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Why They Stopped Using Real Pistols to Start Olympic Races

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Before flying out of the starting blocks—and ultimately taking Olympic gold in the 100-meter race for the third time—Jamaica's Usain Bolt was met not with the fire of a pistol but a noise triggered by an electronic gun. Did previous Games use actual pistols?

Yes, but they've been scrapped for both safety and fairness. The guns were obviously firing blanks and were often rigged to blow off a puff of smoke so everyone could see. Some of the guns were even sealed shut and would just make a loud bang. In an interview with BBC Radio's "The Now Show," Alan Bell, the official Olympics starter at the 2012 Summer Games in London, said that he had even used a pistol with bullets stuffed with toilet paper.

In fact, the actual pistols used to start races have gotten some flak in recent years. One famous model, the Bruni Olympic .380 BBM, was banned in 2010 because it could be converted to fire live ammunition (other pistols that fire blanks must be brightly colored to avoid any confusion). Traveling with the guns—and the firing supplies—can also be a hassle in airports. And Bell himself was even banned from bringing a starting pistol to a race at a local school, leaving him to use a loud horn instead.

Enter OMEGA electronic start system: the plastic device doesn't fire at all, but triggers speakers behind each runner. It's also connected to the official timers and can't start without approval by the judges.

But the bigger issue the new electronic guns have solved is one of fairness, due to problems caused by the speed of sound. Runners in the lane farthest from the pistol were shown to have slower reaction times than those closest to it. Even wiring the starting blocks with speakers didn't help, since runners were still waiting for the pistol sound. In an interview with The Atlantic, OMEGA Timing board member Peter Hürzeler said that U.S. runner Michael Johnson's reaction time was as high as 440 thousandths of a second in the ninth lane, versus the normal 130 to 140 thousandth of a second, due to the lag time in hearing the sound. New Scientist also rounded up research on starting before the 2008 games and found that everything from location to the loudness of the pistol could affect the race.

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How to Tie Your Shoes With One Hand, According to a Paralympian
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Megan Absten lost her left arm in an ATV accident when she was 14, but the injury hasn't stopped her from doing extraordinary things like competing for the U.S. track and field team in the Paralympics. Nor has it stopped her from completing everyday tasks that most people need two hands for—like tying her shoes. After the shoe-tying methods she learned in physical therapy didn't cut it for her, she had to come up with her own one-handed trick. She shares her process in a new video spotted by Lifehacker.

First things first: Lay your laces on either side of your shoe. Next, use your hand to cross them and tuck one end through to make the beginning of your knot. Pin the end of one lace beneath the bottom of your foot to hold it tight, then pull the second lace up with your hand.

Now, you're ready to make your bunny ears. Create a loop with the free lace and pinch it between your thumb and index finger. Then, use your middle finger to grab the lace that you’ve been holding under your shoe. Circle this string around the loop, then push it through the opening to create your second bunny ear. Tighten the new knot by sticking your index finger and thumb in each loop and spreading them wide.

Watch Absten explain the process for herself in the video below. If you're feeling more advanced, she also demonstrates a second technique for you to try.

Once you've mastered those methods, try out these shoe hacks for happier feet.

[h/t Lifehacker]

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2018 Winter Olympics By the Numbers: Which Country Was the Big Winner in Pyeongchang?
JONATHAN NACKSTRAND, AFP/Getty Images
JONATHAN NACKSTRAND, AFP/Getty Images

The closing ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics was held on Sunday, February 25, concluding more than two weeks of history-making figure-skating jumps and listening to curlers yell at each other. But if you're someone who tunes in to the Olympics only to see your country win, you may have been left feeling confused. There was no official winner announced at the end of the event, so how are you supposed to know which nation dominated the Winter Games? Judging solely by medal count, these are the countries that skied, skated, and slid their way to the top in Pyeongchang.

According to Bloomberg, Norway came out of the games as the most decorated country. The Scandinavian nation of 5.3 million took home 11 bronze, 14 silver, and 14 gold medals, bringing the total to 39. That makes Norway the biggest single nation winner at any Winter Olympics, breaking the prior record of 37, which was set by the U.S. at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Norway was represented by about half the number of athletes competing on Team USA, but it was bolstered by a few advantages—like long winters (making training for cross-country sports easier), universal healthcare, and a culture that encourages young athletes to play sports for the sake of play rather than for the sake of winning.

Germany tied Norway for the most golds with 14, but earned 10 silver and seven bronze medals, landing them in second place with 31. Canada ranked third with 29 medals overall, 11 of which were gold, and the United States came in fourth with a tally of 23 medals, including nine golds. The Netherlands, Sweden, South Korea, Switzerland, France, and Austria round out the top 10.

Teams used to spending a lot of time on the podium may strive for that top slot, but placing in any event is impressive. The majority of teams that competed went home without any medals to show for their efforts. Fortunately, they have until 2022 to prepare for the next Winter Olympics in Beijing.

[h/t Bloomberg]

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