History of race timing

 In Timing Lessons

Hi! In this post we want to offer you a brief overview of the history of race timing.

Is race timing as old as the very first races?

It’s strange that the Greeks themselves didn’t call on Chronos, god of time, to measure the times for their races. In those first Olympic Games, all that mattered was who won. And technologically there was no way to race timing anyway.

In 1721, when George Graham added a third needle to clocks so that they could count the seconds, this was sufficient for timing marathons; but for athletics events involving shorter distances, seconds were not enough for race timing.

It was rare for two athletes to reach the finishing line of a marathon at the same time, and for this reason race timing and timing in athletics events have quite different needs and requirements.

Since Spyridon Louis won the first marathon in the first modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1.896, sports timing technology for races has developed at an unstoppable rate, especially in the last few years.

History of sports timing

Who were the first to begin timing races?

The first timed races were not athletics events, but horse races in England in 1731. Human races first began to be timed at Oxford University in 1850, taking times with a resolution of a ½ second, using the chronometer model invented by Abraham-Louis Breguet. Races would not be timed with resolutions as high as ⅕ of a second until 1862.

For many years, official race times were recorded in fifths of a second in spite of the fact that the technology existed to time athletics events counting tenths of a second.

The first electronic timekeeping models that counted hundredths of a second appeared in 1902. It was Heuer in 1916 that patented a chronometer with an accuracy of 1/50 of a second, and as a result this company was commissioned to time Olympic Games events from 1920 to 1928.

Heuer’s hegemony over race timing at the Olympic Games ended in 1928, when Longines manufactured a pocket stopwatch that could measure with a precision of 1/100 of a second.

In spite of the precision that had been achieved by this time in sports race timing, it was not without its controversy. Track races, in contrast with foot races on asphalt, require a higher level of precision and, as they are very fast races, two athletes can reach the finish line at almost the same time. In several events the same time was recorded for both first and second place. At this point photographic cameras placed at the finish line began being used to record race results, often resulting in controversy, because in many cases the photos contradicted the official results.

Race timing

What about timing in popular races?

Timings weren’t kept for the first urban foot races; only the time of the winners was recorded.

By the mid-90s timing started being recorded with bar codes in order to obtain a result, albeit imprecise, for each participant. A person was positioned at the finish line to press a button each time a runner crossed it, theoretically recording their time. The runner crossing the line would go to the bar code reading and automatically be assigned the first unassigned result out of the last times recorded, giving his or her finishing time and position. It was a good timing system for races with only a few runners or with very long distances, but problems began to arise when the number of runners was higher or the distance was shorter: first of all, some control was needed to ensure that the athletes stayed in the same order between passing the finish line and having their numbers read. But the biggest problem was when large groups arrived together at the finish line; discrepancies began to appear between the first control at the finish line and the second at the number reading. These discrepancies then had to be compensated for when the results were posted.

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In 1993 the company Championchip was created by a group of university students in the Netherlands. They were the first to apply RFID technology to sports timing. RFID is a technology based on radio frequency modules. These modules are able to identify runners and assign them a time when they pass a detection point.

Years later other manufacturers began to appear, but it was not until 2007 that systems like Ipico Sports and Chronotrack Systems appeared. These systems matched or even improved on the advantages of the ChampionChip timing system.

At Timing Sense we began to develop our own timing system 3 years ago with the clear purpose of improving on the systems available on the market, making use of the more than 10 years’ experience we had in timing races of all kinds.

We have designed an antenna optimised for this application, achieving a reading rate per line above 99.8% All the electronics in our equipment can withstand temperatures of more than 80º and includes smart batteries that allow it to operate independently for more than 10 hours. It doesn’t matter whether you’re 10 metres or 100 kilometres away; from any computer with an internet connection you can check the status of the batteries, antennas, temperature… and, of course, obtain readings easily and reliably.

The job of timing races has never been so simple and intuitive. Welcome to the sports timing revolution!