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Hysplex ( Greek : ὕσπληξ ) is a starting gate used in ancient Greek horse and foot races . This device was set up at the starting line and consisted of an upright vertical bar that held a horizontal gate attached to it held up by a string. Each racer stood behind his own hysplex and all of the strings were centrally connected behind the runners, held by a referee . At the start of the race, the referee let go of all the strings; and consequently the starting gates fell at the same time, releasing the runners.