Here’s How Some Race Starts May Give Athletes An Unfair Advantage

“On your marks, set, go!”

Those words have a surprising influence over just how well athletes perform in a race, according to new research published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology on Wednesday.

The longer an official waits between cueing athletes to “get ready” and firing a pistol as the signal to “go,” the slower athletes may respond — which would tack time on to their final performance, the study found.

“To be honest, we were quite surprised,” Edwin Dalmaijer, a psychology fellow at the University of Oxford and lead author of the research, told The Huffington Post in an email. “The ‘ready’ cue arouses the athletes very briefly, spiking their alertness, but that effect will die out within a few seconds. The longer they have to wait after being cued to get ready, the slower athletes will be able to respond. So athletes that start after a long pause between ‘ready’ and the starting shot might well be at a disadvantage.”

The researchers analyzed how various athletes responded to the starting pistol cue in the 2010 Winter Olympics’ 500-meter speed skating events. They compared the length of the gap between the “ready” and the “go” alerts with performance times, measuring down to the millisecond.

They found that an extra second between “ready” and “go” made a difference in performance times by adding an average of 672 milliseconds in the women’s race times and 299 milliseconds in the men’s races.

Study co-author Beorn Nijenhuis, a neuroscience researcher at Utrecht University in the Netherlands and a former professional speed skater, said that could make the difference between first and fifth place in the context of elite speed skating.

The researchers concluded that a psychological phenomenon called the “alerting effect” played a key —> Read More