One Hundreth of a Second

A hundredth of a second is important.  But what is it?  The concept of time is abstract and difficult to see or touch.  In swimming it is the difference between winning and losing.  The difference between Gold and Silver.  The difference between Bronze and Fourth; on the podium or watching from the stands.

One hundredth is important because it is so quick. It is so quick that we can’t really see the difference using the naked eye.

This concept is extremely important to understand because winning an Olympic gold is much different from an Olympic silver.  I am sure that Adrian Moorehouse would attest to this since he won his Olympic gold in 1988 by  one hundredth of a second.  WE CAN’T PHYSICALLY TELL THE DIFFERENCE between two one hundredths of a second.  What then is the difference between winning and losing by one hundredth of a second?   The answer is nothing.  The swimmers have touched the touchpads at the same time.  There is no difference between two swimmers touching separated by one hundredth.  However the electronic scoreboard gives us a different story…why?

There is a difference between winning and loosing on the scoreboard because in a swimming race based on hundredths of a second the difference is not in the swimming but in the touch.  The difference is not about who touches FIRST but how HARD a swimmer touches.

I will tell you why.

A thousandth of a second used to be the difference between winning and losing.  And it actually still is, but FINA has decided that based on the advice by OMEGA that there can’t be a differentiation between two swimmers based on thousandths.  The reason is because the touch-pad mechanics are not exact enough to give you time to the thousandths.  In fact the electronic information available to the computer wizards in the OMEGA suite know who won to a thousandth of a second in cases where swimmers tied to the hundredth. Fina calls these cases ties and award a tie.  Are the times accurate to one hundredth?  I tend to disagree.  The winner should be who touches first.  This is not the case.

Touch pads work this way; the outer pad has a metal plate on the opposite side to the touching side and when pressed the metal plate touches another metal plate which is attached to the wall.  Between the two metal plates is…water.  So when a swimmer touches the touch pads the front pad squashes against the second pad to give the swimmer a time.  Ingenious, but not accurate to a thousandth of a second because the amount of water between the two metal plates is not exactly the same for all lanes.  Is it accurate to one hundredth of a second?  I don’t think so.

In  a game of hundredths, the difference is extremely small, so the touch pads need to be perfect; they are not.  How much water is between the two metal plates will easily vary to come to hundredths of a second.  Importantly, it is essential that a swimmer who is at a full reach, and may have timed their touch, should know that simply touching the touchpad is not enough, they need to press against it!

So if you want to win a race, by one hundredth of a second, hit the touchpad hard, don’t just touch it!  If you watch this race on Youtube you will see that the swimmer who won was at no point ahead in this race.  But he touched the touchpad much harder…and won.

swimming race of 50m breaststroke

swimming race of 50m breaststroke


About Coach Gary

I competed in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul representing Canada and coached in the 2000 and 2004 Olympics for Great Britain. I have a degree in History and a minor degree in Psychology from University of Calgary. I have travelled extensively and have been very lucky to see so much of the world while representing Canada and Great Britain at swimming competitions. I am very proud of the fact that I coached a swimmer to become number one in the world in the fastest swimming race in 2002. I pride myself in my ability to find new and interesting ways to teach swimming. I am an accomplished artist specialising in sculpture, I have another blog called 'swimmingart' where I publish some of my swimming drawings. I have three young children; all boys. I have recently taken up painting and yoga....but not at the same time. You can see my new paintings at:
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