Veronica Campbell-Brown False Start Controversy

Did she or didn’t she?

Did Veronica Campbell-Brown false start at the 2011 Jamaican Championships semi-finals?

The world of Track and Athletics has come under scrutiny over the past few years.  When someone wins, people immediately think drugs.  When Caster Semenya loses a race, you wonder if she is losing on purpose.  When a high profile athlete false starts, that athlete may get “preferential treatment” and not get DQ’ed under the current false start rules. (one false start and you are gone!)

When it appeared Veronica Campbell-Brown false started at the 2011 Jamaican Championships semi-finals, the official was quick to determine is was a mechanical issue with the starting gun.  You can see in the video the “green card” given to her lane.  This was in lieu of Melissa Wallace false starting just moments before.

If you take a look at the video below, it is clear that Veronica Campbell-Brown (otherwise known as VCB) moved before everyone lese.  You can also see an irate Melissa Wallace standing at the sidelines yelling at the officials saying the likes of “Why me, and not her?”.

However, the chief starter Ludlow Watts disagrees.


"It was not really a false start," [Ludlow] Watts asserted.

He explained that the starter’s gun had skipped when he tried to fire and as a result the race would have had to be recalled, whether or not it was Campbell-Brown who had moved first.

"Why you would have recalled the race is because by skipping the first bullet, the timing system would have started and the time recorded for the event (would have been inaccurate)," Watts said.

"As a starter, just as in any other activity, there are things the practitioners know that the average person cannot pick up… there are number of things you look into.

"When an athlete is on their marks, there are certain external disturbance from the crowd, equipment disturbance… it can be the pistol…," he said.

Watts noted that the technical equipment responsible for recording reaction time had also proved there was no false start.

"We have the tape. It was not a false start. There was no protest, so there was no reason for us to go and present anything," he added.

I disagree with Watts.  If you flinch, because of a camera flash or some noise in the audience, you will be charged a false start.  If you twitched because you sensed someone else move, but your starting blocks register a reaction time of 0.100 seconds or less, you will be charged a false start.  Remember Jon Drummond at the 2003 World Championships?  (here is the full length incident on French TV on YouTube)

For more info on reaction times, see Armin Hary and the IAAF Reaction Time Rule (Part 1) and Changing the IAAF Reaction Time Rule (Part 2)

Here is Veronica Campbell-Brown at the 2011 Jamaican Championships semi-finals on YouTube.  She is in Lane 6 closest to the camera.  Melissa Wallace false started just moments before.

Jimson Lee

Jimson Lee

Coach & Founder at
I am a Masters Athlete and Coach currently based in London UK. My other projects include the Bud Winter Foundation, writer for the IAAF New Studies in Athletics Journal (NSA) and a member of the Track & Field Writers of America.
Jimson Lee
Jimson Lee
Jimson Lee