Chris Sabato Interviewed by Sam Borden of the New York Times

Interview Discusses FinishLynx Technology, Occurs After Tie at Olympic Trials

By Brandon Chinn, Student Assistant Athletics Communications Director

Salem, Ore. -- Chris Sabato, who has spent the past seven years at Willamette University as an assistant coach for both track and field and cross country, was interviewed by Sam Borden of the New York Times this past weekend. Borden tapped Sabato's knowledge of FinishLynx, the timing software used for the Olympic Trials at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore.

Sabato, who works closely with the highly developed FinishLynx technology, is also a photo finish operator at track meets throughout the state of Oregon. He has worked numerous meets at a variety of levels, including Willamette home meets, the OSAA 1A/2A/3A Track and Field Championships, and the GNAC Track and Field Championships.

His interview with Borden came one day after a controversial tie for third place in the women's final in the 100-meter race. Only the top three times qualify for advancement to the 2012 London Summer Olympic Games.

Following his interview with the New York Times, I spoke with Sabato in an attempt to find out a little bit more about this precise timing technology.

FinishLynx technology is a central timing software which determines a runner's time by using photos from one or two cameras installed on either side of the finish line. It has the capability to capture 10,000 frames-per-second, revealing an image that is essentially perfect.

"The technology for timing races has moved far beyond hand times and stopwatches," Sabato said.

Although the top of the line photo finish camera can capture at a rate of 10,000  frames-per-second, USA Track and Field confirmed that the 100m finish was captured at 3,000 frames-per-second. When asked why they didn't use the fastest capture rate possible, Sabato provided a simple explanation.

The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) sets the standard of track measurements at +/- 6mm which means that the length of a 100m straightaway must be within that range. The industry standard for laser measurement is +/- 3mm which means that the length of a 100m straightaway can be measured to an accuracy of +/- 3mm.

Assuming a capture at 3,000 frames per second, and an athlete running 100 meters in around 10 seconds, an athlete will cover about 10 meters per second. Divide that by the 3,000 frames per second and you get 0.0033 meters per frame (3.3mm).

"So basically the ability to time the event accurately has surpassed the ability to measure the distance accurately," Sabato said.

This FinishLynx technology is used at all of Willamette's home events, including both the Willamette Invitational for track and field, and the annual Charles Bowles Willamette Invitational for cross country. It allows Sabato and company to rest easy, knowing that the correct results will transpire.

"Having this technology ultimately provides our athletes with the best opportunity to succeed," he said. "In our sport, thanks to the timing technology, there's not much gray area. You run the time or you don't. It doesn't matter when, where or who...the time doesn't lie."

Along with being an assistant coach for both track and field and cross country at Willamette, Chris Sabato works closely with FinishLynx Technology as a photo finish operator.

Along with being an assistant coach for both track and field and cross country at Willamette, Chris Sabato works closely with FinishLynx Technology as a photo finish operator.