Photo/IllutrationA scene from the men's 100-meter final at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics shows officials lined up to time the race with stopwatches in case the newly introduced photo finish system did not work. Bob Hayes of the United States, left, won the gold medal with a time of 10.0 seconds. (Provided by Seiko Holdings Corp.)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

With two Japanese sprinters breaking the 10-second mark in the 100-meter dash in recent years, sports fans have high hopes for their quick-footed compatriots at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Japanese technology has played an essential behind-the-scenes role in such high-level sports competitions, providing unequaled accuracy in measuring athletes' performances.

Abdul Hakim Sani Brown, who was born in Japan to a Japanese mother and a Ghanaian father, became the second Japanese sprinter to break the 10-second mark on May 11 when he won the 100 meters in 9.99 seconds at a U.S. collegiate meet.

He even set a new Japanese record on June 7, shaving .02 second off the time for a 9.97 finish in the 100 meters at the finals of the NCAA championships in the United States.

Yoshihide Kiryu, another Japanese sprinter, posted a time of 9.98 seconds in 2017.

Their feats raise the prospects of a Japanese sprinter standing on the Olympic podium, which was unthinkable until a few years ago.

Seiko Holdings Corp., a pioneer in watch manufacturing, developed special automated technology that allows a sprinter's time to be measured instantly.

The company's photo finish system was formally introduced for the first time in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

Before then, officials would huddle next to each other close to the finish line with stopwatches in hand.

Three officials, each with a slightly different point of view of the finish line, were assigned to each runner to time the race. Afterward, they compared the three recorded times and took an intermediate value.

Not surprisingly, errors were not uncommon and athletes and other parties often contested the results.

But with the introduction of the photo finish system, the number of complaints declined to zero at the 1964 Tokyo Games for the first time in the history of the Olympics, according to Seiko Holdings.

Since then, the technology has been incorporated into quartz wristwatches, printers and the like.

In the men's 100-meter final at the Asian Games in Jakarta in August 2018, Ryota Yamagata of Japan and Tosin Ogunode of Qatar both finished in 10.00 seconds.

But Yamagata placed third and Ogunode second.

The official recorded time in a 100-meter race is counted by one-hundredth of a second, rounded off to two digits after the decimal point.

However, for simultaneous finishes like those of Yamagata and Ogunode, one-thousandth of a second can determine the winner.

The results showed that Ogunode finished in 9.995 seconds, followed by Yamagata at 9.997, meaning the winner was ahead by just 2 centimeters.

"A few tenths of a second; a few centimeters' difference. Such ephemeral drama changes everything for an athlete," said Hiroshi Kajihara of Seiko Holdings, who has been involved as an official timer for years.

Seiko Holdings has served as the official timer at six Olympics and 15 world championships to determine who is crowned "the world's fastest."

Kajihara was at the 2009 World Championships in Athletics in Berlin when Jamaica’s Usain Bolt shattered the world record with 9.58 seconds in the men’s 100-meter final.

Kajihara recalled spectators exploding with excitement.

“Records are not simply numbers, I realized then. They are the soul of an athlete,” Kajihara said.

In a 100-meter race, the photo finish system automatically starts at the sound of the starting pistol and continues until athletes pass an infrared beam at the finish line, immediately following which the first-place runner's time is posted.

Multiple special cameras are set up along the finish line to take pictures at 2,000 frames per second. These images also factor into determining the official recorded time and order of arrival.

For the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Swiss luxury watch maker Omega will serve as the official timer.

The selection was made by the International Olympic Committee before it chose Tokyo as the host city.

Rather than being disappointed over the choice, a Seiko Holdings official expressed support for the competitor, saying: "Various technologies have been presented at past Olympics and the world has moved forward thanks to them. I look forward to seeing new technologies (at work)."

Keiji Watanabe of Nishi Athletic Goods Co., who has served as official timer at domestic track and field competitions, said: “Timing cannot be done without trust. My aim is to help provide an exciting competitive atmosphere; accurately capture the lively motions of athletes; and help send them onto the greatest stage."