The Lost Art of ‘Jumping The Gun’.

Racing starts in competitive swimming, before the no-false-start rule, was known as a three start rule. The three start rule allowed for the potential of an anticipated start without disqualification. I relished in this.

In the three start rule, if a swimmer went early, the Starter would stop the race by a false start rope dropping across the pool and the swimmers were recalled. Sometimes the decision that the start was not fair was bit late so there was a bit of a palaver as swimmers swam under the false-start rope. An entertainment of questionable humour as a Referee and Judges ran down poolside blowing their whistle repeatedly whilst good samaritan swimmers tried to use the backstroke flags to stop them.

The ‘no false start’ rule that is in place today, is exactly that; no leaving early or automatically you are disqualified. You would even be disqualified at the end of the race for leaving early. Always an unhappy event in a 1500fr or a 400im

In the three-start rule; the first start was often prone to one swimmer diving purposefully early. More often than not this was to annoy the other competitors who were eager just to start racing. Or also likely; a swimmer just wanted to get wet before racing to wake themselves up and purposefully annoying their competitors. Another false start was caused by swimmers trying to anticipate the signal. This was an art.

If the first start was recalled, the second start normally was the start that started the race, not very often did the race go to the third start.

However if the race was recalled due to a ‘jumper’ on the second start, then the third start rule would be employed: any person in any lane moving early was disqualified. Basically this third start scenario is the rule in place today.

The lost skill that few swimmers attained was the perfect timing of an anticipated start. A fine line between anticipation and a false start was only a fraction of a second. A fast reaction is around .6s so I think a perfectly anticipated start would have been .3s. Sadly it is a lost skill because the risk of disqualification.

Likely it wasn’t a sad event when the rule change happened for Referees or Starters since every false start increased the time spent running the competition.

However without any empathy for officiating, a perfectly anticipated start, had to be so perfect that a Starter would let it go.

I loved nailing a perfectly anticipated start. I guess it might be a grey area like diving in football (soccer), no pun intended btw. But like a football dive it would win the event. It was part of a skilled swimmers’ repertoire of skills because an anticipated dive would net a swimmer at least a half a body length or more.

In a perfect ‘jumping the gun’ scenario, it was obvious that the swimmer started slightly before the others, but importantly, not before the signal noise for the Starter to recall the race.

Every now and then, in the perfectly anticipated start, a swimmer gained about three tenths of a second. Add into the mix; a huge dolphin kick and a smooth breakout, then a swimmer could pop up close to a whole body length ahead. Pure joy and a podium finish. Or a false-start rope around your neck.

About Coach Gary

I competed in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul representing Canada and coached in the 2000 and 2004 Olympics for Great Britain. I have a degree in History and a minor degree in Psychology from University of Calgary. I have travelled extensively and have been very lucky to see so much of the world while representing Canada and Great Britain at swimming competitions. I am very proud of the fact that I coached a swimmer to become number one in the world in the fastest swimming race in 2002. I pride myself in my ability to find new and interesting ways to teach swimming. I am an accomplished artist specialising in sculpture, I have another blog called 'swimmingart' where I publish some of my swimming drawings. I have three young children; all boys. I have recently taken up painting and yoga....but not at the same time. You can see my new paintings at: https://www.artgallery.co.uk/artist/gary_Vandermeulen
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