We knew that false starts in sprinting are triggered by a sensor in the starting block. What we did not know is that a false start can still be triggered if a runner breaks after the starting gun—anywhere up to a tenth of a second after. This is because, the thinking goes, the human nervous system can't react faster than that 100 ms, so if a runner breaks within that time, it's because they decided to break before they heard the gun.

That seems sound. But a bunch of really smart people at the University of Michigan have just published a paper that argues the current 100 ms system is unfair for male sprinters. Because the sensors are the same for both men and women, and because it takes less time for a heavier, stronger man to generate enough force to trigger the sensor (11 ms faster, to be exact), the women actually have a wider window to false start without getting caught.

The authors' solution is to lower the force threshold for female sprinters' sensors by 22 percent. That sounds complicated. Let's just take away the vote from them and call it even.


On the Implications of a Sex Difference in the Reaction Times of Sprinters at the Beijing Olympics [PLoS ONE]