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Accuracy and Precision

Compares two important concepts in scientific measurement

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Credit: Mitchell Media
Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/a03575/3632344397/
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

It’s clear that the sprinter in the middle crossed the finish line first. But in Olympic races, it’s often not easy to tell who won the race.

Amazing But True!

  • When world-class athletes compete, the winning athlete may be just a split second ahead of the athlete in second place.
  • Knowing who won, as well as everyone’s time, requires both accuracy and precision. An Olympic medal may be resting on it!
  • Since the “modern” Olympics began in 1896, measuring the time of champions has come a long way.
  • Credit: Ed Webster
    Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ed_webster/7916264294
    License: CC BY-NC 3.0

    Accurate timing technology is key to determine the outcome of the race [Figure2]


  • Today, differences as small as one-thousandth of a second can be measured! How do they do it? Watch this video to find out: 

Show What You Know

Use the link below to learn more about measuring athlete’s times in Olympic events. Then answer the following questions.

  1. What types of technologies are presently used to measure the times of Olympic athletes?
  2. Define the measurement concepts of accuracy and precision.
  3. How is a false start determined in a track event?
  4. In track events, how are lasers, cameras, and computers used to give judges a picture of the finish?
  5. What technology is used to determine when swimmers finish their race?
  6. How are radio-frequency tags (RFIDs) used to time long-distance runners?
  7. How were athlete’s times measured in the first “modern” Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, in 1896?
  8. When were each of the following technologies introduced to the Olympic Games: cameras, photoelectric cells, pressure-sensitive contact pads, and radio transponders?

Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ Credit: Mitchell Media; Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/a03575/3632344397/; License: CC BY-NC 3.0
  2. [2]^ Credit: Ed Webster; Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ed_webster/7916264294; License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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