Rebecca Soni was one of eight swimmers competing in the 200 breaststroke on Thursday night in London. Based on the international camera feed, you'd be forgiven for thinking there was a ninth competitor in the pool. The world-record line overlay that's added to all swimming races is the most distracting technology at the Olympics. Here's five reasons why:
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• The line is too thick. Look at Soni (leading, above). It goes from the middle of her head to the start of her waist.
• It's not an actual comparison. The line isn't a literal representation of the world-record swim, it's an estimated pace based on the 50-meter splits of the record-setting time.
• Swimmers who don't set record feel like failures. Swimmers race for gold medals, not world records. When those records don't fall -- as in 19 of 24 races through Thursday night -- the line makes the leader feel like a failure. The race should be between the eight swimmers in the pool, not a virtual ninth competitor.
• Viewers end up watching the line more than the rest of the field. Was there a good battle for second or third in the 200 breast? You don't know: You were watching the world-record line. Gold-silver-bronze, not gold-or-world-record.
• It's easy to watch a world-record pace. The stopwatch, "world-record time" graphic on the bottom of the screen and split differentials at the walls provide more than enough information. If watching world-record pace is your thing, you can easily do it without the aid of the line. This isn't like the football first-down line, which is a useful technology that makes it easier to visualize a crucial component of the game. It's clutter.
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BONUS COMPLAINT: Overlaid lines are bothersome even when they're not moving. Look at the line used in the rowing events. The same white line is used to denote the 500-meter checkpoints and the finish line.
Casual viewers look up, see the line at the top and think the race is over. Granted, if you watch enough you'll realize that you can tell whether the race is over by looking at the time graphics. The shot above says "1500m" the one below says "finish."
That involves you paying attention, having some common sense and being aware of the time, which happens to be exactly what the swimming world-record line thinks you can't do.
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