It’s a public relations predicament when 15 percent of your marathoners don’t receive an accurate finishing time – or any time at all. But when you discover that perhaps all of your 24,000 marathon finishers have inaccurate times, that’s a nightmare.
Preliminary reports from the December 9, 2007, Honolulu Marathon indicated as many as 3,500 were missing from the results due to problems with a new disposable timing tag system designed by SAI Timing & Tracking.
But race officials announced late last week that all the times were suspect. “The data is a little off,” said Honolulu Marathon Association president Dr. Jim Barahal. “Not dramatically, but from a few seconds to as much as 70 seconds.”
Organizers are in the process of examining each frame of the race’s finish line video in an effort to provide each runner with an accurate gun time. There is no way to compute an official chip time. Additionally, there are no official split times, leaving open a hypothetical “Rosie Ruiz” problem. Without intermediate splits, it’s virtually impossible to tell if a finisher ran the entire 26.2 miles.
As you might expect, marathon officials promised to return to standard chip timing next year, and the Honolulu fiasco prompted organizers of next month’s Houston Marathon to drop plans to use the SAI tags.
SAI has its defenders. “It wasn’t good; it was outstanding,” said Terry Collier, executive race director of the Las Vegas Marathon, who added, “I have not had one negative response about the new technology.”
But Collier couldn’t have been looking very hard. In fact, there’s a whole Internet forum of Las Vegas marathon finishers with timing tag complaints, and even bigger complaints about the lack of response from Collier and his colleagues. And there were at least a few complaints from Philadelphia Marathon finishers as well.
Most runners will be patient with new technology, particularly one that promises splits each mile, but one has to wonder if this was oversold before it was ready. SAI beta-tested the timing tags at the Falmouth Road Race, Chicago Half Marathon, Pittsburgh Great Race and Free Press Marathon. If any readers ran one of these and were involved with the testing, e-mail me here at email@example.com.