This weekend in the seeded Boys 6A 1000m race a bizarre thing happened. Peter Smith (Oscar Smith) was called for a false start and subsequently disqualified. Now we will be transparent, at the time watching the race live, about 10 feet away, we thought it was completely the right call. It was also a somewhat refreshing thing to see a false start called in a distance race but after watching this footage it really got us thinking... was this a fair false start or a fair enforcement of the rule.
Now let's be clear, we never want to see anyone disqualified or kicked out of a race for a false start but there is no denying that starters are way more lenient with distance races than sprint races. If you make any movement in a sprint race you're toast but somehow in distance races you can have a two step lead and not be disqualified.
But in this race things are not that clear so let's take a macro approach at this and start with the rule itself.
USATF Rule 162: 13 - a: If, after the Starter has ascertained that all competitors are "set": (a) one or more athletes violate Rule 162.12 by leaving his/her mark before receiving the report of the pistol/starting device, this shall be deemed a false start and the race immediately recalled.
That rule is pretty crystal clear about what a false start is or isn't. Now it does go on to say that...
"in races starting from a standing position, one or more athletes moves or steps over the start line prior to the report of the pistol/starting device, such movement can be considered accidental and not a full commencement of a start because runners in a standing position are more prone to overbalance. Such a situation should be regarded as an unsteady start, and the athletes given a "stand up" command by the Starter, or a recall if the pistol/starting device has fired." - USATF RULE 162: 13 - d
Which makes things a little more complicated. But after clearly watching the start here it gets dicey once again. It actually looks like Colgan's Antonio Lopez makes a movement before the start. If that was the case then it would just be called back and no one disqualified.
All that being said it should be noted that the starter does have a tough job and has to walk a fine line between creating good competition and fair competition. But that doesn't mean we cannot question whether this was the right call or not or whether this rule is fairly enforced.
On a related note, Peter Smith ended up anchoring Oscar Smith's 4x400m relay in 49 to bring home the win for his team and to earn his first track state title.