Column: "The Sports Trail": Quirky rules of track cause silly problems at state meets

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Sometimes track rules can be almost as complicated as those interesting ones you find in baseball. Last week's state track meets for Berryville, Green Forest and Eureka Springs proved it.

There are supposed to be "new" rules that athletes have to adhere to, or they are disqualified. Foremost in this day and time are the prohibitions against wearing jewelry -- by anyone.

Frequently heard at local and district meets are, "I just got these earrings put in and can't take them out for two more days," or, "My friend gave these to me to wear together until we die."

But enough about the boys.

And there's the problem. Wearing jewelry wasn't a problem when yours truly was running in the '60s. "Men" wouldn't be caught dead wearing the stuff, and there wasn't girls track.

But at meets this year, stubborn kids that refused to accept the rule got nailed. No question by state track time. Wear it and you are disqualified, no matter who you are.

Then there's the false start rule. Used to be each runner got a false start. Trouble was, if eight people in a race all used their one, it would take forever to get that race started.

So they changed the rule to ANY false start and you're out. At the Class AAA meet in Nashville, several outstanding sprinters jumped the gun (now you know where that saying comes from) and were unceremoniously ushered off the track.

Comment heard was, "Long bus ride to do that, and a longer ride home."

But sometimes the rules are more of an obstacle than the competition. Take the pole vault event at the Class AA meet in Dardanelle.

Seems that 24 vaulters sent in their names to participate, but just 12 showed up. At what height do they start the event? They take the top eight places sent in, look at the eighth-place height, subtract six inches, and that's where you start.

That way, all eight positions SHOULD be filled at the end, for sure. Except that the top eight didn't all come. The height was set correctly at 11-2, but just five vaulters could reach that -- to start!

It was suggested they take the top eight that bothered to show up and go from there, but the rule book doesn't say that. So, although there were eight medals ordered, and plenty of willing vaulters to get one, only five were handed out as only five could go that high.

At this point, let me say that both track meets, at Nashville and Dardanelle, were well run. And it only took 40 or 50 people to do it. That's right, lots and lots of volunteers, all familiar with the quirky rules of track.

In fact, at Dardanelle, they had a judge standing at every flight of hurdles to make sure no infractions occurred. Like, you can jump over the edge of another guy's hurdle, as long as you don't hit it. You can knock your hurdle down, no penalty, as long as it doesn't bounce back and hit the one in the next lane.

Or the high jump, where the rule has been changed from "get out of the pit before it falls," to "the bar stays up two seconds after you jump before it counts."

The best part was, the athletes from our three high schools competed hard, gave their best, and won and lost with sportsmanship. That's one rule that should never change.

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