new starting blocks at the European Athletics Championships in Munich's Olympic Stadium.

“It’s actually a machine error”: One of the new starting blocks at the European Athletics Championships in Munich’s Olympic Stadium.

(Photo: Sven Hoppe/dpa)

Testing new starting blocks at major events turned out to be problematic at the 2019 World Championships. At that time there were cameras that filmed the athletes from below in the crotch. Female athletes in particular found this inappropriate. The cameras were abolished again.

200-meter world champion Noah Lyles recently provided a more detailed insight into the anatomy of a modern starting block in Eugene. In order to explain the innovations to the journalist from the portal, the American bent his light blue corona protective mask and explained that the foot is different in the new models: “Many find it uncomfortable, you definitely have to get used to it”. When asked if the new starting blocks would indicate a false start more quickly, Lyles replied, “If you’re not completely still, the blocks will register that.”

Some athletes at the European Championships are now experiencing the same thing: “It’s actually a machine error,” said Abele after his decathlon, “of course it breaks a lot”. The uncertainty alone after the supposed disqualification got on his nerves. The European Athletics Association initially left an inquiry as to whether and how it wanted to fix the problem unanswered. Presumably only the future will show whether major events will continue to serve as an experimental area for new technologies.

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