EXPLAINER: Was Devon Allen too fast for his own good?

Hurdler Devon Allen did not jump before the starting gun. He was still disqualified for a false start. This sent parts of the athletics world into turmoil.

EUGENE, Ore. (AP) – Hurdler Devon Allen didn’t jump before the starting gun. He was still disqualified for a false start. That sent parts of the athletics world — and also the NFL world, of which he will soon be a part — into a frenzy.

Allen’s DQ for a false start in the 110-meter hurdles came Sunday night, putting a slight damper on an otherwise unworldly performance by the United States at the World Championships in Eugene, Oregon. The Americans won nine medals – a record for one day. It could have been 10 if the retiree native had been allowed to drive the race.

A summary of what happened:

Q: Did Allen really leave the starting blocks too soon?

A: Depends on the definition of early. The sensors in the starting blocks measure the so-called “reaction time”, i.e. the time it takes for a runner’s foot to leave the block after the starting gun has been fired. Of course, if a runner leaves the starting block before the gun goes off, that’s an easy decision. But there’s also a rule that says it’s a false start if a runner abandons the race within 0.1 seconds AFTER the shot is fired – the idea being that no one could react to the shot that quickly.

Q: What happened to Allen?

A: His reaction time was measured at 0.099 seconds. That’s a thousandth of a second too fast. He stayed near the starting line after receiving his red card and watched the replay on an infield monitor. At the end of the day though, rules are rules and Allen went back under the stadium to watch Grant Holloway win the gold medal.

A: There has been a flurry of activity on social media stating that this is not the case. One element that stands out: In the semifinals, Allen’s reaction time was 0.101 seconds – an indication that he was either very lucky back then. Or, considering what happened a few hours later in the Finals, an athlete who was wide receiver in Oregon and gets a tryout with the Philadelphia Eagles might have some otherworldly reflexes that even those next to him have compete on the track often do not match.

Q: What about those starting blocks?

A: In an almost comical episode last year at the Olympic trials at the same stadium, nine restarts were required in a single day – five in the women’s 110 hurdles and four in the women’s 400 hurdles – due to malfunctions in the starting blocks. Nobody was disqualified. There was no word on whether the same technology existed on worlds.

Q: Why didn’t Allen get a warning?

A: A first false start used to result in a caution for the entire field, then the next false start resulted in a DQ. But officials changed that rule in 2010, largely because false starts were rampant and slowed the pace of meetings. One of the most prominent casualties of the new rule was none other than Usain Bolt, whose false start at the 2011 World Championships cost him a shot at the 100m title.

Q: What’s next for Allen?

A: Training camp with the Philadelphia Eagles beginning July 26th. EXPLAINER: Was Devon Allen too fast for his own good?

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