Science

Why Olympic Track And Field Events Don't Use Starting Pistols Anymore

Did you know the reason Olympic track and field events no longer use starting pistols is that the runners farthest from the gun were posting demonstrably slower start times? That’s even with the help of digital speakers.

For a long time, the sound of the gun was pumped in from behind each runner at the same time it fired, but runners would still wait for the sound of the actual gun:

[Michael] Johnson’s reaction time, [Peter Hürzeler of OMEGA] said, “was 440 thousandths of a second. Normally athletes leave between 130 and 140 thousandths of a second. … I asked him, why did you have such a bad starting time?” Turned out, Johnson was in the ninth position, and the sound of the gun was reaching him too slowly.

Four tenths of a second is a massive amount of time in a sprint. It sounds even crazier when you realise that it’s caused by the amount of time it takes the bang to go from a gun to an athlete’s ears 20 yards away on the starting blocks. [The Atlantic]

Image: Michael Steele/Getty Images Sport


Have you subscribed to Gizmodo Australia's email newsletter? You can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.