As athletes improve, so must timing

Yesterday’s women’s downhill was an exercise in timing precision. For the first time in Olympic alpine skiing history, we had a tied for a gold medal and the bronze medalist finished just one-tenth of a second behind. The Olympic Zone has more on how far timing technology has come in recent decades. 

At the Olympics there are the artists, athletes who compete before a discriminating panel, sometimes leaving results up in the air; and then there are the racers, athletes who compete against a clock. In racing, the clock doesn’t lie. 

“I’ve always been a little biased towards ski racing, or sports that are judged solely by the clock. You can’t hide behind that,” U.S. skier Marco Sullivan said.

Timing has always been crucial to the Olympics, but athletes are getting faster and stronger and equipment continues to improve forcing technology to become even more accurate, particularly in sliding sports like bobsled.

“You go to the ’32 Olympics, the first and second place in one heat would be 2 or 3 or 4 seconds. In our day, the difference between first or second place is very commonly a hundredth of a second. A long time ago it was the champagne of thrills and now it is the mixture between science and sport,” NBC analyst John Morgan said.

A science that is measured in just the blink of an eye.

“You’ll see hundredths of a second separate people in the gold, silver, bronze medals, and even somebody who won’t get a medal by a hundredth of a second,” Morgan said.

Which makes for some of the most exciting finishes in sports, including the 2-man race in 1998 when there was a tie for Olympic gold.

Scenarios like that one may soon be a thing of the past

Jumping to the next Olympic Games, Omega is saying they can time down to one millionth of a second

In case you’re wondering, a millionth of a second is to the sixth decimal point. Bobsled still times to one hundredth of a second, but the most precise timing at the Olympics is in luge and short track, which are timed to the thousandth of a second.