Oregon 22 World Athletics Champs: False Starts reconsidered

The false start of Devon Allen in the 110m hurdles was a huge point of discussion last night and today. Stuart Weir wrote this piece on the challenges with the current false start protocal. 

False starts reconsidered

The World Championship 110m hurdles winner is Grant Holloway, retaining the title he won in 2019.  All credit to Holloway, who beat everyone in the race. Sadly, the Olympic Champion, Hansle Parchment, had to withdraw with injury just before the race.  In addition, Devon Allen, the fastest man in the world this year, was disqualified for a false start in the final.

Twitter has been ablaze with reactions to the DQ. Two things are clear. Firstly, Devon Allen is a class act who handled the situation with grace and dignity.  Secondly, the false start rule needs to be looked at.

You can watch the incident at


Devon Allen is a brilliant sprint-hurdler.  He is also an exceptional starter. Just to be clear, false-starts are now black and white, technology-run.  If an athlete starts less than 0.1 seconds after the gun, it is deemed to be a false start. We have moved forward from the days of Linford Christie, who used to say that he started on the B of Bang!

Allen’s start was recorded as 0.099. That is 1/1000th of a second too quick.  In the semi-final his start time was a legal 0.101.  Did I mention that he is a fast starter?

Devon Allen gave at least two interviews afterwards in which he talked calmly about what happened: “I am sure I will sulk in a bit but it is just frustrating. I am ready to run. Grant ran a great race so the opportunity to do a US 1,2,3 would have been amazing as well. It sucks that it is such a small margin and I know for a fact that I am the fastest reactor in the world.  When the gun went I thought it was because Grant was still moving – because he goes into ‘set’ late – which is fine. I was expecting a green card but for a red card to be pulled out was pretty surprising. That is what the technology is there for, I guess. But a margin of error of 1/1000th of a second kinda sucks. You train a lot for 13 seconds of glory and when you don’t get a chance to run, it kinda sucks.

In another interview, he said: “I know for a fact I didn’t react until I heard the gun”.

Cathal Dennehy, a highly respected athletics writer, commented: “Brutal for Devon Allen last night, but really don’t get the uproar about the false start rule – the cut-off has to be somewhere and under the limit is under the limit. The only rule that makes sense has to rely on the tech, not subjective human judgement”.

As usual, Cathal is spot-on, but the question can be asked, as athletes become more professional and practise starts 1,000s of time, whether the 0.1sec limit is still the correct one. The view on Twitter that Allen was being punished for being too efficient a starter gained quite a lot of support.

Michael Johnson is always worth listening to: “To be clear. Unfortunately, Devon Allen was robbed because of an antiquated World Athletics rule, not by the officials. Officials can’t just decide at the moment to disregard a rule violation, even if it’s a stupid and unfair rule. WA need to change the rule!” 

British sprinter Richard Kilty’s opinions are important as well.  A world Indoor 60m gold medalist, he has also been DQed in a championship final: “My DQ for a 0.98 reaction AFTER THE GUN in the European 100m final. After winning my semi-final, feeling 100% confident about a medal & PB. I heard the gun and THEN reacted. I was dialled in & ready to run a PB. A fast reaction AFTER the gun is part of the race, but we are punished for it”. See Killty’s DQ here


US Olympic medalist Manteo Michell did not need many words to express his opinion: “DEVON ALLEN HAD A CLEAN AND GREAT START. that’s it. That’s the tweet”. 

Steve Magness, a world-renowned writer on performance, commented: “You can’t give Allen an FS for a .099 reaction time. 0.10 is an arbitrary standard. There’s no science behind 0.10 being fine and 0.099 being impossible. It’s BS. He should be allowed to run”.

World Champions 400m hurdler, Dai Greene, responded to Magness: “This summarises the false start issue with Devon Allen really well. It needs to be changed before it ruins any more races”.

PJ Fazel quotes the following stats:

Number of reaction times recorded under 0.115 at world championships men’s 100m & 110m hurdles (all rounds) during the past decade (same FS detection provider) 

2011 – 0 

2013 – 0 

2015 – 0 

2017 – 2 

2019 – 3 

2022 – 25 

Are athletes simply reacting quicker?

Stef Reid, a Paralympic medal-winning sprinter makes the point that “triggering a pressure pad doesn’t always indicate advantageous forward movement – you could just be re-adjusting”.

An article on the World Athletics website dated 2009 refers to Finnish research recommending lowering the limit to 0.8 or 0.85.


There seems to be a growing groundswell of opinion that this issue needs serious reviewing.

  • Since 2015, Stuart Weir has written for RunBlogRun. He attends about 20 events a year including all most global championships and Diamond Leagues. He enjoys finding the quirky and obscure story.