Runners cross the finish wire(less) in Boston Marathon

"With the chip, people aren't elbowing each other to get to the starting line," he said.

All 15,661 registered runners were given a microchip to tie to their shoes. As the runner passed the starting line, the chip activated a sensor, starting their own personal clock running. Additional sensors marked the pace every five kilometres, at the half-way point and at the finish line. Observers could track the runners online from a PC or along the route using a wireless-enabled iPaq handheld computer from Compaq Computer Corp.

Compaq had 30 volunteers with iPaqs along the race route, helping spectators track their family and friends. It wasn't enough, said Compaq spokesman Tim Willeford. As handhelds become more popular, individuals will be able to make more use of similar tracking technology. "If my mother came down and had her own little iPaq computer, she could track the race," he said.

Fans may also receive e-mail notification sent to wireless access protocol (WAP) enabled devices at checkpoints along the route. About 21 percent of the runners signed up, according to race officials.

The microchip isn't a perfect tool for deciding winners. Last year's Boston Marathon came down to a photo finish for the top three runners for both sexes, despite chips in their shoes. "The chip is great for telling time, but the chip is on the foot and the winner is determined by the torso," said John Burgholzer, technology coordinator for the Boston Athletic Club, the body organising the marathon.

This year's race wasn't quite so close. Lee Bong-Ju of South Korea upset the Kenyan contingent with a time of 2:09. Silvio Guerra of Ecuador placed second, 24 seconds behind, while Joshua Chelang'a of Kenya came in third, 46 seconds after Lee.

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