Trayvon Bromell had a problem. A crowd of fans were waiting for him at the stadium, but he wasn’t ready to race. He needed some safety pins.
“All I wanted to think about was racing,” he said of track and field at the 2021 US Olympics. Instead, he found himself desperately searching for his four safety pins to secure his bib to his jersey before the race to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. “Small things like scraps of paper can be the biggest distractions,” he said.
Racing bibs, which help track and identify runners, are the basis of runners’ race day kits and generate race day revenue through sponsorships. But many pro runners still wonder why their high-tech race-day outfits have big pieces of paper stuck to them and weigh them down.
Accurate timing of runners is a fundamental and important aspect of racing. Bromell also won the 100m race by 5/100ths of a second. The difference between the Olympic qualifier and fourth place was determined by a difference of three hundredths of a second.
Using ultra-wideband Bluetooth technology, tags weighing about 10 grams are attached to athletes’ paper bibs, allowing runners to be tracked with centimeter-precise accuracy. You can measure distance, speed and even heart rate between athletes on the track. This is supplemented by a photo finish camera that determines placement and times as players cross the finish line.
However, tags do not have to be attached to bibs.
Cody Branch, Elite Events Director for Primetime Timing, the organization that manages race technology for USATF competitions, said it could be attached to a wristband or directly to a player’s clothing. Branch said the change would require “a concerted effort between track and field event organizers and apparel companies”, but he believed it was feasible.
Tyler Noble, senior manager of sports science and data analytics for the USATF, agreed bibs weren’t necessary. “In theory, is it possible to have an event without bibs? Absolutely,” Noble said. But “racing bibs are also part of the sport,” he added.
From turkey trotting to professional racing, bibs play a familiar role in runners’ race-day rituals. After the race, many runners, even the elite, take their number home as a souvenir.
“I like collecting bibs,” said professional long-distance runner Nel Rojas. I also like that the bibs of professional runners are often engraved with their last names, so spectators can cheer on the runners by name.
In a marathon race, practicality is important for bibs. With thousands or tens of thousands of runners participating in the race, standardized disposable tracking systems like RFID tags are needed. This technology signals a runner’s position on the course as they cross the mats set up during the race.
Still, Rojas thinks the bibs and their sizes could be redesigned. “The bibs just keep getting bigger and bigger,” she said. “Beyond sports bras.”
Four-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Johnson said bibs get in the way when athletes are trying to focus on giving their best performance. Johnson also felt the bib showed a lack of professionalism at the sport’s highest level. “The fastest, most efficient athletes in the world are competing with safety-pinned pieces of paper,” Johnson said. “It just reeks of amateurism.” Replacing safety pins with sticky material alone would be a step in the right direction, he added.
But the bib’s stubborn staying power may be rooted in the monetary value of meeting organizers. “Bibs are real estate,” said Trials of Miles founder Cooper Knowlton. “No brand will put your name on a bib without paying for it.”
In some cases, athletes may be required to wear bibs outside of races. “When I picked up my prize at the World Championships, I was told to wear a bib,” Johnson said.His diamonds were worn by some athletes at the recent Doha His League Athletics competition Bib to the press conference.
Athletes may receive some form of compensation from tournament organizers through performance fees, but are unlikely to receive a portion of the income from the sponsors they wear on their bibs.
Bromell, an Olympic sprinter, believes athletes deserve to see the direct part of the cuts. “I represent unpaid sponsors,” he said.
Plus, wearing other sponsors can make you feel uncomfortable, says Rojas. “As a Nike-sponsored athlete, I feel uncomfortable at the Boston Marathon, but I wear Adidas all over because the bib says so.” decided not to post the photos on social media.
Rojas says that feelings about bibs aren’t universal. But there is one thing that nearly every runner seems to agree with, he says. That means that the safety pin must be removed.