Proud 50 free: the British Record that almost never was

Plymouth’s Ben Proud set a new British Record for the 50m freestyle at the South West Regional Championships last weekend – but it almost never happened after problems with the timing system.

Plymouth Leander’s Ben Proud

The 50m event itself took place on the Sunday, the second day of a three day meet running across May Bank Holiday weekend. But in both the heats and final, the timing system failed to record an electronic time, leaving only the manual back ups – results unable to be used for record purposes.

The championships were taking place at Plymouth’s new Life Centre, which is equipped with Colorado 6 timing. It transpired that the arm delay on the timing pads had been set to 22 seconds; this is the period in which the pads do not operate to prevent touches from swimmers in the water, for example during over the top starts, being registered as part of an on-going race. Colorado usually defaults to 15 seconds for this setting, but the increase to 22 seconds was probably a belt-and-braces approach to ensure the pool was clear before the pads were armed, possibly aimed at younger age group events.

For events of 100m or longer this would not have been an issue, and in fairness to the timing operators, given that only one British man had ever swum under 22 seconds for 50m freestyle previously, it was unlikely to be predicted as a problem at a Regional Championships.

Nonetheless, no times were recorded for Proud, indicating that the pad had not armed and hence that he had swum under 22s in both his heat and final. Those results may be lurking in the computer logs somewhere, but no matter; a specially convened time trial on the final day of the meet, with the arm delay now set to 14 seconds, gave him the opportunity he needed and the rest is history. A 21.86 second blast over one length later and Proud was holder of a new British Record.

In terms of timing mishaps, he is in good company though, with Olympic Champion Nathan Adrian falling victim to a very similar timing problem at the US Masters Championships only a few days earlier. In his case, it was a short course 100 yard freestyle that caused the issue, with an arm delay of 20 seconds on the halfway turn pads too slow to anticipate a 19 point halfway split. The timing system resorted to manual backups which indicated that Adrian had tied the American record at 41.08. The electronic time was then recovered from the equipment and this led to the time being revised up to 41.13 a day later, stripping him of that distinction. Proud’s tale had a happier ending.