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CHIP TALK

Mike Beebe writes that runners can "forget about" the long lines in the Turkey Trot chutes, and they can also forget about back-ups that "stopped everyone dead 50 to 100 yards from the finish line." He hasn't checked his facts with the workers who know what actually happens every Thanksgiving morning. And whether he meant to or not, he's insulted the finish line personnel.

On the first count: at every large race, everywhere in the world, traditional scoring requires runners to stand in line in the chutes -- that's how the race is scored. It's hardly a sign that something's wrong.

On the second count: the only serious backup in the last 20 years (and it was a serious one) occurred in 1984. Not before; not since. Every big race, at its peak, will have clusters or knots of runners near the finish line. There will still be some finish-line clogging when the Turkey Trot goes to ChampionChip timing, because the chip isn't some sort of magic snowplow that moves people out of the way! If you finish at the peak of a race, you'll have a crowd with you no matter what technology is used.

The implication that the Turkey Trot needs a new scoring system because the finish-line workers haven't been doing their job is offensive. The same crew -- under different names -- has been controlling the finish line for years. At present, the group is known as Western New York Finish Line Systems, but before that they were affiliated with TAC and before that, with the AAU. It's the same bunch, no matter what you call them.

The WNYFLS group has a long history of innovation. Buffalo is, and has always been, at the forefront of road race technology. Even back in the 1970s, the hand-scoring days, it was common for races to publish complete results; this was almost never done elsewhere. When I brought barcoded computer scoring to Buffalo in 1981 they quickly adapted to new techniques; When I brought all-electronic timing in 1984 they adapted to that; when I brought the dual finish line system to Buffalo in 1985 (at least partly because of the 1984 problem), they immediately began using it and have used it, as needed, ever since.

In 1985 there were perhaps only a half-dozen crews in the entire country capable of managing a dual finish line. In 1995, for the Turkey Trot's 100th, they used a triple finish line setup in order to handle 5,484 finishers. The Turkey Trot has not been within 1,100 finishers that year since then, but WNYFLS went to a triple line again in 1998 (4,300 finishers) just to be safe. I know of no group outside of New York City capable of setting up and managing a triple line. David Katz, Finish Line Director for the New York City Marathon (and many other events) said of the WNYFLS workers, "They amaze me. Few other groups in the country can do what they can."

The chip is coming soon. It's a great technology that solves many problems, and it has an important role in large races. But it's crucial to understand that the chip is coming to Buffalo because the race organizers want it and because it's a good technology, not because of deficiencies in the race or finish line management.

DON MITCHELL
Runtime Services

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