The hurdles champion in full flight is a strange sight to behold. Amusan is controlled like everyone else. Its torso and head seem to move smoothly along a uniform horizontal plane, immune to the rhythmic turbulence of the lower part of its body, like a rubber bead gliding over the surface of a bathtub filled with piranhas.
But Amusan was not unique in the rest of the aforementioned field in delivering a record-breaking performance in the semi-finals. Of the 22 non-Amusan semi-finalists to post their official finish time, four new national records were set, 12 runners (including the new national record setters) ran their fastest times ever, and 17 (including top character setters) New) ran the fastest races of their season. Amosan’s new world record was 0.28 seconds faster than her previous personal best, a stunning improvement in the short 100m hurdles. She even looked stunned when she learned that she had just run the fastest race in recorded history. The last four times the world record fell, record makers lowered the bar by 0.01, 0.04, 0.01 and 0.03 seconds. It is not inconceivable that Amosan could have broken the record in such a large amount of time; After all, her winning margin in both the semi-finals and the final was roughly the same, and she is clearly the best hurdler in the world in the 100m. But record low times across the board be Weird, and while Michael Johnson picked up a lot of bullshit from Nigerian fans for raising his eyebrow to the new world record, it’s perfectly fair to do so.
There are a number of possible explanations for abnormally fast times at three temperatures. Amosan’s first show of success can be ruled out. Although Amosan shoes made a lot of headlines, her choice to wear adidas spikes meant for distance runners isn’t appropriate at all. Amosan told reporters she’s been dealing with her patellar fasciitis all season, and when she asked Adidas to get the Spike with a softer sole, they recommended a set of lighter haul spikes. The weight difference is more important in hurdles than in a 2D sprint, where runners must raise their legs over 10 hurdles over a 100-meter span. Thus, a shoe that is a few grams lighter turns out to provide more weight for the 100m hurdler than for the 100m hurdler. It does not matter in this case. Amosan wore legal nails, and she smoked everyone. The question isn’t why I set a new record by such a large margin, it’s why the entire field also set records of their own.
This raises the question of the timing system used at Hayward Field. When the margins are good, a difference of a few hundredths of a second makes a big difference, so any fluctuation counts. But then again, it’s not as if USA Track & Field takes these times manually, they have a contract with a company called Lynx for an automatic timing system. Lynx marketing materials pride themselves on cameras that shoot 20,000 frames per second, capable of getting accurate results down to a ten thousandth of a second. They measure reaction times, communicate with sensors on the starting blocks, and have several redundant cameras to make sure they can still triangulate the correct result in the event of a technical error. The specifications are incredibly detailed. [Correction, 4:17 p.m.: The event was timed using Seiko technology, which functions in the same way.]
The crux of the issue here is reaction time. IAAF regulations actually have a maximum reaction time, and any athlete who breaks away from starting blocks in less than 100 milliseconds is given a false start. This is a very punitive rule, as it punishes athletes for reacting well. The Eagles wide receiver and 100m hurdles Devon Allen was disqualified from the men’s final because his reaction time was 0.099 seconds, a thousandth of a second too fast. Studies have shown that humans are able to react within 80 milliseconds, making the 100 millisecond barrier a rather arbitrary and harsh line. It’s not like Allen jumped the gun, he simply moved faster than anyone else. Amosan herself has elite reactions and has been punished before for being A thousandth of a second Very fast. I’m not physiologically able to beat the Lynx timing system, so while there could be a problem with the starting block sensors, it seems indisputable that Amusan made its way from the starting blocks, through 10 hurdles, and all the way to the 100m finish line in 12.12 seconds.
The only remaining culprit is the wind. The track in Hayward Field in Eugene has been known to produce fast times, some with wind assistance, some legal. The company that makes the track deck credits this to their superior work, which may be true, though for our purposes, an incomplete explanation. After all, the men’s hurdles produced a crop of times roughly in line with expectations, and a handful of runners put together their personal and seasonal bests. USATF regulations require officials to use an anemometer for all horizontal jump events and short sprints, which are defined as 200 meters or less. It makes sense: the 400-meter race would necessarily expose the athletes to headwinds and tailwinds. The wind gauge is located on the 50-meter line, at a height of 1.2 meters from the surface of the earth. When the starting gun is fired, the anemometer automatically measures the wind for 10 seconds and reports its detection immediately. Anything over two meters per second, times are recorded in the record books as wind assist.
It was the fateful semi-final where everyone already set records, although it was only 0.924 meters per second. Totally legal. You can tinker with wind correction calculators, which show near parity between Amusan’s semi-final performance and final performance. According to a calculator made for a 2018 article published in European Journal of Sports Science, time 12.06 with 2.5 m/s tailwind equals 12.23 without wind, and 12.12 at 0.9 m/s equals 12.20. Given that this calculator only goes into the tenth place and the actual wind aids were 2.524 and 0.924 respectively, we can assume that the calculations are roughly correct and that the actual Amusan math performance was better in the semi-finals, albeit slightly.
One could make a vanishing minute case of either a wind or time anomaly. Certainly, it is theoretically possible that a gust of wind greater than 0.924 meters per second swept the semi-finals on the track while recording a lower number on the yards of the scale, or that strong winds blew before or after the scale capture area. But I don’t have enough fluid dynamics theory to figure it out, nor do wind vector field data from the Hayward Field track level from 5:05 PM PT to 6:05 PM PT on Sunday, July 24. It’s also within the realm of theoretical probability that the starting blocks had incorrectly calibrated sensors that reduced each sprinter’s time by a tenth of a second, for example, in the semi-finals before quietly returning to normal before any of the other sprint events. We don’t know, and unless there is a conspiracy among USATF officials, we can’t know. Although the number of new scalar times certainly indicates an irregularity of some kind, the best we can do is outline the potential space parameters.
There is only one objective certainty: Toby Amosan kicked everyone and he is the world champion deserving of a toast.