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PERFECTING TIME & LIGHT
For the Olympics, a movement that spends a lot of time thinking about the past and perhaps not enough thinking about the future, there are two remarkably progressive, albeit obscure, innovations in Montreal.
First, you may have noticed that times in the track events are given in hundredths of a second rather than the more traditional tenths. This is the result of widespread acceptance of electronic timing, which is considerably more precise than old-fashioned hand timing.
Comparative studies show that it takes significantly longer to start a stopwatch by hand than by electronic impulse. Hand-held times are thus "faster" than electronic ones. Experts believe that the famous 9.4 world record for the 100-yard dash that Jesse Owens tied in 1935 would have been closer to 9.6 by electronic standards. (The present world record, nine flat, shared by Ivory Crockett and Houston McTear, is hand-held time.) Because of the difference between the two methods, qualifying standards for the U.S. Olympic Trials were double-listed. A 100-meter man, for example, needed an electronic 10.44 to qualify, compared to a hand-held 10.2.
Electronic timing, coupled with photo finishes, is a vast improvement. At the NCAA meet in Philadelphia a couple of months ago, both electronic and handheld watches were used. They revealed not only the usual differences in time but that the correct order of finish differed from the judges' naked-eye version in about one-third of the sprint races. With electronic photography, there is no doubt about who won.
Second, at the closing ceremony we should see an amazing spectacle of some 85,000 people waving little greenish-yellow light sticks in the name of world friendship. The light stick of itself is a fascinating gismo. It was developed by the American Cyanamid Co., which spent $2 million and nine years trying to transfer the secrets of the firefly to this new product. The $1.50 Cyalume light has no flame, generates no heat and no sparks, needs no oxygen and no batteries and is not affected by wind or rain.
Fans and athletes will break the glass vial which is safely encased in the plastic light stick. This will allow two chemicals to mix and, presto, instant light. It shines brightly for three hours, the glow lasts up to 12. May the friendships glow as well—and last much longer.
IMPROVING THE GLOW
But if we are going to spruce up the idealistic Olympic spirit, nations will have to find some way to score political points. Perhaps the solution is a contest by mail or telephone—like chess. It could be a kind of super board game, global Monopoly if you will, with each country drawing instruction cards that say things like, "You are politically impure. Go back where you came from." Or, "You have interfered with my trade relations. Change your flag, your anthem and the name of your country."
Each nation could apply all its political skills, deploy its entire foreign service and intelligence community, spend money, make deals, threaten, subvert, extort and/or quit. Call it the Polympic Games.