Modern technology robs elite athletes of Olympic glory

For Australian James Magnussen modern timing technology may have cost him an individual gold medal at the London Olympics.

Loosing an Olympic gold medal by 0.01 of a second… that hurts… a lot! If you didn’t see it, it was the Mens 100m Freestyle in London, the last 25 meters of James Magnussen’s swim was amazing, I was certain he would win… But then, out of nowhere American Nathan Adrian touched Magnussen out by 0.01 of a second.

I had so many different reactions, but here’s the jist of it: The swimming teacher and coach in me screams at my TV, “that was a bad touch” (or something to that effect). The avid Australian swimming team supporter in me yelled very patriotic obscenities at my TV at 5am in the morning. Whilst the curious “question everything” budding scientist in me asked how it came about that such small differences in time are measured accurately.

What if the men’s 100m Freestyle final from last week was raced without the modern timing technology and video replay? Would they have just called it a dead heat and awarded both Nathan Adrian and James Magnussen a Gold medal?

In the “olden days” three timekeepers would use hand held stopwatches to accurately measure the differences in time between swimmers. In the modern era, touch pads to detect time differences are used.

I am almost tempted to say that the reason why records are falling could even be because our timing equipment is getting better? I know – what an outlandish statement. Surely, the training is getting better the athletes are getting faster and stronger. But what if I had tried to time Ussain Bolt’s Bejing 100m run with a stopwatch? In fact, in a documentary on Foxtel before the Olympics, did just that – they found that the times on a held held stopwatch were up to 0.2 seconds outside the time recorded by the Omega timing technologies at the games. Goodness me, don’t get me started on how dependent athletics is on timing technologies!

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t profess to know anything special about timing technologies, but what I have seen in the sport of swimming, is an increased use and dependence on touch pad technology.  I just wonder how many talented athletes have lost gold medals because of this extremely sophisticated touch pad technology in the sport of swimming.

Go back to the 2008 Olympics when Michael Phelps touched out Millorad Cavic by 0.01 of a second… there were many conspiracy theories about how Phelps is a Omega sponsored athlete. Which were quashed, when Omega came out and said that Cavic got there first but did not touch the timing pad hard enough and it was not activated (Youtube link). In fact there are terms coined in the “Urban Dictionary” about this incident (Link is here).
My favourite one would have to be “Caviced” (definition one). I am sure Magnussen feels a little bit Caviced about modern technology.

Here are some further links:
Link to Omega’s offical video about Cavic vs Phelps: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OaXIerEoL_c
Here is a link to Omega watches http://www.omegawatches.com/spirit/sports/swimming

A quick google search of Cavic Vs. Phelps brings up some seriously interesting articles.
For example: http://news.smh.com.au/breaking-news-sport/cavic-says-tech-cost-him-phelps-gold-20090728-dz06.html


5 Responses to “Modern technology robs elite athletes of Olympic glory”

  1. Yumin Zhao says:

    As Cruz guessed swimmers may need to practice their technique in touching the wall in their training. It sounds a little bit ridiculous. But I also think this technology is advanced for computing the time. I think hard touch is temporary. With the development of technology, it can be more sensitive.Then swimmers no need to take time on traing touching the wall.

  2. ateh says:

    An olympic games without winners and losers would be horrible! Modern technology has really helped sport, but yes, its always controversial!! Ah – Hawk eye – I guess it’s a positive, because there was never an official way for the player to challenge the decision made by the umpire or the linesman.

    In 2008 there was so much controversy surrounding the Phelps/ Cavic touch I remember watching the race thinking that Phelps had lost (which had implications for his 8 gold)…. This video shows you just how close the finish really was!!! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E3paiELa7mA

    PS – Thanks cyquek (I am sorry to have to use your username… I can’t see your real first name!) for reading my post and finding it interesting! It’s great feedback on my first foray into the world of “blogging”

  3. cyquek says:

    What an interesting post. I didn’t know about the Cavic’s case… It’s kind of sad to appear to win, but not to win.
    Can you imagine an Olympics without clear winners and losers? I guess that’s when the use of technology to differentiate comes it into its own.

    Ultimately, the use of technology in sports is always a controversial topic. For e.g. the use of Hawk-eye in tennis.

  4. ateh says:

    Yeah I absolutely agree with you that the touch pad technology is much better than relying on someone else’s reaction time. I think over time this timing technology is bound to change and evolve into potentially something even better. This is the great thing about the evolution of technology in all sports, it will improve how the sport is officiated. As for what athletes do, they practice their finishes meticulously, including video analysis at high performance clubs or institutes of sport. The technology used in swimming is seriously cool!!
    Silver is amazing at an olympic games, but you have to feel for Magnussen a bit, such a small margin separating him from what all swimmers view as the pinnacle of achievement. I just hope it makes him more determined to get the gold in Rio 2016!!

  5. cruz says:

    That is quite a flaw with the technology – that you have to touch the pad hard enough for it to detect your time… but what else can be done? I’m guessing that swimmers practice their technique in touching the wall in their training. It was just unfortunate that James Magnussen missed out on gold by 0.01 of a second – but silver is no easy feat.

    Ultimately, I think that this technology is great and that it is more accurate than relying on someone else pressing a stopwatch and their reaction time.