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There is an apparent consensus that when the track begins to curve during longer races, lanes 1 and 8 are marginally worse to run in.

But for a 100m sprint, is there any reason (whether psychological or practical) to prefer one lane over another?

  • I gathered from the commentary on Wayde van Niekerk's 400m record that additionally the outside lane is seen as a disadvantage in the 400 because of the inability to see your competition. I'm thinking of two fair possibilities in the 100, perhaps leading to central lanes being favored: drafting... and the closer viewing proximity of more competion. But don't know that either would have much concrete evidence. – JeopardyTempest Aug 16 '16 at 6:03
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The only practical preference for lane assignment in the 100m sprint is for a matter that's no longer the case at the Olympic games and many other large competitions. In 2008, research was published that showed that sprinters nearer to the starting gun (which is always inside lane 1) had slightly quicker reactions to the gun. This is because of their proximity to the gun as well as the shot having just a little more volume to their perspective. The use of electronic pistols began in 2012 for the Olympics and you can see them today sitting just behind the starting blocks in each lane to provide a uniform starting shot for everyone.

I perused a few scientific studies that explore factors in straight-line sprint times and didn't come across any mentions of lane assignments being a factor in any way (other than what I described with proximity to the starting gun).

As far as psychological impact, it's a possibility but I think that comes down to the individual--two people could view the same situation in difference lights and a third might not think about it at all. For example, one sprinter may feel uncomfortable being on an outside lane because they might not feel like they're "in" the race as much; while another may enjoy that situation because they can keep track of everybody else by simply eyeing in one direction and it could feel like it's them against this block of "everyone else". One could argue that a middle lane is best because you have other good runners pushing you from either or both sides. Bottom line, though, I think it just comes down to personal preference and no lane has an inherent advantage over any other.

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