Technology fit for an Olympic Athlete

If you’ve ever wished there was a photo finish to prove which child won at the school sports’ day track event or wanted to time your friends as they train, then this app is for you. Electric timing was used for the first time at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics. Using his expertise in electromechanics, Swedish inventor Ragnar Carlstedt developed a system where clocks started automatically at the firing of the gun.

At the same time, Carlstedt introduced another revolutionary invention: the finish line camera. The 1,500m Olympic final was excruciatingly close with Britain’s Arnold Jackson winning by just 0.1 second. But it was impossible to decide on the silver medal as two Americans Abel Kiviat and Norm Taber finished side by side. For the first time in history, the outcome of an Olympic event had to be settled based on a photo finish, with Kiviat judged to be slightly ahead.

The significance of these two innovations was lauded in the press, with The Daily News writing: “Electronic timing at the Olympic Games: Simultaneous timing and photography of contestants. A brilliant idea!” The next step in timekeeping was the photo finish camera complete with a time stamp imprinted on each frame. Designed by Omega, this was introduced at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics. The 1948 Olympics saw the introduction of another innovation with the continuous slit camera, which is the basis of all timing systems used today. In 1972, official times were recorded to the 100th of a second, giving incredible accuracy.

At this summer’s London Olympics, the systems will be even more advanced, with finish line cameras that capture several thousand images per second. But, you don’t have to be an Olympic athlete to benefit from electronic timing. Today’s mobile technology has enabled these systems to shrink significantly in size and cost, making them available to all.

A new app, called sprintTimer, has packed a complete photo finish system, with star gun detection and slit camera technology, into an iPhone. Employing the same techniques as the professional equipment used at the Olympics, you start the timer and point the camera towards the finish. sprintTimer will then build an image of narrow slices of the finish line. You can then scroll along the photo to get the time when each competitor crosses the line, so no more arguments about who finished first.

You can also use it for timing laps as the app has a motion detector to start and stop a timer. It means one person can time several runners and it’s easier to determine the order and time differences between competitors. You can also save the data, so if you’re embarking on a training programme, it’s easy to track your progress.

It’s sure to prove popular among amateur and professional athletes and coaches.

“It feels great to be able to follow the legacy of Ragnar carlstedt with another Swedish innovation one hundred years later,” said Sten Kaiser, developer of the sprintTimer. “The response from athletes and coaches has been tremendous.”

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