Ah, the joys of technology.
It was only a few years ago that most road races still used manual timing for individual runners. The preferred method was to tear off a perforated part of your bib number and hand it to a volunteer as you went through the finish chute, where your time was recorded.
The advent of electronic chip timing was revolutionary, ensuring that each runner received a time coinciding to the exact race distance, so that those in the middle and the back of the pack had race times as accurate as elite runners.
But the chips are not ideal, particularly for race organizers. They are expensive, and they have to be collected from each runner at the end of the race. In a major marathon with 20,000+ runners, chips are a major expense and a headache to retrieve.
Along came SAI Timing & Tracking with a truly inspired idea: a disposable timing tag. The tags were reportedly used with great success in this year’s Philadelphia and Las Vegas marathons.
Alas, there were a few complications in Honolulu. As many as 3,500 runners went missing in the timing system, leaving them with no recorded finishing time.
There were a number of causes for the mess, and everyone involved stepped forward to accept blame. “We didn’t have our equipment weatherproofed as well as we should have,” said SAI’s David Simms. Heavy rain caused generator outages and system rebooting for the chips did not work correctly in all cases. “It was a big mistake, and it was my decision to move to newer technology,” said Dr. Jim Barahal, president of the Honolulu Marathon Association.
The organizers claim a portion of the blame lies with the runners themselves, some of whom failed to remove the tag from their bib and attach it properly to their shoe.
Marathon officials are now going through the tedious process of checking finish-line photos to generate a time for each missing runner. Of course, the result will be a gun time, which may differ from chip time by as much as 20 minutes.
“I’ve been doing this for over 20 years. This was a perfect storm of things going wrong,” Simms told the Associated Press.
Barahal was blunt. “At the end of the day, this company, in my opinion, had no business offering this product for use and I’m extraordinarily disappointed,” he said.