Devon Allen DQ Update: We’ve Got Even More Data Showing Something Was Drastically Different With The Reaction Times At Worlds
by Robert Johnson
July 31, 2022
One of the biggest storylines at the 2022 World Athletics Championships – the first outdoor world track and field champs ever held in the US – was the fact that former Oregon star Devon Allen was controversially disqualified from the men’s 110 hurdles final for allegedly false starting. The computer said he reacted .099 seconds after the gun was fired, and reaction times are automatically flagged for a false start if they are under 0.100, so Allen reacted 1/1000th of a second too soon. He’d been saying all year he was going to win the world title and break the world record before joining the Philadelphia Eagles, but we’ll never know what would have happened as he wasn’t allowed to run the race.
(It’s worth noting that the technical rules (see rule 16.6) don’t say that anything under .10 has to be a false start, but just that an automatic recall is made. However, the starters at Worlds operated like anything under .10 was automatically a false start).
Since then we at LetsRun.com and statisticians across the globe have examined the reaction times in Eugene and realized they were way faster than any other global championship in history and it was true in every single sprint event that people looked at. The odds of that being random chance is super tiny.
I’ve already written two columns on the matter.
In the first column, I wrote that there was a 99.95% chance that Devon Allen was screwed over. A LetsRun visitor who recently completed his mastesr in mathematics wrote in and said I had way undercalculated the odds that the reaction times were just the result of random chance. They thought the odds of it being random was 1 in 900 million, but it maybe could be argued it was 1 in 50,000.*
When I presented some of the data in the columns to World Athletics, they seemed eager to receive it but responded officially by saying they talked to the timing people at Seiko and they were standing by the system. The timers were adamant this was the exact same system used at the last 3 worlds and that it was calibrated correctly.
If that was true, then did they have a theory that would explain why every single round of every single sprint event showed faster reaction times this year than in 2019? Not officially. But behind the scenes and even when talking to people not at World Athletics, I’ve only heard two possible theories.
- Super spikes have been a recent introduction to the sport – maybe they have something to do with it
- US starters aren’t known for being a stickler for DQing someone for a 0.10 violation, they often let someone with “too fast” a reaction time back in, so maybe the athletes had adjusted to this subconsciously and had timed their starts better in the US.
At face value, neither of these wild theories makes much sense. As for the first theory, there were super spikes at the Tokyo Olympics last year and the reaction times there were much slower than this year.
As for the second theory, trying to time the start is an absurd proposition. But even if it was possible, the reality is the starters at Worlds varied by event and were World Athletics starters, not American starters, so why would any athlete try to do it?
Regardless, I figured if I compared the 2022 Worlds’ reaction times to the 2022 USA Trials’ reaction times and found that the Worlds’ reaction times were much quicker, then both of these arguments would be destroyed. After all, both meets were held in the exact same location in America with the exact same shoe technology and just three weeks apart.
So that’s what I did.
I started by looking at the reaction times in the men’s 110 hurdles final at both races.
The contrast is stark – very stark
The slowest reaction time in the 2022 Worlds final was equal to the fastest reaction time in the 2022 US final.
|2022 Men’s 110h Final Reaction Times|
The average reaction time in the US final was 0.170. For the Worlds final, it was 0.122. The difference was 0.048. Pretty convincing.
But skeptics still out there may be thinking, “But maybe Worlds has better starters. The best in the Worlds make it to the Worlds final after all.”
To try and refute that, I looked at the reaction times of all 21 of the US men and women who ran individually at Worlds in a sprint or hurdle event – in the 100, 200, 100h or 110h.
How many of them started quicker in their final race at Worlds than they did in their final race at USAs?
Yes. Every single American that ran at Worlds reacted faster to the gun in their final race at Worlds than in their final race at USAs.
The odds of this happening are 2 to the 21st power or 1 in 2,097,152. It’s the same as flipping a coming and having it land heads 21 times in a row.
And don’t tell me, “But the US sprinters may have been purposely not reacting quickly at USAs as they knew they didn’t want to get DQd and not make the team. They’d only risk it at Worlds.”
That argument doesn’t make sense as it’s super hard to make the US team, but just in case you believe it’s theoretically possible, I also compared every single US runner’s reaction time from their final race at USAs to their first round reaction time at Worlds. Surely there would be more impetus to start faster in the final of USAs than the first round at Worlds.
20 of the 21 reacted faster in the first round of Worlds as compared to the US final (Keni Harrison, who infamously was tossed from Worlds in 2015 for a false start was the only one to have a slower start in round 1 of Worlds than the US final).
The difference in the final round reaction times was .051. The difference between the last round at USAs and first round at Worlds was 0.043.
|Comparing US Sprinters’ Reaction Times at 2022 USA vs 2022 Worlds|
|110h||USA Last Round||Worlds Final||Worlds Prelims|
|Total||3.918 (21)||2.168 (16)||3.006 (21)|
Athletes in bold didn’t run US final so I used the reaction time from the last round they ran at USAs.
Another way to think of that data is like this. In their last race at USAs, just one of the sprinters that made Worlds reacted to the gun in under 0.15. At Worlds, 16 of the 21 reacted at least that fast in their final race.
|#of if US sprinters that ran Worlds that reacted quicker than 0.15 in their final race||1/21||16/21|
World Athletics owes Devon Allen, track fans and statisticians across the globe an explanation. I hope we eventually receive it.
Talk about this article and the 2022 Worlds reaction times on our world-famous fan forum / messageboard. MB: Official Devon Allen False Start / 2022 Worlds Reaction Time Discussion Thread.
*To see the email of the statistician saying it already was 1 in 900 million, go here.
Robert Johnson is the co-founder of LetsRun.com. Do you have some other comparison you’d be interested in seeing him run? Would you like to interview him? Call or text him at 844-LetsRun.com. Email him at email@example.com.
PS. On an intellectual level, I guess I’m open to the possibility that reaction timing is more accurate at these Worlds than at previous Worlds/Olympics as technology generally gets better. But that would fly in the face of the timer’s statement that the exact same equipment was used. I’m also open to the possibility that the reaction timing at USAs is a little slow as I was surprised the gap between USAs and Worlds was so large. But if either or both are true, it doesn’t change much for me from a big picture perspective.
We should have zero confidence the equipment is accurate to 1/1000th of a second. Plus even if we accept the best case scenario for World Athletics – that the timing at this year’s Worlds was accurate but it’s been inaccurate everywhere else in history – the 0.10 DQ rule needs to be tossed as it was based on the old timing equipment.
Lastly, I ran another comparison comparing the 24 reaction times recorded in the three 110 hurdle finals run on the Diamond League circuit this year to the 24 reaction times recorded in the semifinals of the men’s 110 hurdles at Worlds. Once again, the reaction times at Worlds are faster (but the gap isn’t as large as between USAs and Worlds).
The average reaction time in the finals of the 110 hurdles on the Diamond League circuit this year has been 0.142. For Worlds, the average reaction time in the semifinals was 0.130. On the DL circuit this year, only 20.8% (5/24) of the starters in the finals of the 110 hurdles have reacted quicker than 0.13 of a second whereas 50% (12/24) of the starters in the Worlds semis reacted that quickly.
|A Comparison Of The 24 DL Men’s 110h Reaction Times To The 24 Reaction Times From 2022 Worlds Semis
|Total 3.401||Total 3.128|
|Avg 0.142||Avg 0.130|
|# Reacton Times Under 0.130||# Reaction Times Under
|2022 DL Finals||5||10|
|2022 Worlds Semis||12||17|