By means of RFID transponders or running chips, athletes' times are measured at the majority of running events and also at many other endurance events.
These timing transponders can record the performance of all participants to the second. The reliability is almost 100%. In this article we explain how these transponders work, what alternatives are possible and what systems or timekeepers are available.
Simply explained: How does timing work in running events?
There are other ways to measure time besides RFID technology, such as through GPS systems, manual timing or light barrier technology. However, the technology of time measurement transponders or running chips has clearly prevailed. However, there are different systems for this. However, the way it works is very similar.
The athlete has a transponder, which is usually integrated into the race number or attached to the running shoe. As soon as the athlete passes a timing point, the transponder is detected by the system. The timing of the participant begins when the athlete crosses the timing point at the start. This is located directly at the start line. Further timing points on the course can register intermediate times of the athlete. This allows organizers to check whether the competitor has reached all the course points and has not taken any shortcuts. At the finish line there is another timing point.
As soon as the athlete exceeds this, the athlete's time is stopped. This allows the net time of the athlete to be determined, from which the ranking of the event for "hobby runners" results. Exception are the professionals or elite runners: There the gross time is evaluated. The gross time is also decisive for inclusion in ranking lists, such as world best times, records and national best lists.
What are the differences between transponders and running chips?
Basically, a decision is made between "passive" and "active" systems.
Passive RFID transponders
In passive systems, the transponders or tags are not equipped with a battery. The timing systems communicate with the tag by means of electromagnetic radiation or induction. This means that the transponders only signal their presence to the system. However, this is sufficient for reliable timekeeping. This is because as soon as the transponder signals presence to the system, it means that the transponder is in the immediate vicinity of the system.
To increase reliability, such systems usually use two timing systems at one location (double mats). The second one serves as a back-up.
Great advantage of this system is cheap production of such tags and easy applicability. The tags are mostly integrated on the back of the race number and do not influence the athlete during the activity.
Alternatives are running chips that are attached to the shoe. These are suitable for sports such as triathlons or obstacle courses.
Active transponders, unlike the passive tag, are equipped with a battery. This improves the accuracy and reliability of timekeeping by communicating with the system on two frequencies. These systems also allow timekeeping at locations without a network or Internet access, since the data is stored in the transponder and can be transmitted to the system at the next measuring point with a network.
In addition, these transponders can also provide the data to the timing system a few seconds after crossing the detection line. This is particularly useful at very large events, where hundreds of athletes trigger timing within a few seconds. In this way, the probability of faulty recordings can be reduced almost to 0.
Active systems are therefore primarily used at very large running events, or at events with many intermediate time measurements in remote locations.
Where are RFID transponders used?
In almost all sporting events where a ranking is generated based on time. These include:
- Marathon races and other running events
- Cycling races
- Triathlon races
- Ski mountaineering
- Motor racing
Alternative methods of timekeeping for running events
In the last millennium, manual timing was mainly used for fun runs, even today there are still some runs with manual timing. For races with only a few participants (less than 500) this is still appropriate and probably the most favorable variant.
Manual timing is classically possible via a stopwatch and manual entry of the athletes' times. However, timing programs for the computer are ideal, where only the start number of the athlete has to be entered at the finish and a ranking list results from this. Such tools can even be developed using Excel.
Light barrier systems
Are primarily used in athletics or in top-class sports. In disciplines over a very short distance (sprint), for example, the time can be calculated to the hundredths.
In popular sports, time measurement via GPS has not become established because the effort and benefit are not in any relation. In addition, the measurement accuracy is significantly less precise. However, GPS systems can be used additionally for live tracking.
A camera is primarily used as redundancy in case of unexpected problems with the system using a transponder. In addition, cameras are used as an aid in case of possible doubtful results or a photo finish.
Which timekeepers and timing systems are available?
3 Examples of timekeepers operating worldwide
Within a few years, Race Result has established itself as the world leader in endurance sports event timing. Race Result offers both an active and a passive system. The big advantage of Race Result is that the timing system is primarily rented or sold directly to event organizers or external service providers. This means that it does not require additional personnel for timing. Clubs or organizers who regularly organize competitions thus have an independent and inexpensive solution.
RaceResult also offers an online portal for registrations.
The RaceResult system has also resulted in many independent companies that have purchased the timing system from RaceResult and implement the timing and supervision of events using the RaceResult system. This is also a decisive reason for the constantly increasing market power of RaceResult.
For a long time, the company from Germany was responsible for almost all major running events in Germany. Even now, Mika Timing is still well represented, even though numerous organizers have now migrated to RaceResult or other competitors. Mika Timing offers a comprehensive package of active and passive systems. Timing is possible by chip on the shoe as well as by "MikaTag" on the race number. A registration portal is also available.
For large events that require timekeeper support, Mika Timing is definitely one of the most professional companies.
MyLaps also has a broad international presence. It also offers the entire range of active and passive timing. The measurement takes place by means of a champion chip on the shoe or a transponder on the start number.
The My Laps results portal, on the other hand, lags significantly behind comparable providers. As of 2022, there are no options for viewing live results on the Sporthive portal directly via the portal.
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