By the time you read this editorial, it will be over. It already has been reported in all the newspapers in this country and in the foreign press, too. It now has been enshrined as the latest entry in the history of the sport.
No, I’m not referring to the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship recently won by the Michigan State Spartans when they decisively beat the Florida Gators. The Spartans, with their experience and talent, quite easily outplayed the young Gator team. However, just making it to the championship game really was a monumental achievement for the University of Florida basketball team and their many fans. The athletic event I’m talking about is the Boston Marathon®, celebrating its 104th year in 2000.
For you nonrunners, this is the most prestigious road race in the world. It is the oldest marathon in the United States and regularly attracts most of the elite long-distance runners from the far reaches of the globe. Race officials expect 20,000 runners will participate in this year’s marathon. Because of a unique technology and a high-speed network backbone, runner identification and timing will be available in near real-time to anyone who accesses the marathon web site at www.bostonmarathon.org.
Runner information is provided by ChampionChip®, a transponder mounted inside a small, waterproof, plastic disk attached to the runner’s shoelace. The passive transponder has a unique seven-character identification code and is encased in an energizing coil. Special antennas mounted in thin mats placed along the racecourse and at the finish line activate the transponders which then transmit the seven-digit identification number to receiving antennas in the mat. The identification number is correlated with the time the runner crossed the mat.
Providing Internet connectivity for the official marathon web site is AppliedTheory, a company that offers customers Internet solutions with dedicated servers and a high-speed network backbone. Data gathered from the transponder of each runner will be routed to a data server at the race. Once the information is verified, it then is sent from the site over the high-speed network to a data server in the company’s Network Operations Center, where it is made available for display. Relatives, friends, and race fans can access the marathon web site and see near real-time race information on their favorite runner.
For the first time ever, medical information on runners treated at the medical tent will be available via an Intranet. Physical conditions, such as type of injury, blood pressure, and salt levels, will be stored in a database which can be accessed by physicians at the race. Also, family members can learn if their special runner has been treated at the medical tent just by accessing the web site.
According to race officials, the marathon web site handled one million queries last year. With the new Internet infrastructure, it reportedly can accommodate three times that amount. Knowing that the fastest runner completes the race in just over two hours, that’s a lot of traffic in a short period of time. Of course, I realize most of the runners we know are somewhat slower.
It seems to me this tracking technology could be expanded to general-population uses. Possibly, it could be adapted to help locate our kids when they are away from home. We could be surfing the web and get a message that one of them has just entered an expensive clothing store at the mall. Without hesitation, we would call them on their cell phone to make sure no unnecessary purchases were made. I’m sure there are hundreds of other possibilities for this technology just waiting to be discovered.
Copyright 2000 Nelson Publishing Inc.