Ever since the first modern Olympics in 1896, a starting pistol has been used to get all of the competitors moving at the same time. Now however, the pistol has been declared too slow, and in London they are using an electronic beep trigger to start races.
The problem is that the sound of the bang travels at about 768 miles per hour, (the speed of sound), so the bang reaches the competitors in the lanes closest to the starter a few milliseconds before those on the far side of the track. In sprinting, a few milliseconds can be the difference between gold and going home empty handed.
To try and level the playing field, some major events have added small speakers behind each lane which play the sound of the bang without the delay. The problem is that runners are trained to tune out extraneous sounds that might cause them to false start, so many still wait to hear the direct sound of the pistol.
At the London Olympics, official timing company Omega has taken a different approach. Instead of an actual pistol, the start will be signaled by an electronic beep played only through the speakers behind each starting lane. The starter still holds a device that looks vaguely like a pistol in the air, but no sound comes from it. When they pull the trigger, it sends the beep to the speakers and starts the clock.
Whether this will actually change any of the results isn't clear. Don't they always put the runners with the fastest qualifying times in the middle lanes anyway?
Via The Atlantic