Why the tape at the finish line?

Huge discussion going on at the house. I need a reason for the tape/ribbon at the finish line of a race and is it still relevant today or just tradition.

Well, they tried updating to a line of compact disks, but the reflected sunlight was blinding.

I wanted to comeback with an equally witty remark but the late hour has dulled my wits.

And I was hoping you had the answer.

The tape provides a way to clearly see the winner of a foot race. The runners body will be canted forward and the tape will catch on the first person to have the upper part of their body cross the finish line. I assume there is high speed video now to accurately determine the winner in very close finishes.

To repair all those broken records?

(I got nothing.)

Because of high speed video, they don’t need the tape to determine the winner. I think that was the OP’s point.

Some runners attempt to get a little ahead at the end of a close race by leaning forward right at the finish line. The tape gives them a target to lean towards.

I recognize that there’s camera technology now that we didn’t have in the past, so the tape is unnecessary. But really, do we all not want to know who won until the camera can be reviewed? That’s kind of a downer, isn’t it? Why not, put each runner on a treadmill, calculate their rate of speed, and declare a winner – to take the technology to a ridiculous extreme. I guess the tape break by sticking your chest forward seems a little like cheating, but this is a foot ace between humans, after all. 'Course now, the only image in my mind is the race in trailer for The Dictator. 'Kay boys, I’m done running, bring the tape up.

Modern timing systems incorporate a computer with the finish camera and can show results within a few seconds.

But still, not seeing the winner emerge right as it happens would be a huge downer. The results list, coming mere seconds after, and the slow-mo replay, are like cuddling after the big O that was the end of the actual race.

They hardly ever use finishing tapes these days, except in long-distance road races like the marathon and triathlon.

In fact you could argue that using the finishing tape actually made the result harder to spot in the women’s triathlon at the Olympics last weekend. That resulted in a photo-finish, which showed the separation was less than one hundredth of a second, but to my eye it would be a lot easier to pick the winner without that big ribbon obscuring their torsos!

Edit: in this view you can see that the finish tape was actually held a couple of feet before the line (presumably so as not to interfere with the photo-finish camera), which could have cost the winner, Spirig (no 43) the race. You can see she was leaning back and slowing down as she hit the tape, so by the time they reached the line Lisa Norden had almost caught her.

Nawww, that’ll never take off.

It would be horribly cruel to replace the tape with unbreakable material. Hint, hint.

Don’t forget that there are many levels of running competition and all don’t have access to high speed video. I have been involved with high school track and the tape (a piece of yarn around here) is very helpful in determining where the finish line actually is.

We use very small, orange cones placed on the lane lines to mark the finish. Too many people at the finish for timing and placing to add more.

Moved to the Game Room.

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because then the stadium wouldn’t have to be so big and you wouldn’t have so many spectators.

but they could use treadmills to power the score displays. maybe a cost saving idea.

I think the main reason the tape was there in the first place was so the runners would have some idea where the finish line was. It’s not a completely accurate mark of the finish line, especially when there’s a lot of wind.

Today, it’s pretty much there just for the camera shots of the winner crossing the line, which is why it’s usually around one meter high. In fact, in the women’s triathlon, the tape made it harder to determine the winner from the photo finish camera, as it obscured part of one of the runners.

Um, wasn’t the tape originally paper, in the stopwatch era, so it would be broken by the winning runner? If the finish was close, the position of the break would determine it.

I remember actual tapes meant to stick to the chest of the leading runner. When I was in Jr. High (the last time I was involved in track) they were made of plastic, but occasionally something like a crepe paper streamer was used. They were lightly attached at either end. There were probably a number of ways to do it.

I don’t know if they ever used the same method for photo finishes for humans as horses, but a special camera was required at the horse track. I don’t recall the details, but I think a sliding shutter that approximated the speed of the horses was used to be sure that the normal shutter speed didn’t produce a false image. The results was weird elongated pictures of the horses as they crossed the line.

They still do use the same method (well, a digital version of the original film technique). The photo-finish camera records a very narrow strip of the finish line over a long duration, as I linked to in the triathlon example above. Notice how objects that are stationary or slow-moving get smeared out, because they stay in the same position over a long period of time. (In this example, the athletes’ feet that land exactly on the line get stretched right out.) Note also how the track appears white, even though the ground was blue. That’s because the entire width of the photograph is of the finish line itself, which is white.

Same with track events: Here is the photo finish of the 100 metres. The track appears white, with black lane lines, whereas in fact the track is red, with a white finish line and black lane dividers on the finish line itself. That thin strip of finish line is what you see on the whole width of the photograph, and that’s also the reason Bolt appears to be wearing a clown shoe. :slight_smile: Also notice the double black tick line between lanes 4 and 5, which produces the double black line visible halfway down the photo-finish picture. That helps the judges identify the lanes more easily.

(If you’re wondering why the Omega and London 2012 logos appear correctly, it’s because they are printed on a rapidly revolving cylinder directly level with the finish line, synchronised in speed to the finish camera.)