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Sprinters’ Advantage

August 7, 2008

An Olympic sprinter’s proximity to the starter’s gun could influence the outcome of a race.


Sound and glory at the Olympics. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

At the Olympics, just a few hundredths of a second can mean the difference between victory and defeat—especially in short sprints. New research shows that that difference could depend as much on a runner’s starting position as it does on athletic performance. University of Alberta researcher Alex Brown and his colleagues analyzed data from men’s 100- meter events at the 2004 Athens Olympics. They found that runners nearest the starter’s gun got an unfair advantage
ALEX BROWN (University of Alberta):
We found that in lane 1 we were seeing significantly faster reaction times.
And further tests revealed that the louder the sound of a starter’s gun, the faster the reaction time.
ALEX BROWN (University of Alberta):
We varied the intensity of the "GO" signal from 80 decibels to 120 decibels. And we found that as we increased that intensity, they were starting faster and faster.
I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.