Technician Olympics: A Timekeeper's Tale (Tongue in Cheek)

There was pressure at the first ever Auto Glass Technician Olympics competition in Las Vegas earlier this week, but all of it wasn't on the professionals who were competing. There were also some rookie timekeepers who were trying to break into the league. I was one of them. It was my first time, and I was nervous.

The role of the timekeeper is important, and indeed became critical in the Las Vegas event even though skill rules in this competition. But more about that later.

We timekeepers met a half hour before the event was scheduled to get underway to get our instructions. Our head scorekeeper (another lady; someday someone has to explain to me why all the organizers of the event were ladies and all the competitors were men; I asked Ralph Nader, who was in town for the keynote address at the AGRSS conference about this and he said, "I know about automobiles and safety. Women, that's a whole different thing.") explained that we were to note certain times in the process (when the priming was started, if the primer was shook for a minute, when the glass touched the adhesive, when the contestant was finished) and to serve as the go-between between the competitor and the judges. If the contestant had a question, he asked the timekeeper and the timekeeper relayed the question to the judge. Competitors could not initiate a conversation with a judge directly, although a judge could speak directly to a competitor. (And you thought being a timekeeper was a slam dunk.)

Palms sweaty (Would I get the times correctly? Would I be able to stop my competitor before he spoke directly to the judge?) I could feel the pressure, but I feel confident.

We were a PC (politically correct) group. Beside me was Bad Boy Brian, another rookie who was on his first timekeeping assignment and was playing it cool. On the other side was King James, a veteran (from the Auto Film Tint-Off competitions) who had complete confidence in the accuracy of his thumb on the stop watch. Filling out our run was Lady Megan, another veteran and the guys could tell by her look that she wasn't going to take any guff.

The competitor I was assigned for the first heat was Cool Mike, clearly a professional. Quiet, quick, he commanded respect. He went through the pre-inspection like a pro. Out the windshield came and back in the new one with nary a hitch. He cruised into the final dealings with the client (my role as timekeeper) explaining the safe drive away time, handing me a business card and a car trash bag with a magnet. Wow, I'd sure want this guy to replace my windshield. (I'm wondering to myself if his zip code listing on METRYX will extend from his location in the Southwest to my location in the Southeast the next time I need a replacement.)

The heat is over and we all take a break to set up for the next heat in the preliminary round. Us rookie timekeepers are gushing about how good our guy was. The veterans are quiet, sipping a Coke; they know they're all going to be good.

In the next heat, I'm assigned Rust Remover Ron. He looks fired up, but a little nervous. After all, he watched the guys in the earlier heat. But he's a pro and he starts his work. The pre-inspection is thorough and time consuming. This vehicle has more scratches and dings than a kid who has just finished playing with a kitten. It's a bad luck vehicle; both Ron and I sense it.

Ron goes about the job methodically, but with the time invested in the inspection, he knows he is behind already. He starts sweating. (No points off for this.) Step by step he plunges ahead, but as soon as he has put the primer on a judge comes up to ask about what appears to be a scratch on the pinchweld. (All cars must be returned with an absolutely safe installation; if there is any doubt, the installation will be stopped at any point.) By the time this point is taken care of, Ron has to re-prime the unit. More time. More sweat. More pressure.

Ron knows he's up against it now. But in the glass goes and over he comes to give the final instructions to the client. In a masterly consumer service gesture, Ron hands me the paperwork, explains the warranty, gives the safe drive away time, a business card, and a can of glass cleaner. How could you not want to give this guy all your business and tell your friends?

Well, you get the idea of what it was like down there on the floor. The final round of four made the preliminaries look like a cakewalk. The backglass of a Taurus. But we're down to the best of the best now, and these guys are a pro's pros. You can tell they're tired and this is tough, but these are disciplined, experienced technicians.

When it's all over, everyone applauds, but we won't know the winner until the next morning. When the announcement comes, it's revealed that in some cases the scores between competitors is the same, in which case the placement comes down to the timing. That's the tie breaker.

Wow, skills rule, but the timing can become a deciding factor. And me and my fellow timekeepers get our little glint of celebrity. The accuracy of our timing is helping to decide the order of finish. I don't know. Maybe it's too much pressure for me. I don't know if I'll be able to come back next year and participate in the Olympics. But then I'm sort of a pro now too aren't I? I've shared the sweat, the pressure. If I keep at my timekeeping over the next year, I should be ready for Auto Glass Technician Olympics II.

PS: Some of the names and actions in this account have been changed to protect the innocent.

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