Why the timing at the Mountainboard World BoarderX Championships is important
This is an extremely important issue in my opinion – having accurate timing at the Mountainboard World BoarderX Championships. There are multiple reasons why but first, let’s look back at what we’ve had at the four iterations of the event so far;
2013, 14 and 16 – a stopwatch on a phone and a walkie talkie. The start official would say ‘Go’ down the radio and the Finish Official would start the timer. As riders crossed the line, the hit the lap button to see the time of each rider. Do I need to explain why this is so inaccurate? The most obvious example of the flaws was in 2013 when Tom and James’ cruised their first runs, then bombed their second and third runs and couldn’t get anywhere near their first run times. Kody and I also couldn’t get near their cruise run times and finished 10s adrift of their first run! Something fishy considering Kody cruised a victory in the Finals against Tom and James and I placed 2nd.
2015 – a start button, laser gate and walkie talkie. Better than the above but still largely inaccurate. The Start Official would say ‘Go’ down the radio and the Finish Official would start the timer. A laser gate at the finish line recorded exactly when the riders crossed the finish line. A highly accurate finish line, but let down by the highly inaccurate start. At least there was less human error in the system as a whole and you could regard the times as more accurate than other years (although, after reviewing the qualifying times it seemed that the system had a bug on vast majority of runs as the first run times in all but a few cases were much faster than the other runs). Also, with the audible go a requirement of the timing, the gate dropped in a regular pattern which some riders picked up and capitalised on, whereas the gate drop should be randomised.
What is accurate timing?
For me, accurate timing is a system with no human intervention in the starting and stopping of the ‘clock’ which has negligible errors (delays of 0.0001s are no issue when you time to 0.01s). Really, a system with no human error and a consistent error is fine – for example every run is recorded as 1.1s slower than it is is absolutely fine if that error is the same for every rider. For me, it’s a laser gate to start the timer and a laser gate to close the timer. The errors are less than 0.01s and there is no human intervention at the start or finish.
So why is it important?
First and foremost, this is the biggest competition in the mountainboard World. We have to do it properly, and properly includes minimising errors. Not only does it directly affect a riders result and enjoyment of an event, it makes us look unprofessional and amateur as well. If our top tier event still uses a stopwatch, what does that say about our sport and lower level events?!
With accurate timing, you can use the times on each run to find out what lines are the fastest. Granted, you only have 3 timed runs and all of these are races, but if you wanted to mix up your racing line or try riding a feature differently then you can find out what variation works by looking at accurate times. With human-led timing, the human error can account for a good 2 seconds every run so you really can’t rely on the numbers coming out. Accurate timing can be used for rider improvement.
As this is the biggest competition in the calendar, it’s absolutely vital to qualify the riders in the right place. Your qualifying position directly affects your route through the Knockouts, and not just through the first round! It will define your gate choice in every round and if you start in a different place, you will always take a different route and will be racing different riders. In the extreme, what is the point in qualifying if riders don’t end up in the right place? Sure, you are ordered by race result first and then time but without accurate timing you may as well randomise the ordered with the result groups for the qualifying positions.
Lastly, riders can and will use the race times to compare themselves to their competitors. As qualifying progresses and you get into the knockouts, the riders (well, at least the ones I hang out with) are constantly comparing their times to see who is faster, on track to qualify where, get gate choice etc.. The times give you vital knowledge as to where you stand compared to someone you haven’t raced yet, whether you should risk another 100% run or sit back a little and go for a safety run. The fact they are used so much by the system AND the riders is case enough to get them right. In the Knockouts, a rider’s qualifying position and time are a good indicator of how good they are on the track compared to you. You change your race tactics a bit depending on who you are racing so accurate information gives you more confidence in your tactical decisions. Saving energy in the early rounds of the Knockouts can really help near the business end of the competition.
Why am I talking about this?
First and foremost, because it is important to me and I know it’s important to other riders as well. I want to see the sport moving forward, improving, and this is a part of that. I feel the timing is the biggest weakness of the World BoarderX Championships at the moment and fixing it will make a huge improvement for the riders and the competition as a whole.
What am I going to do about it?
I’ve decided to put my money where my mouth is and work on this issue myself. After some research I’ve found systems already built with similarities and I’ll try to adapt those to our needs. Fortunately I look after the ATBA-UK’s laser gate timing kit so I have everything I need to do the job, I just need to figure out the programming side of things and I should be away. I’ll need to get it ready soon so that I can give the system a good testing – there’s not point bringing a buggy system to the World’s for the reasons above (plus the additional strain that would put on me during the competition, which, from experience, will have a large negative effect on my riding). I’ll start with a MVP (minimum viable product), which simply displays four times per race, with a view to improve as much as possible before the competition. Getting something that works is more important than something that does lots of extra nice functionality for now. I’ll write about my progress.