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Trey Kerby

Just like the Games, Olympic timing has changed for the better

Fourth-Place Medal

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Ever wonder how they get those precise times in every Olympic event without catastrophic international protests? "Computers" is the easy answer. But in reality, it's a lot more complicated than that.

Catching up with Omega Timing, the official timekeeper of the Olympics, Beyond Binary's Ina Fried has the details of the myriad improvements made from year to year. The updates are amazing, but even better is the way times used to be figured for the Games.

Less than a century ago, the timing of downhill skiing required someone at the top and bottom of the run, each with a stopwatch synchronized to the time of day.

Every few skiers, the timer at the top would send down a piece of paper with the start times of the last few skiers and then some math would ensue, eventually resulting in the time of the run being calculated.

That seems somewhat less than reliable. Obviously changes were made, and this year's Olympics will be the most high-tech yet.

Not only is everything electronic, of course, but the sensors are often tied to the athletes themselves. In speedskating, racers wear a transponder that can measure not only start and finish times, but also determine other things, such as acceleration in and out of a turn. ...

This year ... Omega is adding a new electronic starting gun that replaces the traditional pistol and blank cartridge. The new gun emits a consistent light and sound that can be used with a time-synchronized photo as a backup if the electronic timing system were to fail.

Basically, there's no way to mess this up, outside of reading a photo finish incorrectly. But with a camera taking pictures at 2,000 frames per second, even that has gotten a lot easier.

Now if we could just figure out a way to replace judges with robots, we wouldn't have any problems. Right, Evgeni?

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