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Home   /   False starts – should second chances be allowed?

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The horror on any swimmers face after a false start, no matter the level of competition, is unmatched. This was unfortunately the case for Miguel Duran Navia in the 2016 olympics when his chance to become an Olympic gold medalist slipped away as he mistook a noise from the stands as the buzzer, lost his balance and dived into the water before the event started. The men’s 400m freestyle event was placed on hold as Miguel emerged from the water his head in his hands and tears rolling down his face. The heartbreak was evident. Assuming he was disqualified from the race he disappeared under the bleachers.  However, Miguel made his big return being bought back to the blocks by officials, the FINA referees came to the conclusion that the false start was not his fault due to movement on the block by one of his competitors a few lanes away. Miguel was given a once in a lifetime second chance to win the biggest race of his life! This Olympic moment was monumental and heartwarming for many as everybody could see how devastated Miguel was with his mistake. However, this does go against the rules for false starts and leaves me with the question. Should second chances be allowed and when? If Miguel was not so evidently distraught, would he have been left in his despair, disqualified? 

Before the new rule was put in place, the 2007-2008 competition rule 162.7 was that “any athlete making a false start shall be warned. Except in combined events, only one false start per race shall be allowed without disqualification for the athlete(s) making the false start. Any athlete(s) making further false starts shall be disqualified from the race”. 

Under this rule in the World Championships 2007, Osaka there was a total of 26 false starts, 18 male and eight female. In the Olympic Games 2008, Beijing the total was 33 false starts, 26 men and seven women. Finally, in the World Championships 2009, Berlin there was a total of 25 false starts, 18 men and seven women. Overall, this leaves us with an average of 28 false starts in the World championships 2007, 2009 and the Olympic Games 2008. In 2010 there was an introduction of a new rule which states “except in combined events, any athlete responsible for a false start shall be disqualified”. With the introduction of this new rule the number of false starts at major championships decreased from an average of 28 under the former rule to 10 false starts with the new rule. 

Former swimmer for Portsmouth Northsea Swimming Club Maddison Hayward believes that second chances should not be allowed, she claims that “the rules are the rules!”. Maddison committed a false start in a local competition aged 14, “I felt so embarrassed as I got out from the water, I could feel everyone’s eyes on me.” Although experiencing this feeling first hand, she does feel that your performance is not an accurate representation of your ability if you race after you do a false start and that’s why she believes the rule should be “taken more seriously!”

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May 2024