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A theory on reaction times 2011-2013


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  • A theory on reaction times 2011-2013

    In the wake of the 2022 reaction time issue I've been thinking more about the 2011-2013 period where reaction times at the major championships were higher than before and after.

    My reading of the data had been that the increase in reaction times was a subtle change in sprinters' behaviour following the introduction of the immediate disqualification for a false start, first used at a major championship in 2011.

    I am now not so sure that's right. Below is a chart showing the average* reaction times for the finals of the men's and women's 100m, 200m and high hurdles. You can see the increase for 2011-2013.

    I am wondering if what happened here was that following the introduction of the one-and-done false start rule, there was 0.010 seconds added to all measured reaction times, simply to reduce the chance of a false start. This could have been added into the electronics very simply during the calibration process in setting up the equipment. It was simply a cautionary allowance to prevent the introduction of the new rule creating a spate of false starts, which then added 0.01 seconds to all the times.

    After three championships with the new rule, the 0.010 seconds allowance was removed, and average reaction times returned to those before 2011.

    The average reaction time in 2011 was 0.167 seconds, higher than the average of 0.161 for 2012 and 2013. This difference of 0.006 seconds would then be the actual change to behaviour as sprinters on average were a (very) little more cautious.

    I obviously cannot prove if this idea is correct. Seiko, who runs the timing, won't reveal anything about how the reaction times work illustrating again the lack of transparency in the technical details of measurement. I would, however, be willing to bet a small amount that this did happen.

    RT 2005-2020.jpg

    * Its the average of the fastest six reaction times in each final, which is simple way to remove the outliers.
    100m - A New Look at the World's Greatest Race

  • #2
    JC makes total sense. Back in the day, before reaction timing, everyone would "study" the starters and try to figure our their "rhythm" and I think this carried over until 2011. Some people were really good at anticipating the gun and probably got away with starts in the range of .0101 to say .0135 that were really just "good guesses."

    Would be interesting to compare the data to the decathlon 100/110H starts as decathletes were given more leeway. (I'm not sure of the evolution of decathlon start rules but in the late 60's/early 70's a decathlon 100/110H race could take forever.