It’s been called ‘the cruelest rule in Olympic sports’
The gold-medal winners at the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio get all of the headlines, but for every medalist there are many more that suffer crushing defeat after years of training, travelling, and personal sacrifice. But possibly the saddest example of the agony of defeat happened last night when 21-year-old French hurdler Wilhem Belocian was disqualified in the 110-meter hurdles after a single false start. It’s a rule The Washington Post dubbed the “cruelest rule in Olympic sports.”
Belocian had the third fastest season among the nine runners in the heat. If he wasn’t disqualified, it was likely he would have advanced to today’s semi final. After realizing his disqualification, Belocian reacted immediately by throwing his hands up to his face and then fell to his knees and slammed his fist into the ground. After one false move, he was eliminated from competition and would soon have to confront the fact that the years of effort that led to that moment had been in vain.
Hurdlers weren’t always disqualified for a single false start. Before the rule was changed six years ago, in the event of a false start, the entire field was given a warning, and the next runner to jump the pistol was disqualified. But after slower runners used the rule to try and get a competitive edge, the frequency of false starts slowed down track meets, and caused television broadcasts to overrun their time slots. This resulted in a rule change that will affect Belocian’s life forever.
Belocian’s despondent reaction to the disqualification broke the hearts of millions watching the games and left many demanding a rule change.