I really don’t understand how Olympic athletes deal with the grief of losing by 1/100th of a second. That’s an incomprehensible amount of time and yet it’s the defining difference in the biggest event of their lives. I can only assume that, if I lost by a fraction of a second, I would have recurring nightmares for many years afterwards, dreaming of all the ways I could have reached the wall just a little bit faster.
In the post-race interviews, however, I’m always struck by the equanimity of the athletes. Dara Torres, who lost by 1/100th of a second in the 50 meter freestyle, just shrugged off the loss saying something about how “sometimes you win by that amount and sometimes you lose.” And she seemed sincere! Perhaps having more experience with these tight races teaches the athletes to adopt a more stoic poise, since they realize that, in the end, there’s a large amount of fate and fortune involved. (Sounds like the serenity prayer, I know.) They spend their life training for an event fully aware that it might still come down to the margin of error.
And I thought this was interesting:
Prior to the development of OMEGA touch pads, finishing times in swimming competitions were measured with handheld stopwatches by 24 timekeepers, three of whom were assigned to each of the eight lanes. OMEGA touch pads made their Olympic Games debut at the Mexico 1968 Olympic Games. Reacting to very slight pressure from the swimmer’s hand but not to the movement of the water, the pads allow swimmers to “stop the clock” with their own hands. The time thus registered automatically becomes the official race time for each swimmer.
OMEGA touch pads and starting blocks are part of an integrated timing system capable of recording times to the nearest 1/1000th of a second. However, because it is not possible to build swimming pools in which each lane is guaranteed to be precisely the same length, Olympic and World Records are still recorded to the nearest 1/100th of a second.