There are many different systems used to time races ranging from the simplest paper and stopwatch methods used at local races through to complex computerised systems used at international meetings. This section provides a brief summary of the various systems used. If you'd like to get involved with race timing at Serpie races have a look at our pages about becoming an official or contact the relevent race organiser.
Hand timing systems
In every case, the timekeeper starts one or more stopwatches (usually two or three, just in case of problems) as the gun goes off at the start of the race. There are various ways to produce the final result:
Stopwatch and raffle ticket
This is the simplest method and is often used at cross country races and small club road races. The timekeeper records the finishing time of every runner with the stopwatch(es) as they cross the line. Someone else hands each runner a raffle ticket with a number corresponding to their position. The team captain collects the raffle tickets and produces a list for their team of names and positions. Afterwards, the person doing the results takes the list of people (in order) and matches it with the times recorded in the stopwatch to produce the final results.
Stopwatch and bib numbers
Similar to above, except each runner is registered in advance with a bib number and their number is recorded as they cross the finish line. Afterwards, the person doing the results takes the list of bib numbers (in order) and matches it with the times recorded in the stopwatch to produce the final results.
Chip timing systems
These rely on a transponder 'chip' attached to the runner (usually tied into a shoe-lace but sometimes part of the bib number or fastened to the ankle by a strap). The transponder triggers a sensor at the finish line to record the time and bib number simultaneously on a computer. The most common sensors are those in rubber mats but other systems use antennae built into the finishing funnel or elsewhere.
'Gun to chip'
In this case, the starting gun starts the timer in the computer and the finishing times (and maybe some split times) are recorded by the transponder for the results. The results will show the time from when the gun went off to when the athlete crosses the line, so in a big race those taking a little while to cross the start line will record results which are longer than their actual running time.
'Chip to chip'
In this case, the starting gun starts the timer in the computer but there is a timing mat or equivalent at the start line to record when each runner starts as well as mats at the finish (and maybe some splits). All the times are recorded by the transponder/computer for the results. The results will show the time from when the gun went off to when the athlete crosses the line but also the time from when the athlete crossed the start line to the finish, so in a big race those taking a little while to cross the start line will be able to see their actual running time. Note that official times are always 'gun to chip'.
Photo finish systems
Most often used in sprints at track and field meetings when many athletes finish very close together. As with chip timing, the times are recorded by computer. A microphone at the start line detects the sound of the pistol and starts timing the race. This is often linked with sensors in the starting blocks to record false starts so that the race can be stopped and re-started. At the finish line, there is a camera/detector which records when each athlete crosses the line. Athletes normally wear bib numbers (although not strictly required when running in lanes) and recorders (people) at the finish line record the finishing (lane) order so that it can be matched up with the times recorded by the photo-finish computer. It is also possible to check the finishing order via the images recorded on the computer from the camera.