At long last, parity in presentation for the field events

LOS ANGELES, June 13, 2012 – Even though the name of the sport is “track and field,” it can be downright depressing to be a field-event athlete.

If there’s a race on the track, you can be sure that the interest of television, spectators and even the public address announcer is fixed on the oval. If more than one field event is going on at the same time, it’s almost impossible to follow any of them, even with excellent scoreboard help.

Until now.

If you followed the online results service of last week’s NCAA Division I Track & Field Championships in Des Moines, Iowa, you could follow – for the first time at the NCAA outdoor champs – the progress of any of the field events . . . in real time!

So while the ESPN3 Webcast was following the runners in the men’s 5000 meters, you could actually see the jump-by-jump progress of the men’s pole vault on your computer or tablet! No longer were the cheers and groans of the crowd a mystery . . . you saw the result of each jump or throw as it was reported on the field, with the standings of all competitors re-ranked as the result of the last effort (here’s the completed men’s shot put as an example). Fabulous!

It’s the product of a lengthy effort by Cody Branch of Branch Sports Technology, working in conjunction with FinishLynx results and scoring system experts Flash Results.

“Yes, we’ll use the same system for the [U.S. Olympic] Trials,” said Flash Results technical director Roger Jennings. “I’m a huge field event nut so this is something I’ve wanted to do for years. Cody’s system, I think, does a great job. He’s been working very hard on it for the last five years.”

Track & field was always a complex sport to administer, with different equipment needed for every field event and blocks, hurdles, barriers, cones, on-field p.a. systems for the clerks and starters and much more needed for the track. Now, major events like the NCAA Championships and U.S. Olympic Trials are quasi-technology festivals. At the NCAAs, the Flash Results service included:

• Start lists, posted very quickly for succeeding rounds;
• Results of heats with qualification cut-off marks posted in real time after each race;
• Results in real time, essentially as quickly as fed to the on-field scoreboards;
• Real-time field-event results, so you can actually follow the competition, complete with wind readings!
• Real-time team scoring, a must for the NCAA meet (but not so much for the Trials).

Jennings and his crew also posted race-by-race and field-event updates on Twitter, so you could follow the meet on your phone!

The availability of such much information, especially in real time, is a welcome development, but it’s especially helpful for fans armed with the most portable computers of all: tablets. Whether via a dedicated 3G/4G/LTE-equipped wireless connection, or using WiFi (perhaps through a portable hotspot from a personal mobile phone), lightweight tablets like the Apple iPad, Amazon Kindle and Samsung Galaxy Tab will allow fans in the stands at Hayward Field – and at home – to follow any field event in detail regardless of its location on the field, their location in the stands or the attention paid by the public address announcer(s). No electrical outlet or desktop needed.

The only improvement to this new program might be a “crawl” along the top or bottom of the screen as a sort of live blog from a person on the field level, who could note the next competitor, weather conditions and add details about activities or delays on the field level. But that’s for the future.

Jennings notes that the Olympic Trials results reporting effort will be a combined project of multiple parties: “[FinishLynx] is the timing provider for the Trials. They sub-contract us (Flash Results) [and] the actual internet results are provided by USATF, [and] we (Flash Results and Branch Sports Technology) are the sub-contractors.”

Although the focus of the Trials will, of course, be on the competition, it will be Jennings, Branch and their team which will bring the results to light. Happily for the jumpers and throwers, their efforts will now be as accessible as those on the track.

If you’ll pardon the pun, it’s about time.

(You can stay current with Rich’s technology, sports and Olympic commentaries by following him at www.twitter.com/RichPerelman.)

1 Comment

  1. They had something like this a few years ago at the national meet in Carson, California and I asked how I could tap into with the laptop I brought in my backpack. I could see the network but needed the password. I was sent over to a tent where the technicians were keeping the system humming. I was told that they were only allowed to give out the password to coaches.
    How in the heck does *that* help the public follow the sport?
    Hopefully this time around they’re not so stingy with general public access.

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