Electronic Control of the Competitions of Race Walking
More than 10 years ago, the IAAF (International Athletics Federation) decided that in Race Walking competitions (the sport in which athletes must advance as quickly as possible but without running), electronic communication systems should be used for transmission of the proposals of disqualification of the judges to the results system to avoid disqualifications once the competition is over, or to avoid as far as possible that an already disqualified athlete continues competing, and therefore, distorting the competition.
In international competition its use is mandatory, although this, despite it was so much time, is still not fulfilled today.
In this article I will analyze the technology that is already available in the market that far from what some may think, in some cases it is very affordable, and finally I will show a future option that many of you will be surprised.
For those who are not related to the operation of the Race Walking, I will explain how to proceed to judge the Race Walking.
To control that the athletes do not run but walk, a number of between 5 and 9 judges is distributed by the circuit. These judges will assess subjectively if the athlete runs or walks according to two parameters:
- If the athlete does not have his leg perfectly stretched at the moment when he is perpendicular to the ground, the athlete commits a violation by Blend.
- If the athlete at any time is observed with both feet in the air, the athlete commits an infraction for Loss of Contact.
The problem is that both infractions usually happen in thousandths of a second, so it has often been discussed if they are perceptible by the human eye. Even the IAAF, came to do a study of this, concluding that the age, fatigue, and visual ability of each judge influences the final result.
Except in very obvious cases in which a race walker athlete emulates Usain Bolt in an Olympic final, the judges must resort to the observation of other signals that may indicate that this is happening since to meet these requirements at an adequate speed of competition, both the hips as the shoulders tend to move in a certain way that is easier to observe.
But in any case, the judge's final decision is subjective.
Therefore, an athlete must receive up to three proposals of disqualification from different judges to be finally disqualified. But this sometimes does not happen, or it happens too late when the athlete has already finished the event.
So much so that once television and photographers took pictures and caught the athletes in the air, and the IAAF had to regulate that the decision of the judges should be taken at "naked eye", and asked the press please not point to the feet of the athletes. That is to say, nowadays it is already known that athletes in high competition always lose contact at some point and that is not considered to be improperly walking.
The Transmission Systems
Timing companies forced by this issue each developed their own systems. Among the most important are the following:
SEIKO, provider of the service in world championships of the IAAF, cable an Ethernet network in the whole circuit (a circuit measures a more or less 1 km in diameter). The problem is that to send the disqualification proposals (red cards) the judge must position himself in certain static points where the connector to the cable is located without being able to move freely through the circuit. The system is expensive, and to free the judge from the binding in the use of the system a volunteer assists in the transmission of the proposals.
OMEGA, provider in the Olympic Games, uses a radio-transmission system. The system is also expensive, and requires the transport of a heavy transmission backpack that usually carries a volunteer who accompanies the judge.
Systems based on SMS. With the advent of mobile telephony, SMS-based systems began to be used domestically. The judges send their disqualification proposals via SMS, (for the youngest, that messaging that appears on the mobile but does not consume data). The problem with the system is that it is an asynchronous system. SMS is not received at the same time it is sent, and sometimes it is not received. This is because the telephony operators speculate with the bandwidth in the telephone lines, and give the SMS a secondary bandwidth. That is, if there are many active telephone conversations, the telephony provider gives priority to this service, delaying the processing of SMS messages. With this, in a competition with a large audience, SMS messages do not guarantee that the proposals will be received in a timely manner.
WAIS. It is the system that I designed in 2004 with other fellow athletics judges and the collaboration of the RFEA (Royal Spanish Athletics Federation). That initial design with the appearance of smartphones today is a system based on Apps, and is the official system of the European Championships.
It is a synchronous system of transmission of proposals of disqualification. Disqualification proposals are received at the same time as the judge sends them. How does it do? Using Internet technology.
The system sends the data to a Web Service that is hosted in what is now called the Cloud, the Web Service saves the proposal in a Database, and the Chief Judge's Smartphone is constantly consulting another Web Service if has a new disqualification proposal and if so, update the interface.
For those inexperienced in technology, a Web Service is a Web page that humans can not use directly but intelligent devices do ("Internet of things"). So that you can understand the first Web Service would be a Web page to inscribe data that you have filled so many times, for example, to authenticate yourself on Facebook, and the second Web Service is a Web page that shows such registered data.
When WAIS was developed, this was not so easy, since the telephones did not have Internet, the Smartphone concept did not exist, and the concept of Cloud did not exist, but if we applied then these technologies, in that time was avant-garde er.
We used what were then called PDAs, there were no tablets, but they are its precursors. Since there were no smartphones, neither did telephone companies provide data services to mobile devices.
Therefore, in competition what we did was to take a computer that was an Internet server (more properly the Intranet) that served Web Services, and we set up a WIFI network in the circuit that allowed PDAs to connect to that server. Obviously the WIFI that we made up at that time was 1 kilometer in diameter solving even circuits that went around an apple. They were temporary WIFIs with great merit back then.
Today all this is overcome, and the use of the WAIS is available to any organizer of a Race Walking event without deploying any type of infrastructure, or need technical technicians.
How does it work
The WAIS system consists of two App that can be downloaded from the Google Market, and a Recorder application for Microsoft Windows that can be requested from Sport Solution (firstname.lastname@example.org), and we will happily send it.
In the Secretary application the competition will be configured, the events of the competition, the access of the judges to the App with a username and password, and the lag of bib numbers that will be used in the competition. In addition during and after the competition generates the summary of yellow paddles and red cards of each judge in order to be able to analyze the degree of criterion unit of the judges.
In the App of the Race Walking Judges the schedule of the competition will be obtained, the Judge will be able to track his yellow paddles (warnings made to the athlete, prior to the disqualification proposal), and his disqualification proposals. And also, what is more important, send your disqualification proposals in a simple way.
The Chief Judge App will receive the red cards from the judges and allow the chief judge and his assistants to disqualify the athletes or control their passage through the Pit Lane (penalty time in some competitions with which an offender athlete is punished instead to disqualify him)
WAIS service levels
Sport Solution to the organizers provides several levels of service:
- Use of the application autonomously by the organizer. You just have to send us an email requesting the corresponding permission. This is a free service.
- Hiring of remote technical support in competition. Our technicians will monitor the competition with the remote recorder program at a very affordable cost.
- Hiring of services in competition:
o Rental of terminals (Smartphones). They are terminals for outdoor work of high luminosity for visibility on sunny days, and resistant to water on rainy days.
o Electronic scoreboard We provide the service of composing an output to LED Video Walls with bib numbers and/or the names of the athletes and the red cards received.
The technology that comes
The events of the Race Walking present great problems that make it a minority:
- The cost of organizing events. Many judges from abroad must be brought in so that the marks are valid in international competitions.
- And what is more worrying, the degree of frustration of the athletes when they are arbitrarily disqualified, having them the conviction that they were not violating the rule.
The IAAF in the last years of the presidency of Lamine Diack, aware of these problems, carried out a study with the University of Barcelona to verify if an objective control of the Race Walking could be done with electronic media. This study concluded that yes, that there are currently the technical media for this. These technical media can be very expensive if they are designed specifically for the Race Walking and are not part of consumer material already available in the market.
Sport Solution is developing a control system for the Race Walking based on the electronic socks of the trademark "Sensoria". These socks inform an intelligent device (for example, a Smartphone) of every instant when pressure is produced somewhere on the foot against the ground. The idea of Sport Solution is that the sock sends this information to devices distributed by the circuit, and detects the loss of contact of the athletes automatically.
Knowing that within what is accepted as a correct walk there are contact losses, Sport Solution proposes to make statistics of how long an athlete can be in the air and how many times the same infraction can be repeated per linear kilometer without it being considered that the athlete is running. In this way, by making an adequate regulation, a gradual step could be taken of the subjective judgment, to the objective judgment of the Race Walking and with the technological evolution, and the cheapening of that technology, universalizing the automatic and objective control of the Race Walking.