While real starting pistols are no longer used in track and field events, the electronic pistols used now still have a certain degree of uncertainty as runners cannot be fully sure when it would actually fire. This leaves some things to chance as runners who successfully gamble on starting before hearing the sound get a small advantage initially.

So why not solve the issue completely by making the starting sound 100% predictable? Events could use a system similar to motor sports where a set of three lights in fixed intervals indicate when the race begins. This would make it possible for athletes to reliably predict when to push off and leave absolutely nothing to chance.

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    The entire point of going away from your proposed system was that everybody would be able to go early, by a small fraction, before the gun. Now there is no way to know - and anybody who starts within a small margin of the gun is deemed to have false started. It's highly unlikely a runner can consistently get an advantage from gambling - so only those who react instead of gambling can get anywhere important in the long-term. – Nij Oct 30 '17 at 18:49
  • @Nij allow everyone to go at the very same millisecond as the "gun" goes off. Problem solved. – JonathanReez Oct 30 '17 at 20:47
  • But your solution doesn't do that: some will learn the timing and go perfectly, so they're not reacting to the gun, they're going when they want to go. You're talking about a time trial, not a race. – Nij Oct 31 '17 at 0:32
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    @Nij has the answer: the human starter is supposed to be unpredictable, so the race actually starts when the gun sounds and not when the runners expect it to sound. (It's a subtle difference, but in races won by hundredths of seconds, it's important.) – pjmorse Nov 1 '17 at 16:27

IAAF rule 162.2 ("The start") says:

All races shall normally be started by the report of the Starter’s gun held upwards.

and 162.6 ("False start") specifies that:

An athlete, after assuming a full and final starting position, shall not commence his start until after receiving the report of the gun.

Your question, I think, proposes changing this rule, and you're looking for arguments against. The IAAF rules don't offer justifications, so it's difficult to argue from grounds more specific than "but that's the rules", but here are two reasons a mechanical system would not work:

  1. Set: Races where athletes are likely to gain an advantage by anticipating the start are also in the races which include a "set" stage in the start sequence ("To your marks," "set", BANG). The rules provide for the starter verifying that all athletes are in the proper set position (also defined in the rules) before sounding the gun. They could do this before allowing a mechanical process to take over, but because the time between "set" and the start is the main unpredictable variable for starters, this probably wouldn't help much. In other words, to make the start truly predictable, we would need to remove the requirement that the starter verify all runners are in the "set" position before starting.
  2. Jumping the gun: The idea that the start should be predictable changes the actual race being timed. As the rules currently stand, the race starts with the athlete hearing the starting sound and ends when their torso breaks the plane of the finish line. As such, the athlete's ability to react to the starting sound efficiently and effectively is part of the event as it stands. By making the start predictable, you change the beginning of the race to being from the starting signal, and you allow the athlete to anticipate the signal (as long as they don't actually move). (I hope I've explained that change clearly enough.) This changes the race significantly on paper even if it seems like a slight change in theory.
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    You can start the three lights/beeps after the set position has been verified. That's how it works in Motorsports. – JonathanReez Nov 1 '17 at 16:55
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    You can put brakes on a car. Making a group of people hold a pose has its own problems; gamesmanship is more likely as well. – Nij Nov 1 '17 at 17:35

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