Photo-finish — A Visual Guide to Post-War Olympic’s Greatest Moments


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1948 Photo Finish

The world's first photo-finish shows the United States' Harrison Dillard (nearest camera) edging his teammate (and roommate), Barney Ewell, in the 100 meter.

In 1948 the world was still reeling from the trauma of World War II. With new horrors being uncovered daily humanity was in need of a serious mojo uplift. Enter the 1948 Olympiad, held in London (the games were held in the city by the Thames in 1908 as well, not to mention 2012). These games produced some mesmerizing moments indelibly imprinted on the world’s mind, perhaps because they were the first to be televised.

The 1948 Olympics also marked the advent of modern time-keeping at the games and introduced the phrase “photo-finish” to the world. Prior to ’48, races had been determined by the familiar tape marking the end of the competition. This caused some problems though, particular with the 100 meter races where runners finished in tight packs. Enter the photoelectric cell and the “slit” photofinish camera. The photoelectric cell determined the exact time a runner crossed the line and the “slit” camera captured that precise moment. In ’48 these new timing mechanisms only served to aid the judges in their decisions. But in 1968, at the Mexico City Olympics, they would officially become the determining factor for all track and field events.

In honor of the 2012 Olympic Games we’ve decided to piece together a visual timeline of photo-finishes from 1948 to today. Enjoy!

helsinki, 1952

At the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, Finland Australians Lionel Cox and Russel Mockridge (near) narrowly beat out the Danish duo of J. Ericksen and O. Holmstrup in the tandem bike race.

1956 Melbourne

The Swim Eight-O-Matic Timer was introduced in the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia, effectively ending photo-finishes in swimming events by allowing judges to determine winners via a touch of the wall.

1960 Rome

United States runner Otis Davis surprised the world in Rome in 1960 by defeating German Carl Kaufman in a photo-finish while setting a new world record.


American Blaine LIndgren won a gold medal in the 110 meter hurdles at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Forty five minutes later it sadly turned to silver when the lack of official photo-finishes led to a change in the ruling.


The 1968 Olympics in Mexico City are perhaps best remembered for the 200 meter gold and bronze medalists


While not a photo-finish (those had been negated in swimming in 1956) Swedish swimmer Gunnar Larson's gold medal, won by 0.002 seconds, caused the officiating body to change the rules, only allowing races to be decided by 0.001 of a second.


In Montreal, in 1976, Romanian Nadia Comaneci scored the first perfect 10 ever in the Olympics. Her unbelievable performance on the uneven bars clearly was not a photo-finish but it did throw the scoreboard for a loop. Not equipped for a perfect 10, it announced the 4' 11" gymnast's score as a 1.


The United States boycotted the 1980 Olympics in Moscow leaving the field wide open. Scotsman Alan Wells took full advantage and executed a perfectly timed lean to win the 100 meter for Britain's first gold in the event since 1924.

Nancy Hogshead and Carrie Steinseifer

American swimmers Nancy Hogshead and Carrie Steinseifer embrace in Los Angeles at the 1984 Olympics after tying for the gold medal in the 100 meter freestyle to start the games. This was the first tie ever in Olympic swimming. The Olympics in Los Angeles were also the first to feature highly prized color photofinish prints signed by the athletes. 1984 also saw the Olympic début of Omega’s false-start detectors.


Not a photo-finish but rather just an amazing moment in Olympic history. Canadian Ben Johnson shows whose number one in Seoul in 1988 to American rival Carl Lewis. Johnson was later disqualified for drug use and the gold was given to Lewis. Waved that finger too soon Mr. Johnson.


Veering away from photo-finishes one more time. We just had to share this amazing shot of Team Nigeria in 1992 in Barcelona, thrilled with their good luck at winning an unexpected bronze medal in the 4 x 100 meter relay.

1996 Merlene Ottey and Gail Devers

In 1996, the Olympics were held in Atlanta and are perhaps best remembered for the bombing that took place. However, there was also a dramatic photo-finish in the woman's 100 meter as 1996 Merlene Ottey and Gail Devers battled it out to the very last second. Devers was declared the winner.


Again, we digress from our photo-finish thesis as we get to the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. Ethiopian Haile Gebrselassie and Kenyan Paul Tergat picked up their historic rivalry in the 10,000 meter with Gebrselassie winning by 9/100ths of a second after 27:18 of running.

Womens 800m Finals

Kelly Holmes of Great Britain crosses the finish line in the women's 800 meter final during the Athens 2004 Summer Olympic Games. A photo-finish in the 800 is almost unheard of.

In 2008 in Beijing, Jamaica's Usain Bolt would prove that sometimes absolutely no photo-finish is necessary.

In 2008 in Beijing, Jamaica's Usain Bolt would prove that sometimes absolutely no photo-finish is necessary.


And that brings us to 2012 back in London. The photo-finishes started this year before the Olympics even began as American's Allyson Felix and Jeneba Tarmoh appeared to cross the line at the exact same time in the Olympic trials. Even the photo-finish couldn't determine this one as it was decided that there would be a run-off or a coin toss. A coin toss? Yes, a coin toss to see which one of the runners made the team. Rather than subject her and her teammates to this Tarmoh handed her Olympic spot to Felix.

If you ever come across any of these vintage shots, nicely printed and framed, don’t hesitate to post ’em to You’ll have at least one buyer in no time flat!


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