Behind the Scenes: The Photo-Finish Operator’s Tale

We continue our ‘behind the scenes’ series of interviews to highlight all the wonderful people involved in making a race happen.

There was a time before photo-finish at our race, and its a time we’d like to forget…  If it were not for the photo-finish operators we’d still be enjoying the wrath of the Braveheart forum community!

When it comes to organising a race in Scotland, number one recommendation in the toolkit should be “Book photo finish!”  We are very fortunate in Scotland to have two of the hardest working guys in the sport in Bill Dunscombe and Sandy Glover.  Thanks to Bill for taking time out to tell us what he does.


Bill, you are a photo-finish operator. Can you tell us what exactly it is you do?

Along with my club mate and colleague Sandy Glover we provide the Scottish Cycling photo finish service to most of the major road races plus some Track events. We aim to provide a printed result showing exact finishing positions and times within a short time after the last rider finishes.

Bill and Sandy being awarded volunteer of the year 2010 by Jackie Davidson, former CEO of Scottish Cycling.

How many races do you provide support to each year?

Last year we did the photo finish service for 29 races including all the Scottish Championships and series races such as Super Six and Vets & Women’s series.We also did the British Men’s and Women’s Road Race Championships and the Tour of Britain.

So far this year we have 28 bookings.

As a volunteer, why do you choose to do this job?

I had been chief judge at all the local races in Fife, including the Tour of the Kingdom for a number of years so when SC advertised in 2002 for volunteers to learn how to use the new digital system it seemed a natural thing to get involved with.

What training did you undertake to become a photo-finish operator?

I attended a 1 day course run by Susan and John Walker held in the car park at Meadowbank Velodrome.

Have there been any unusual incidents that have happened to you while supporting Scottish races?

The most unusual incident was a couple of years ago at the Lake APR’s in Balfon when the Men’s race finished before all the riders in the Women’s race had finished which caused a few problems. We could not find one of the women on the film but found a rider with a pony tail whose number was obscured so assumed it must be the missing lady. However, it turned out that the lady was a DNF and the pony tail belonged to a guy.

What are the main challenges in carrying out photo-finish?

That all important image! Velo Ecosse rider Matt Macdonald caught with his hands aloft by the photo finish team

The main challenges are coping with sudden changes in the weather which play havoc with the camera settings, and also persuading riders to pin their numbers in the right places.

What have been the highlights in carrying out this role?

The highlights have to be the British RR Championships and the Tour of Britain last year and also providing a “back-up” service at the World Duathlon Championships held in Edinburgh a couple of years ago.

You are a veteran of several Davie Bell road races now – do you have any special recollections of our event?

Yes, the good weather for the last couple of years and at last year’s event, Vic Possee with his shovel and wheelbarrow full of rubble filling in a big pothole in the middle of the finishing straight in Straiton.

What equipment will you be using on June 10th?

I use a digital camera which sits on the finish line plus a small video camera which sits a few metres before the line which films the rear of the riders to help identify riders whose numbers are not visible from the side. Both cameras are synchronised and connect to a Laptop where their pictures can be displayed on a split screen.

What advice or encouragement do you have for anyone who would like to become a photo finish operator?

Get in touch with me by email and be prepared to give up some of your cycling time to trailing round the country and working in all weathers. And by the way get paid (expenses) for it.

Thanks Bill and Sandy – we couldn’t do it without you!   28 bookings…  twenty-eight… that’s four solid weeks of events?  remarkable!

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