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Kiwi ingenuity puts Coast to Coast athletes on map

Media Release

3 February 2005

Kiwi ingenuity puts Coast to Coast athletes on map

A device used to radio-track animals will be used on humans for the first time during the 23rd Speight's Coast to Coast race this weekend, in a world-leading move to map competitors' locations.

The wildlife tracking company Sirtrack, a subsidiary of Landcare Research, built the miniaturised Global Positioning System (GPS) device to track animals for research. The GPS units are programmed to take readings of the wearer's latitude and longitude, which when downloaded give precise times, locations, and speeds.

The units will be used by New Zealand television production company LeggeWork for a documentary on this year's inaugural World Team Championship race, tracking the competitors' routes on the gruelling 243 kilometre event. In what is believed to be a world first for endurance sports telecoverage, the competitors' routes and times during the one-day event will be displayed on animated maps of the course.

The documentary will screen in 32 countries next month.

"We've been searching for just this equipment for some time, and to be able to source it within New Zealand is fantastic," race director Robin Judkins says. "We needed a unit that was waterproof and could withstand severe movement, and both these elements feature in this system.

"If it works well this year, we will look at extending the GPS coverage first to all the competitors in the one-day event, and then to competitors in the two-day event."

LeggeWork managing director Gordon Legge says the GPS units will be worn by 20 athletes from the United Kingdom, the United States of America, China, Sweden, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. The New Zealand world championship team are defending champion George Christison, Richard Ussher and Kristina Anglem.

Mr Legge says to his knowledge GPS coordinates have not been used in endurance sports graphics before.

"I credit Sirtrack's 'can-do' attitude for getting the project to this stage.

"At present the data on the athletes' whereabouts can only be downloaded after the race, but we will work with Sirtrack on a system that makes information available in real time."

Sirtrack spokesman Rowan Calder says the GPS units are proving to be very versatile. "They weigh just 150 grams, and are sewn discreetly into the competitors' race bibs.

"It is unusual to see equipment usually built into animal collars being worn by humans, but we are happy with the alternative use, and excited about future prospects."


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