Track & Field Photo Finishes

I know that most of you who read this aren’t sprinters and you may not even follow track and field that much (if at all). For those who do, this one’s for you.

We had a good discussion about photo finishes and how it is determined who wins in those close races. And given the “photo finishes” at the track & field World Championships in Osaka this past week I thought I post this.

2007 IAAF World Championships 100 meter final photo.

This is an actual photo from the electronic equipment used for photo finishes. It is a high speed picture. The cameras are mounted about 10-12 feet above the track to the outside (sometimes the inside). Notice the distortion of the runners. The green vertical lines align with the torso of that runner as they crossed the finish line. Torsos are timed, not arms, legs or heads. If you follow the line to the bottom there is a scale of time. The big lines are in 10ths of seconds (10.1 = 10 and 1/10 of a second). The smaller lines between are 100ths. Official times are always rounded to the slower 100ths in track. So if that green lands between the scale lines, it is read to the next slower line.

A couple other tidbits:
In the upper left you see the date and the wind speed. It has to be less than 2.0 meters per second. 2.0 m/s or greater is considered “wind aided”. That means the time is not eligible for record purposes. In case you’re wondering, that is a very light breeze! In this case it was a “minus” wind or a slight head wind of .5 m/s.

The table in the lower left shows place, and final time. Also note the reaction time which is measured electronically from the starting blocks. It is triggered by the pressure applied to the starting blocks. The starters gun is electronically connected as well. Most meets do not have the starting blocks wired. But, if the starters gun is connected to the electronic timing/photo system it is called Fully Automatic Timing (FAT). These are the only times that can be recorded in 100ths. All other times have to be recorded in 10ths. Yes… that means that even though your wrist chronograph stops on 10.42 seconds it would have to be read and recorded as 10.5.

Trivia points: The accepted translation from a hand-timed to an FAT time is to add .24 seconds to the hand time to get your FAT equivalent. However, you cannot do that and then call it “Fully Automatic Timed”. This is just a standard for comparison sake. It remains a hand-timed time and remains in 10ths.


About Dean Hebert

I’m a mental game coach, author and speaker. I work with individual athletes, parents, coaches, and teams on sports performance enhancement. Beyond my academic post-graduate work in sports psychology - the psychology behind athlete performance – I am a certified Mental Games Coaching Professional (MGCP) and certified hypnotherapist. I’ve authored several books and hundreds of articles. “Coach, I didn’t run because…” (2008) is a seriously light-hearted look at making excuses not to workout and how to overcome them. “Focus for Fitness” (2009) and “Screw the Goals Give me the Donut” (2010) are two of my eBooks on mental game approaches for the everyday athlete. I wrote these because I believe that everyone can benefit from the powerful mental techniques that the world’s best athletes use. I have been cited in Runners World, Best Health magazine (CN), SWEAT Magazine, and the Washington Examiner amongst many other publications. I have been a featured mental games coach in Runner’s World and for the internationally acclaimed trail running resource - I also regularly appear on sports and fitness talk shows such as LTKFitness, Runnersroundtable and for more than three years I have co-hosted a weekly video series with Coach Joe English for I specialize in mental toughness training. My clients include tennis, synchronized swimming, golf, race-kart, soccer, motocross, volleyball, MMA, cycling (road, off-road, time-trialist), running, duathlon and triathlon, basketball, football and baseball athletes. I have coached world-class athletes and athletes internationally. I have a passion for working with youth athletes and helping them apply mental game skills and techniques to all areas of life. Most importantly, my aim is to have people enjoy sports and life to their fullest through peak performances.
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