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Olympic Time Measurements

Down to the Millisecond: All About Olympic Timing

With the best of the best competing against one another, photo finishes are inevitable in the Olympic Games — which makes high-tech, extremely accurate time measurements crucial. How do those highly precise times come about? Thanks to Science of the Summer Olympics, the 10-part series produced by Science 360 and NBC Learn, we've uncovered some fascinating facts about the technology behind the numbers.

  • The high-tech Olympic time-keeping system is built using a variety of cameras, lasers, computers, and extremely accurate clocks.
  • All the times are measured down to the millisecond, producing results that are exactly 100 times more accurate than those of a stopwatch.
  • For the track and swimming events, there are speakers installed behind the starting blocks to make sure all the athletes are able to hear the starting gun.
  • Sensors are placed within the starting block to track the athletes' movement, and an electronic signal indicates a false start.
  • During track races, runners move through a laser beam, and a high-tech camera captures over 2,000 digital images per second to ensure the most accurate results.
  • For races with several participants — like cycling and marathons — the athletes are equipped with small electronic tags that attach to their bikes or shoes.

For more information about Olympic timing, watch Science of the Summer Olympics: Measuring a Champion below:

Image Source: Getty
Nancy-Einhart Nancy-Einhart 5 years
100 times more accurate than a stopwatch!? That's incredible.
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