Keeping Score

Really, Track? Usain Bolt Disqualified from 100-Meter Final After False Start

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Chris McGrath / Getty Images

Imagine you were a basketball player who committed one innocuous foul – and the referee sent you to the showers.

Or, imagine you’re an offensive lineman who jumped offsides, then spent the second half on the sidelines.

It would never happen, of course. So why was Usain Bolt kicked out of the 100-meter final at the World Track and Field Championships on Sunday? Bolt, the world’s fastest man, left the starting line .104 seconds too soon, so he was disqualified, because of a new rule installed by track’s governing body that expels racers after a single false start.

(MORE: Usain Bolt, Person of the Year Runner-Up, 2009)

Before 2003, sprinters were not disqualified until a second false start. To prevent situations where a handful of runners jump the gun and delay the beginning of a race, this rule was changed. After one false start, any sprinters who subsequently leave the starting blocks early were disqualified from the race.

That was strict. But this new one-and-done restriction is a total buzzkill. Track is a game decided by hundredths of a second. Is it fair to disqualify a sprinter, who has spent months, if not years, preparing for a specific race, because of a twitch? Plus, Usain Bolt is the sport’s biggest, if not only, attraction among casual fans.  Almost everyone in that stadium in Daegu, South Korea, and among the millions watching on television, was watching because of Bolt. No one wins (except Bolt’s fellow Jamaican, Yohan Blake, who won the gold in Bolt’s absence).

Track should get rid of this rule, right away. Because if Bolt false starts at next summer’s Olympics in London, and has to sit that one out, international outrage will ensue. And legions of fans might swear off track and field for good.

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Sean Gregory is a staff writer at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @seanmgregory. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.