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When Sprinters Beat Technology

For those of you who haven’t been keeping up (or just aren’t sports fans), the 2012 US Olympic Track and Field Trials are being held in Eugene, Oregon this past weekend and next weekend.  Being a former track athlete myself I find these races to be just as exciting, if not more so, than the upcoming Olympics in London next month.

100m Finish

Camera technology. Broken.

So what do the trials have to do with technology? Well, Saturday night something amazing happened. The final for the women’s 100 meter race included a dead heat finish for third place (the last Olympic qualifying place).  Allyson Felix and Jeneba Tarmoh both finished in 11.068 seconds.  Just check the camera, you may say!  Not so fast! (ha, get it… fast… nevermind.)  The finish line camera, which captures images at 3,000 frames per second, could not tell their finishes apart.  For those doing the math, that’s three images taken for every thousandth of a second.  Despite the absolute precision of the camera, Felix and Tarmoh pushed technology to its very limit — and surpassed it.

As of right now the decision for third place could end up between a coin toss (yawn) and a run-off (yeah!) if neither athlete concedes their place.  Regardless of the decision, it will be interesting to see if we’ll see more advanced cameras in London to help prevent these types of disputes.