Digital Lap Counters A Hit Among Distance Swimmers At World Championships

Omega lap counter
Photo Courtesy: Jeff Commings

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The electronic lap counters used at the FINA world championships were a hit among the athletes, giving them a new way of seeing how many lengths are remaining in their distance races.

Omega designed a fully-automated digital lap counter that sits at the bottom of the pool, with each lane having its own device. Though they were designed to replace the plastic placards that officials hold above the pool to count down the number of lengths remaining, the turn judges still used them as a backup in Kazan.

The devices were at the bottom of the pool, about five meters from the turning end, for the entire world championships. But they were only used for the men’s and women’s 800 and 1500 freestyles, the only events when lap counters are required in short course or long course competition. When the swimmer makes a flip turn and hits the touchpad on the wall, the system automatically changes the number of lengths remaining on that swimmer’s lap counter. The main intent, Omega CEO Allan Zoubrist told journalists during a media tour, is to allow athletes to know the number of lengths remaining without needing to lift their head to see the lap counters on deck.

The product made its official debut at the short course world championships last December in Qatar, where athletes spoke highly of its use. That continued in Kazan as many experienced them for the first time.

Katie Ledecky used them four times in Kazan, in prelims and finals of the 800 and 1500 freestyles. She broke the 1500 free world record twice and the 800 free record once.
“I liked the digital lap counters,” Ledecky said. “Having them in the pool made it easier with my natural stroke. It was a nice added convenience and provides a safety net for my lap count.”
“I love those!” said American Becca Mann after using the digital counters during her 800 free prelim swim. “I usually just count in my head, but (I saw) big numbers (on the monitor), so I didn’t have to count in my head.”

Sharon Van Rouwendaal of the Netherlands had mixed feelings about the lap counters. She would prefer not to see them during the longer distance races, but didn’t mind it for the 800 freestyle.

“It’s not so good when you’re in the 1500, because when you see the first (number) and you’re, ‘Oh, I have 29 (lengths) left,’” she said. “But on the 800, I don’t watch it every time. When I see ‘7’ I’m like, ‘Ooh, I’m almost there.’ But it’s definitely good to know when you’re not counting that you have it on the bottom.”

FINA doesn’t allow anything beyond the number of lengths remaining on the monitor, but Zoubrist said Omega is ready to make the electronic lap counter more interactive for the athletes if FINA changes the rules. The monitors can display split times for any race, for example.

“Today, the rules of FINA forbid this information (being displayed),” he said. “Perhaps in the future. We’ll see.”

Though the lap counters have only been used officially at the world championships, they could be used at any meet. USA Swimming is looking into using them for next year’s Olympic Trials in Omaha.

“We’ve put in a request to have them at Trials,” said USA Swimming Assistant Executive Director Mike Unger. “It’s our hope that we will have them in Omaha.”

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Roman Horoszewski
8 years ago

As a distance swimmer I do agree that seeing the number of laps left isn’t great, I’d rather see how many I’ve done

8 years ago

I like the idea of the lap counters, but showing splits would mean a major rules change.
Swimmers are not allowed to wear watches at present.

Curt Altschul
Curt Altschul
8 years ago

FINA, on the issue of splits, isn’t very bright. Depending on the location of the ELECTRONIC DISPLAY of each lane’s times, a swimmer can already look at or figure out their split during a race.

Should we continue to keep it the secret we figured out 20 or 25 years ago?

Dr. Buky Chass
8 years ago

Let’s think about why not show splits to the swimmers….
– Track and field athletes see the electronic board when they run, why shouldn’t swimmers?
– Speed skaters are shown of thier splits by thier coaches, why shouldn’t swimmers?
– Car racers are shown thier splits by thier crew members, why shouldn’t swimmers?
– Backstroke swimmers see the electronic board, why shouldn’t all the swimmers?
Etc, etc.
Fina has to move with the time and the imrpoved technologies. Let the swimmeres know where they are let them see thier splits!!

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