SIOUX CITY -- After the gun fires, and track athletes are done either sprinting short distances or pacing themselves over many laps, one of the chief things they want to know is their placing.
Sometimes the even more important detail to the runners is their time, because it could be a meet record, a school best mark or a personal record, or PR. That's where Bob Prince comes in.
"For so many of them, it is about their time. There is only one winner. Somebody in sixth place could set their school record," Prince said.
Price is co-director of the Sioux City Relays, along with Dave Fravel and Nick Gaul, and also head timer. The Relays, reduced from two to one day this year due to inclement weather, takes place Saturday.
Prince, a former prep and college track standout himself in the 1970s, knows there are now considerably more precise measurements of racing times, much advanced from the bygone days of hand-held stop watches that timed to a tenth of a second. Such watches operated by meet volunteers were dependent upon an accurate eyesight and hand coordination to clicking the watch when a thinclad crossed the finish line.
Prince loves that the city hosts a big meet that pulls in high school and college teams regionally. The Sioux City Relays are promoted as the premier track carnival in western Iowa, and this will be the 55th year for the meet. The relays have been pulling in about 1,500 to 1,700 performers in recent years, and Prince said a crew of about 100 volunteer workers is needed to pull that off.
"Is it fun? Yes. Is it going to be stressful? I'd say yes...The key is if you wake up the next morning and you are thinking about next year," Prince said.
Prince is unhappy that for a second straight year, poor weather conditions erased a full day of competition. Last year, a rogue blizzard was to blame, making the first time the Sioux City Relays lost an entire day since the event returned in 1985 after an 18-year hiatus.
This year the southern edge of a South Dakota blizzard brought heavy winds, cold temperatures and mixed precipitation to Siouxland, which resulted in Friday running events being pushed into a reworked Saturday race schedule.
Still, Prince is ready to get back to work on the track Saturday at the Elwood Olsen Stadium of Morningside College.
"The (poor) weather can take a lot of fun out of it," Prince said, but he quickly added that track coaches and athletes are a hearty bunch.
"More people have a reason to keep coming, to qualify for Drake (Relays) or state, and they won't let weather stop them," he said.
Prince, a former NCAA champion from Kansas State, clocked a 1:52.3 over 880 yards while an East High School prep in 1973, a performance that converts to a 1:51.6 for 800 meters. Today, those times would be shown to additional decimal places, with the FinishLynx system the Sioux City Relays uses.
That timing system on the track's infield syncs up with the starter's pistol. An electronic signal is sent to FinishLynx when the shot goes off.
"It is a precision clock, recalibrated every five years," Prince said. "We're proud of what we've accomplished with it."
How precise? The times are calculated down to not a hundredth but thousandth of a second. A second software system at the stadium, called Hy-Tek, sends the results to a large scoreboard on the west side of the stadium, for easy viewing by the athletes, parents and assembled track fans.
Aubree Bell, a Woodbury Central (Iowa) High School freshman, is just getting going with her sprinting career. Bell will have a busy Saturday, performing on two relays, the long jump and 100 meter dash.
Bell is the type who can quote her PR time to the hundredth of a second. She wants to know her race times "right after" she finishes, so she's looking forward to seeing it quickly determined and shown on the Olsen board.
Most of Woodbury Central's meets are in smaller venues, and Bell hopes going against girls from bigger schools at the Sioux City stadium track pushes her to a good clocking.
"I definitely think I've improved throughout the whole season. I think it (big meet) is going to push me," she said.