FALSE START #5 by David E. Ortman

[October 1999 National Masters News Reprinted by Permission]


Time is relative. Someone said the more relatives that visit, the slower time goes. If you invite those same relatives to attend your average sporting event, baseball, basketball, or football, your relatives would be mystified if hours after the event they still didnít know the score or when the game was going to end because the powers that be refused to allow the clock to be used. Seems incredible doesnít it. Well, not when it comes to Track & Field!

I often attend track & field meets at the U. of Washington Husky Stadium in Seattle: High School meets, small college meets, University duel meets, etc. At virtually all of these meets, the scoreboard clock is turned off, deader than a lapped 800m runner, so the crowd (all right, a few milling spectators) has virtually no idea what is going on. Any in many cases, neither do the athletes. Can you imagine? Itís the third inning and the cleanup hitter has just smacked a home run, or maybe not. The results will be released in the seventh inning. Or itís the third quarter and the field goal kick is up, but no one will put three points are on the board until the middle of the fourth quarter. Amazing!

Perhaps this is what makes Hayward Field at the U. of Oregon (and site of the 2000 National Masters Track & Field Championships) such a positive experience. Not only is Hayward Field and its scoreboard dedicated to track & field, within seconds of running an event, the names, times and places are posted on "THE BIG BOARD" for the spectators and runners to view.

Immediate feedback is important. In other sports, it is apparent how you did. The basketball goes through the basket - two points. The baseball is caught by the outfielder and youíre out. Pretty instant feedback. But, for the most part, if youíre at a track meet other than Hayward Field you donít get instant feedback in running events. Back (like way back) in high school days, the timers (old guys with farm caps on) would tell you to come back in your lanes and then they would tell you your place and time.

Now with autotiming, you would think that this would be done automatically and instantaneously. Not a chance. In fact, in most cases, runners are hustled off the track so fast it makes your head spin to get ready for the next heat and forced to file Freedom of Information Act requests to get the results before their next dayís event.

And the field part of Track & Field, is even worse. Throw and jump results are written on paper and manually compiled then taken up to the announcerís room (a place similar to an airport traffic control tower which is never identified or located on any map in order to prohibit access so that no athlete can somehow find out the results of an event before leaving the meet). These hand results need to be "entered into the system" (I think thatís a term borrowed from the Crusades) before it becomes recognized as an official jump, throw, vault, whatever.

Heck even bowling has a better system than that. You walk up to a bowling lane electronic scorekeeper, touch screen your name in and the machine keeps track of your spares, strikes, gutter balls and turkeys. Imagine a field event in which your name is already entered into an electronic device and every throw, jump, vault was also immediately recorded. At the end of the event, the results would be complied, age-graded and instantly available for printout and for display on "THE BIG BOARD". I think they call these things laptop computers these days. Oops, Iíve got to go. Did anyone get my time in that last event?

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