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Timing Technology Behind Olympic Record Results 118

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the even-clocks-are-at-least-sixteen dept.
An anonymous reader writes "We've been on the edge of our seats cheering on the athletes at the Beijing Olympic games — but so often do athletes' victories and defeats rely on accurate timing. As the athletes compete on the world stage behind the scenes technology records their results. This interview with Omega's Christophe Berthaud (video) — the company's 23rd time as official Olympic timekeeper — explores how far the technology has come since the first time it was used in 1932."
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Timing Technology Behind Olympic Record Results

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  • What? TFA? (Score:5, Funny)

    by FredFredrickson (1177871) * on Thursday August 21, 2008 @10:11AM (#24688925) Homepage Journal
    I swear I tried to RTFA, but.. uh.. it doesn't exist...
  • by hal2814 (725639) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @10:17AM (#24689043)

    Winning Olympic events that involve fastest finish have nothing to do with accurate timing. Getting a world record might but everything about getting a medal is relative to your performance against your peers. Consistency is all that matters. And given that most of these events are run in qualifying heats, consistency between separate races is often not a factor. Even in race Phelps won by 0.01 seconds, the photo finish was just as telling as the actual clock results.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Specifically concerning the race which Phelps one by .01 seconds, even with all the photo documentation [cnn.com] and the under water video, it was difficult to determine who did what first.

      While I agree with you that timing isn't important during a contest that is head to head with a peer, this electronic timing/reporting is very helpful in events such as fencing, and swimming as the Phelps case proves.

      Now if we could trust the IOC to not allow corruption, I'ld like to see more electronical surveillance in othe
      • by oldspewey (1303305) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @10:49AM (#24689549)

        also track (maybe on the blocks to see who actually is leaving first)

        This is already done - they no longer rely on human judging to determine false starts

        • I wasn't think for false starts, more for actual time spent completing the race. This of course wouldn't be in any record books, but would be very helpful for useless commentary.
          • just fyi, in the Australian coverage of the swimming the constantly told us the reaction time of the athletes, i.e. how long they spent on the blocks. And then yes the useless commentary that followed with "she was last of the blocks with a shocking start 0.5 seconds slower than so and so, but by the turn she was ahead..." etc

        • Does anyone else think the false start thing in track is kind of silly? They charge the first false start to the "field"? So there's some incentive for people who will likely lose to false start once just in hopes of messing others up.

        • Now if they'll come up with non-human judging for extremely subjective events like gymnastics, artistic skating, or diving, we'd be in business. These two events are dominated by the whim of the judges and their respective federations, so even if a professional or most of the audience objectively thinks one routine is better than another, that can be overridden by a judge or a director on a power trip.

          An example is a FIBA secretary general [wikipedia.org] changing the outcome of a close basketball game against the rules in

        • by geirnord (150896)

          Soon all Olympians will be assimilated into the Borg cube.

      • [...] Now if we could trust the IOC to not allow corruption, I'ld like to see more electronical surveillance in other events, such as tennis (perhaps on the rackets) and also track (maybe on the blocks to see who actually is leaving first).

        I eagerly await the day that high res, high speed video cameras and sophisticated software can finally provide objective results for sports like gymnastics and diving.

      • by Stooshie (993666) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @12:10PM (#24690735) Journal

        ... I'ld like to see more electronical surveillance in other events, such as tennis ...

        HawkEye [hawkeyeinnovations.co.uk]. Used in Wimbledon and all the grand slam events. Used for the first time in the Beijing olympics.

    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Uh, did you watch any of the track events? In the preliminary rounds, the winners (1st, 2nd, sometimes 3rd and 4th) of each heat go to the next round, along with the next fastest times from all the heats. Thus, accurate timing is vital.

    • by sunking2 (521698)
      Except in ensuring a legal start. These need to be done by timer. It'd be intersting to see what the individual times bettwen leaving hte platform and wall touch are. Was Phelps the faster swimmer or starter, not that it matters other than being academic? You can't tell without synching with the start timer.
      • by Bender0x7D1 (536254) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @11:12AM (#24689849)

        They do collect all that information. They know how long it takes someone to leave the platform, how long to turn, everything. While the networks don't focus on that data, if you listen to some of the commentators, they will reference that data during the race.

        I don't know for certain, but I'm assuming all timing data would be made available to a country's olympic committee, which would then make it available to the coaches and athletes.

    • by hotdiggitydawg (881316) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @11:01AM (#24689723)

      given that most of these events are run in qualifying heats, consistency between separate races is often not a factor.

      I disagree. Frequently the final is comprised of the three fastest from semifinal A, the three fastest from semifinal B, and then the two fastest remaining competitors from either race. Consistency between races is extremely important to these people.

    • by Vellmont (569020)

      I'd rather not get into a semantic argument about the differences between "accuracy" and "consistency". I think the important thing here is really about "scope", i.e. accuracy/consistency across a single competition. The judging needs to be consistent across any single event, or combination of events that will determine a winner. To ensure fairness, the scope may encompass all the heats/races among a single competition, or maybe individual heats/races (depending on the rules of course). If the scope is

    • The photos were totally inconclusive. There wasn't a single photo (or video frame) shown where one swimmer was touching the wall, but the other was clearly not. They should have used the same kind of cameras as used for running races, and horseraces. I was very surprised that they don't.

      • by LordKronos (470910) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @11:38AM (#24690221) Homepage

        Inconclusive? You could clearly see a gap between cavic's finger and the wall. Whereas phelps fingers were bent back a bit from contacting the wall.

        http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/multimedia/photo_gallery/0808/oly.phelps.sequence/content.5.html [cnn.com]

        • Technically, Phelps should have been disqualified. In butterfly, one's hands must touch the wall at the same time, and from the photo finish he clearly touched with his right hand before his left. Also, if you reach with one hand outstretched further than the other, then clearly you'll get to the wall faster.
          • by h2_plus_O (976551) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @03:08PM (#24693625)
            That rule is intended to keep people actually swimming butterfly, and it's OK if your hands touch slightly apart time-wise. What's not OK is if you break form (by stroking with one arm while lunging with the other hand) to attempt to out-reach someone, or if you don't bring both arms forward on that next stroke.
            Phelps' shoulders remained square, he brought both hands around consistent with the rules, and the judges made the right call here.

            Also note- the touch pad has no way of measuring when a swimmer touches with both hands, it only measures when contact is made. It is this contact that determines one's time, not the placement of the second hand. Once the time is turned in, the decision of whether it was legally accomplished (or a DQ) is a separate one.
        • by sjames (1099)

          He might have been referring to the frame by frame from the regular cameras they showed first (where at 30 frames/second, it couldn't resolve the .01 second difference) rather than the much clearer footage from the high speed cameras we saw later after it was reviewed.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by swimmar132 (302744)

        The officials have access to high speed cameras (10,000 frames per second or something) -- those images aren't released to the media.

        • by pdxp (1213906)
          Not true; I saw the finish and immediately after the showed the overhead high-speed camera view. Truly an amazing sight!
          • by MrCreosote (34188)

            The cameras used by the officials in swimming are under the water, so they don't have to deal with splash obscuring the swimmers hands. Those images are not released to the media.

        • by bitingduck (810730) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @01:56PM (#24692459) Homepage

          Finish cameras (at least for racing events where you cross a line) are of a totally different sort than regular square format image array cameras.

          They use a "line scan" camera that just photographs the finish line (and nothing around it) with a line of pixels at MHz pixel readout rates and get effectively tens of kHz rates for the whole line. The images are then reconstructions of the time series of data at the line- hence the lack of background and the distortion you often see on photo-finish cameras. There are systems now that also combine this with a regular video camera (synced) looking at the line from the front so they can read numbers off of runners.

          I'm not sure how they deal with it for swimming--the line scan doesn't seem like a good approach, but a quick search will probably turn up details...

      • by geekoid (135745)

        Yes there are picture that are conclusive.
        They showed them to the coach of the other swimmer and he stopped that former complaint.

        • by X.25 (255792)

          Yes there are picture that are conclusive.
          They showed them to the coach of the other swimmer and he stopped that former complaint.

          Jesus, how many dumb fucking people are on this planet.

          He nor his trainer didn't fill the complaint. If was done by the olympic 'comitee' of his country.

          Maybe next time you should listen to what people involved say, instead of inventing shit?

    • by Stooshie (993666)

      ... Winning Olympic events that involve fastest finish have nothing to do with accurate timing ...

      Timings in all races are important as each athlete's time is measured against their official personal best and also against their national records (British Record, U.S. record...), their continental records (European, Americas, African...) and other groups (Commonwealth).

    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by discards (1345907)
      No, the photo finish actually shows Phelps did NOT win that race. It clearly shows Cavic touched the end of the pool first: http://100thofasecond.com/milo-cavic-beats-phelps.jpg [100thofasecond.com] So the clock can still be wrong, and should not always be relied upon
    • by fermion (181285)
      Not exactly so. Accuracy means that we have measured something close to a true value. In terms of science, this means the time needed for a cesium-133 atom to perform 9,192,631,770 complete oscillations. It is true that in terms of winning a single race accuracy is not important. A photo will do.

      In quantifying a races around the same time, however, something else, namely precision becomes an issue. The racers can be measures in whatever time units, say jankles, but to compare time between races, ther

  • Finally! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 21, 2008 @10:21AM (#24689109)

    It's about time!

  • Why the difference? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    In the video the Omega spokesman says that the cameras on the track take 2000 frames per second. However at the water cube the cameras only take 100 frames per second.

    Why the difference? Wouldn't it make sense to use a more precise camera at the swimming events since their times seem to so frequently differ only by a 100th of a second?

    These guys have so much money to build these buildings and all the other stuff you think they could scrounge up the dough for an extra camera.

    • by LordKronos (470910) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @11:09AM (#24689807) Homepage

      It may have to do with regulations for individual sports. Each individual sport has its own set of rules and committees. Is has been made obvious this week, gymnastics doesn't allow ties, but I believe swimming does (IIRC, during the first few days we had a tie for bronze). If 1/100 second is the accepted resolution for swimming and any smaller interval is considered a tie, there doesn't serve much purpose in taking more photos. Each photo would be precisely timed to take place exactly as the clock ticked over. Anything more might be useful for a pissing contest, but by the regulations is unnecessary, and perhaps even undesirable (as the media might try to push one as being the true winner, rather than just accept the tie and giving both their due).

      • by uberdilligaff (988232) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @12:52PM (#24691439)
        I have officiated swimming competitions for nearly 20 years, and LordKronos has it exactly right. Both USA-Swimming and FINA (international swimming governing body) rules require that races be decided by accurate electronic timing precise to 1/100 sec, and no more. Further precision to 1/1000 sec is neither desired nor permitted, and by rule, swimmers who have the same time to the nearest 1/100 sec are tied and share equally in the place. At the velocity of Olympic swimmers (Phelps' 100 fly averaged 1.98 meters/sec), the .01 sec time difference amounts to a 2cm margin of victory.
      • by h2_plus_O (976551) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @04:44PM (#24695239)

        If 1/100 second is the accepted resolution for swimming and any smaller interval is considered a tie, there doesn't serve much purpose in taking more photos

        Indeed. There was at least one shared medal in these olympics as a result.
        Note that when a tie needs to be broken (for example, to determine who advances on to semis or finals) it is done in a swim-off heat (this happened at least once during these games) rather than by going to the next decimal point.

      • You're right, but it is worth noting that the timing system itself does have a resolution greater than 1/100 of a second, they just don't show the extra digits. However, they did go to the 1/1000th resolution once. in 1972. You can read about it here:

        http://www.cbc.ca/olympics/blog/sports_commentators/byron_macdonald/photo_finishes_in_swimming.html [www.cbc.ca]

        FINA eventually decided that no pool could possibly be built so precise that using 1/1000th of a second would be a fair way to judge a final, so they allow ties

    • by demaria (122790)

      Swimming events are over when the athlete touches the wall, while track events requires the head to cross the finish line. The photos in the swim events are more like a backup device, while track requires the more expensive high framerate cameras.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by _Shad0w_ (127912)

        Actually from what the guy was saying, I think the torso is the timing point for a track race.

    • by Footix (972079)
      By the rules of swimming, if the athletes have the same time to the hundredth of a second, it's a dead heat. Athletics goes to the photo finish, so even if two athletes have the same "official" time, the tie gets broken.
      • By the rules of swimming, if the athletes have the same time to the hundredth of a second, it's a dead heat. Athletics goes to the photo finish, so even if two athletes have the same "official" time, the tie gets broken.

        No, even in track and field, there can be a tie, as seen in the womans' 100 m dash, where two sprinters tied for 2nd.

        • by Footix (972079)
          In that case, it really was a dead heat. Notice that in the womens' 100m hurdles, the 2nd and 3rd place finisher had the same time, but that tie was broken.
    • by kmsigel (306018) *

      The track camera is line scan and the swimming camera is a traditional video camera.

    • because of the way the finishes work in a pool vs. on a track.

      On the track (and for cycling and other racing sports) they use a line scan camera (I describe it in another post nearby) but it won't work in a pool where they don't actually cross a finish line, but touch a wall.

      And from other posts it sounds like the swimming rules have been designed to accomodate the differences.

  • by HonkyLips (654494) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @11:11AM (#24689839)
    The guy mentions several times that the camera takes 2000 frames per second, but unfortunately states that this gives a precision of "two thousandths" of a second. The actual precision would be "one two-thousandth" of a second... I suppose this is an understandable translation error. But I enjoyed the piece, I was interested that they used a GPS signal to synchronise their systems.
    • At 1:25 into the video I think he pretty clearly says "every two-thousandth of a second".

    • by cduffy (652)

      I was interested that they used a GPS signal to synchronise their systems.

      I can't WTFV (never bothered to install Flash on my system at work, and don't have a sound card here anyhow), but that's no surprise -- a GPS is pretty much the generally accepted way to run your own cheap tier-1 NTP server.

  • by DaMoisture (862785) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @11:28AM (#24690065)
    "No fair! You changed the outcome by measuring it!"
  • by Stooshie (993666) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @11:54AM (#24690479) Journal

    ... We've been on the edge of our seats cheering on the athletes at the Beijing Olympic games ...

    Hey this is slashdot you insensitive clod!

    Each of us to a man (and woman) was picked last for sports.

  • In ancient Greece (Score:4, Informative)

    by gr8dude (832945) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @12:19PM (#24690879) Homepage

    Back in the days, when two runners arrived to the finish line at the "same" time - the race would be held again.

  • Usain Bolt goes for McNuggets [guardian.co.uk]

    Seriously, the guys is amazing. He doesn't need any fancy timing technology. Just some weird food technology.
  • Pools too short (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Pachelbel1414 (1348969) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @02:00PM (#24692529)
    In the video, the touch pad for timing on the wall of the pool looks at least several cm thick, and I assume there are pads at both ends. Does anyone know if the length of the pool is purposely built larger to accommodate the thickness of the timing pad? On the assumption that it's not, and the pads are 3 cm thick at each end of the pool, that means the length of the pool is really 49.94 m instead 50.0 m. The world record time for the 200 m breaststroke is 127.51 secs, for an average swim speed of 1.57 m/s. If the pool is 0.06 m short, then the total length swam would be 199.76 m -- short 0.06 m * 4 lengths. This could affect the time by 0.15 s at those speeds. Just curious.
    • by bmc13 (911734)
      i would be willing to bet that it was designed with that in mind, being that i know of at least one world record that was thrown out after a post race measurement of the pool found it to be 49.97 meters (iirc). (this was due to a divider that splits that pool into 2 25M pools not being pushed exactly into position at the end of the pool for a meet.)
  • by syousef (465911) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @08:57PM (#24698597) Journal

    If the timing technology is so good, why is it that they get the age of China's gold medal winning gymnast wrong by 2 years? She shouldn't be eligible.

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