A photocell in sport – where thousandths of a second count

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A photocell in sport – where thousandths of a second count

Think a second is not enough? Tell that to the athletes who get on the podium by beating their opponent by tenths and sometimes hundredths of a second. That’s less than it takes to blink an eye. Find out how technology is impacting the sport.

Photo cell – when great precision of measurement counts

Where a man cannot cope, he uses the help of technological achievements. In fact, it is difficult to imagine contemporary sport without devices thanks to which it is possible to measure the achievements of individual competitors with great precision. How many times has verification been needed to decide which athlete crossed the finish line first?

In long-distance cross-country running this problem does not exist. The difference between the competitors running to the finish line is counted in minutes, sometimes even in hours. Sprints and short races are different. Here, hundredths of seconds decide about the result. It is similar in swimming, where sometimes the competitors finished the distance practically at the same time.

How did the time measurement at sports competitions develop?

Although we can talk about a technological leap in the case of photoelectric cells only in the last dozen or so years, it is worth realizing that the ways of measuring time of competitors at the finish line have been improved for decades already. 2012 was a special year, when at the Olympic Games in London a photocell was used, which was able to record as many as 10 000 frames per second. This made measurement more accurate than ever before. Judges have since been able to settle disputes over who won a race almost in real time.

However, measurements have not always been this accurate. The photocell in sports was first used in 1948. The breakthrough took place in London, during the summer Olympics. Magic Eye, or Magic Eye, was the device with which a new era of sport began. Since then, the judges, when they were not sure who was the first to cross the finish line, could help themselves with the achievements of modern technology. Thanks to this, mistakes happened much less often than before.

Not only the finish line counts, but also the start

The contest is won by the contestant who is the first to cross the finish line. However, whether the competition was held properly is also determined by whether all athletes start at the same time. Literally a fraction of a second can decide the final result. It is no secret that sound travels slower than light. But what does this have to do with the start?

At the time when only the firing of the starting pistol informed about the start of the race, the competitor who stood closest to the judge was privileged. It was to him that the sound of the gunshot reached a little faster, which allowed for a quicker reaction. To prevent such differences, sound-laser guns were introduced.

The latest technology for more accurate measurements

The newer the technology used in the instruments that measure the competitors’ times, the more precise the measurements are. After all, it is the time at the finish line that decides who will stand on the podium and for whom the medal from the competition will remain only a dream. Nowadays, judges’ mistakes resulting from purely human error are practically eliminated thanks to the use of devices that make measurements with extreme precision.

Main photo: Maksim Goncharenok/

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