We live in a busy society where, usually, the faster something can be completed the better. Yet can you think the last instance that a millisecond mattered to you? Did it make or break what you were trying to accomplish?
For a competitive swimmer, a millisecond can mean everything. Winning a qualifying race or even a regular season meet can often come down to a hundredth of a second. These swimmers meticulously train for qualifying events, while relying on their coaches for guidance and officials for proper regulation. So, when it comes down to timing system, there is an expectation from athletes, coaches, officials, and the audience that it will properly and accurately work to record times down to the millisecond.
Of course, the type of timing system used can cause a variance in race times. With a semi-automatic system using human volunteers as timers, there is a delay between when the swimmer touches the pool wall and the timer pushes their stopwatch/push button to stop the time. This delay has been estimated to be 0.15 seconds, and some timing systems will automatically subtract the delay form the swimmer's time. With a fully automated system with touchpads, the times are precise. The time starts with the starter sound and strobe light, and the timer finishes when the touchpad is activated by the swimmer's last touch on the touchpad.
So what happens when there are proven inaccuracies with the timing system? Post-race or even days later when the issue is discovered, officials may add the discrepancy back into those races. Seems like a simple fix, but what does that mean for the swimmer?
Imagine putting your all into a race. You finish first. Your time is incredible. You set a new age group record or qualified for a major championship. You celebrate yourself. You are on top of the world. Suddenly your time is not valid, you are not qualified, and your record is revoked due to inaccuracies in the equipment. You are devastated, the meet is in chaos, and the facility is surely embarrassed.
This is why accuracy in timing for any event is imperative at all levels of competition. The timing equipment manufacturer's focus and dedication should be to the athletes who depend on precise accuracy.