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Will FINA Give Green Light To Red Lights?

Mar 4, 2012  - Craig Lord

Omega have incorporated three red lights to the side of each starting block at the Olympic test event and British trials underway at the London Aquatics Centre.

The system, which is being monitored by FINA for possible use at future events, is linked to the timing system: all six lights, three each side of the block and visible to the public in the stands but not the athlete, come on in every lane at the start of races but it is the effect at the end of the race that is under scrutiny.

The trend was first seen in Europe: the lights featured at the European Championships in Eindhoven in 2008. 

The first swimmer home gets one light, the second two, the third three, while the lights do not come on for any other lanes. The effect is immediate, so in a 50m dash in which 0.02sec splits the first three men home, the winner can been identified more quickly by the instant light show on the blocks just above the place that everyone is watching rather than the display on the scoreboard. 

Cornel Marculescu, Executive Director of FINA, told SwimNews: "Omega devised it to offer something new and we are looking at it. The Technical commission will consider all aspects of it and then we will meet to discuss it and decide whether to use it in the future."

The key issue, he noted, was jumping the gun on official results. A result is not official until the scoreboard had rolled into 1st to 8th order. While that is fairly speedy in most cases, there is often a slight delay while Omega checks that the system worked correctly, that there were no false starts and confirmation is given by deck officials as to whether there has been a disqualification. 

The lights give the impression that the instant traffic light is the confirmed and final result. The lights look good but they are not essential and the question for FINA is: do they interfere with the way a race is read, spectator response and the mechanism of making a result official.

If the lights need further consideration by officials, athletes too have things to get used to at the London Aquatics Centre, none more so, perhaps, than backstroke specialists. 

The ceiling they look up to a pattern that might be said to mimic the pleats on the underbelly of a blue whale. The ceiling is not flat but curved, a wave of structured wood broken by circles of bright lights and silver in appearance. 

World record holder Gemma  Spofforth and Britain teammate Elizabeth Simmonds confirmed this morning, after cruising through to semis of the 100m, that the roof took some getting used to. While the lines of the wooden strips are straight, the bulge in the construction and the lights are not helpful to following a straight line, they noted.

Simmonds swam on the ropes down the second length, while both she and Spofforth pointed to just how valuable it was to get the experience of racing under an unusual roof at the Zaha Hadid designed venue well before the Olympic Games proper. 

Britain's team, which will be largely in place come Saturday evening when the trials end, will train in the pool April 1-7 at the start of open season for all teams across the world who with to book time at the Olympic complex.