Devon Allen Sunday night at the stadium, Hayward Field stood on the starting pad, believing the next 12–13 seconds could change his life.
All it took was one thousandth of a second.
Back in town where he won the NCAA championship and qualified for the 2016 Olympics to a roaring sympathetic crowd while starring in Oregon, Allen was three steps away from the 110m outdoor track and field world finals when he heard the second turn of the starting pistol, sports signal for a false start. He thought that he was all right, that his beginning was clean.
Sensors on the blocks determined that Allen exited his blocks 0.099 seconds after the shot, one thousandth of a second faster than World Athletics“The margin is 0.1 — in other words, one thousand seconds from what the sport’s global governing body technically considers the ideal start.
Instead, it was the start of a nightmarish evening that had him shaking his head almost an hour later.
“When they spotted me, I was very surprised, which was also part of the disappointment, because I know for a fact that I didn’t react until I heard the shot,” Allen said. “And be one thousand faster, which, I know I’m fast, but it sucks.”
When Allen disappeared from lane three, and Jamaican Hunsle Pearment, the gold medalist of the Tokyo Olympics, disappeared from lane five due to an injury sustained during the warm-up minutes before the final, when he overcame the barrier and injured his leg, American Grant Holloway ran out into lane four, surrounded on both sides by a free lane. Without a visual peripheral to tell him where he was, he felt like he was in training rather than defending his 2019 World Outdoor Championships.
It didn’t matter. He won the gold in 13.03 seconds and, crossing the line, raised his thumb and little finger in the shape of a phone and brought it to his ear.
“It’s just one of those things where it’s athletics. Pardon my language, but s— it happens,” Holloway said. “Hansle falls, Devon false start, it’s just one of the things when you focus, refocus, clear 10 obstacles and have to be first at the finish line before everyone else.”
American Trey Cunningham was second in 13.08 and Spain’s Asier Martinez was third in 13.17.
Allen’s suspension was one of the few breaks that did not benefit the Americans on the day they collected nine medals, the nation’s most in a single day at any World Championships in Athletics, breaking the previous Soviet Union record of eight medals in 1991 year. It was also the first time that a country had won four gold medals – Holloway, Ryan Krauser in the men’s shot put, Katie Najotte in the women’s pole vault and Brooke Andersen in the women’s hammer throw – in the same day.
Cunningham called four minutes of uncertainty from the false start to the moment Allen was taken off the track. One of the fans could be heard yelling “bulls—” clearly across the $270 million stage – “fake”. – the beginning of the fiasco.
“We thought he should have stayed,” Cunningham said. “Even the people who were in the stands next to us thought that he should be in the blocks. I don’t think it’s because he’s American. I think it’s because he didn’t start wrong.”
Holloway said: “Even when the gun went off and we got a call back, they said a false start on the third page. Even I said to Devon, “Go protest.” ”
Allen did so, crossing the path to the inner railing to speak to two officials four times, returning each time to stand behind his blocks pending a decision. When one official finally showed him two red cards, fans realized that Allen’s potential return from the storybook to Oregon was no longer possible. It was not easy for Allen to reach the final. His father, Louis, died in June, the day Allen qualified for the World Championship at the US Championships. He fled with a four-year-old tattoo on his left arm, which had gotten sharper in the last month: the title of his father’s favorite song, “Everybody Loves the Sun.”
Then, four days before the final, Allen said he had injured his hamstring and his semi-final qualification earlier Sunday afternoon didn’t go as easily as one would expect from a man who posted the third fastest time ever in June. – 12.84 seconds. Uncertainty also hung overnight as to when Allen would race again. On July 26, he reported to the Philadelphia Eagles’ training camp for his bid for the roster as a wide receiver, a position he played in Oregon before knee injuries forced him to retire from football in 2016 to focus on track and field.
“My goal is to be the best hurdler and I still have a chance to do it,” Allen said. “And my goal is to play in the NFL and help the Eagles right now, win the Super Bowl, so there’s not much I can do. It’s just one race, which is frustrating.
Athletics is so difficult because you train for a whole year for one competition that lasts 12 seconds, 13 seconds, and that’s it. It’s like your personality is based on that one competition, which is frustrating, but it happens and I’ll learn from it and I’ll make sure I don’t react so quickly next time.”
Steve Magness, a former college coach, noted on Twitter that in 2009 World Athletics commissioned study determine the “neuromuscular response to the sound signal used at the start of the sprint”. Translation: How quickly can people react to a starting gun? The results, which tested seven of the best Finnish sprinters, showed that some of them reacted in as little as 80 milliseconds.
“They recommend lowering the 100ms limit to 80ms or 85ms,” the results announcement states, “and the IAAF urgently looking into the possibilities of kinematic false start detection so that judges’ decisions are based on the first visible movement, regardless of body parts.”
Thirteen years later, the standard of 100 milliseconds remains. As well as the result of the World Cup next to the name of Allen: did not start.