Olympic starter’s gun unfair

Posted on June 29, 2008 

Olympic starter’s gun unfair

The Olympics may not be the bastion of pure sporting contest that people might think. Although the pistol used to start sprint events in the Games might make good theatre, it may mean that sprinters in lane 1, nearest the gun, get away from the blocks faster.

Most international athletics competitions use speakers behind each athlete to broadcast the start signal. The Olympics uses this system but also increases the drama of the set-piece by having a starting official, complete with pistol.

But when David Collins and colleagues at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, reviewed reaction-time data for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, they saw a marked effect: runners in lane 1 had an average reaction time of 160 milliseconds, whereas those in lane 2 got away in 171 milliseconds. Sprinters in lane 7 (bizarrely the lane with the slowest average reaction time of the eight lanes) took 185 milliseconds to get off the blocks.

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