The world of professional ski racing is one governed not only by split seconds, but seconds that are split into fractions that are basically not measurable unless there is a lot of speed involved.
Races are often won or lost by a mere hundredth of a second. When asked what that fraction of time actually amounts to, some athletes can’t really equate it to anything.
“What can you do in a hundredth of a second? Let’s see … not much. Not even breathe. Not even think about breathing,” says Julia Mancuso. “I’ve lost races by five hundredths. I think that’s the closest. But I have to think that person skied that much better than me.”
When Mancuso won the super G race in Garmisch, Anna Fenninger was just 0.13 behind her for second place. Mancuso points out that “when you’re winning, everyone tells you how well you skied, but you don’t hear much about how well the second place person skied even if they were only this much behind you,” and spaces her hands apart to show by how much distance she estimates she beat Fenninger. “It’s crazy how that’s what our life is decided out of … less than a blink of the eye.”
Tina Weirather missed beating Lindsey Vonn by 0.05 in the Bansko super G last weekend. Before the race, she was ironically discussing hundredths of a second.
“Always when you’re in the finish you just have to know that you gave your best,” Weirather said. “If it’s a hundredth too slow, then it’s too slow.”
The photo finishes of the two racers side by side in the Moscow city event provided a true picture of how much distance fractions of a second amount to … but that entire race was only 20 seconds, and fractions of a second amount to more once the course is longer and speeds are higher.
“In downhill you have so much speed, so you are going much more meters in hundredths of a seconds,” Feinnger says. And she’s right … in super G, too. Looking at the statistics sheet from the Bansko SG, the 0.05 seconds by which Weirather finished second to Vonn was 1.19 meters. Merighetti’s 0.07 seconds for third was 1.66 meters. Tina Maze was 0.33 seconds behind, and by measure of anything else, that is still “less than a blink of an eye,” but according to the stats sheet, it was 7.82 meters.
“We go over 100 kilometers per hour, so I guess hundredths of a second are two or three meters,” Weirather says.
When one hundredth of a second amounts to just a few centimeters, however, it’s understandable why athletes are so desperately reaching with their arms when they cross the finish line.
“A hand can help a lot,” Maze says, adding that a pole might help even more, but it doesn’t stop the clock.
“A pole is not working,” she says, laughing. “We’ve tried that. Maybe a ski, you know? Put it up or somehow jump over.”
“You’re always reaching for the finish line, hoping that makes a difference,” Mancuso says. “At one point maybe people were doing the pole thing. I think it has to be a substantial thing crossing the laser beam., otherwise it wouldn’t stop it.”
When a racer is on the unhappier side of hundredths of a second, it is only natural to analyze what might have made up the difference. After Weirather finished second to Vonn by 0.05 seconds, she said “I could be sad about second place,” but then she looked at the split seconds on the other side of her finish.
“But I could also be fourth with three hundredths slower, so I guess that I’m happy,” she said.
No matter how you shake it, every little thing does make a difference when you’re dealing with a hair of a second. And such is the refined nature of ski racing.
“We have to constantly look for things that can make us hundredths of a second faster,” Mancuso says.
See what other amusing commentary the ladies had about split seconds in this video.
By Shauna Farnell