Posted by: Joe English | December 15, 2007

Races: Concerns over Honolulu Marathon timing problems widen

Earlier this week we reported here that the timing system at the Honolulu Marathon may have resulted incorrect times for thousands of runners. Now as the story is widening, it appears that the timing problems were much more wide-spread and the story is beginning to have ramifications with other races as well.

The Honolulu Adviser is now reporting that Honolulu Marathon officials now believe that all of the times captured by their new timing system may have been innaccurate. After reviewing a small amount of finish-line video, Honolulu Marathon Association president Dr. Jim Barahal was quoted as saying that all of the times were off by from a few to as many as 70 seconds. In addition, the Adviser reported that as many as 3,500 more runners completed the race than the system had initially reported.

Honolulu switched from the ChampionChip timing system this year to a new system by SAI Timing. Heavy rains may have caused genertors to fail just prior to the race, resulting in a reset of the system.

Baharal was quoted as expressing concern over the large disparity in traditional drop-out rates when compared to this year. The race has since conducted an audit of finisher t-shirts and medals and determined that the timing system may have missed as many as 3,500 runners, bringing the true finish rate closer to traditional averages.

As the story in Honolulu continued to unfold, the Houston Chronicle is reporting that the Chevron Houston Marathon has now scuttled their plans to use the same new timing system as was used in Honolulu. Of the new system, Chervron Houston official Steven Karpas was quoted as saying, “. . .until we get a definitive answer as to what happened, we don’t feel comfortable with it.” Houston will now use return to use of the ChampionChip timing system.

The advantage of the SAI system is that it features disposable tags attached to the runners’ bibs. On race day, runners remove the tags from the bibs and attach them to their shoes as they would with conventional chips, then throw them away after the event. That means that runners no longer have to synch their chip to the timing system at pre-race packet pick-up, nor do they have to worry about returning a chip after the event.

“At the end of the day, this company, in my opinion, had no business offering this product for use and I’m extraordinarily disappointed,” Honolulu Marathon president Jim Barahal was quoted as saying after race.

SAI Systems says that the timing system worked well at the Las Vegas Marathon this month. Terry Collier, executive race director of the Las Vegas Marathon, who is also director of the Los Angeles Marathon said, “hands down it was a lot easier. My volunteers could focus on customer service.” Collier added that “I have not had one negative response about the new technology.”

However, a quick check of forums on the Internet found complaints from Las Vegas runners. As one runner wrote on, “I also ha[d] issues with the new timing system that was used. My chip initially gave me a time of 4:11:00. No way was I that slow. My watch had me at 3:58:00. . . . I got a 10:56 split for mile 11 and a 7:41 split for mile 12?”

So for Honolulu Marathon organizers now comes the hard part: reviewing all of the finish-line video tape to correct their results, which may take up to 800 hours of work to complete.

Clearly timing is a critical issue to marathon runners. Not only for our personal edification, but for issues such as Boston Marathon qualification. Certainly when we runners put our best foot forward, we want the results to be properly recorded.

What do you think of this issue? Feel free to comment.

Coach Joe English, Portland Oregon USA
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  1. […] Coach Joe English reported last December that other races did not encounter problems with SAI’s paper RFID tags, but the Houston Marathon canceled its 2008 SAI contract when Honolulu’s problems emerged. However, I’ve seen posts on some running web forums that indicate there were SAI-related timing issues in the 2007 Las Vegas and Philadelphia marathons. […]

  2. Just finished Honolulu Marathon yesterday, 12/14/08 in about 5:27. None of my results were posted. I don’t think HM fixed there chip problems from last year.

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