LONDON — When Kori Carter took the track for her opening heat in the 400-meter hurdles at the world track and field championships Monday, her coach, Edrick Floréal, sent her out with some untraditional instructions. Go as hard as you can out of the blocks, Floréal said, and then take a look around — or rather, up.
“My coach told me to get out the first six hurdles like it’s the final and then told me to be smart from there, check the screen so I knew where everyone was,” Carter said.
In ways large and small, the two huge screens inside London Stadium have become as much a part of the nightly action here as the runners wearing spikes. The monitors display the replays, the statistics and, most dramatically, the final results shortly after a tight finish, allowing runners huddled together on the track and gazing upward — chests heaving — to get clarity, and confirmation, from on high almost as soon as their races end.
But the screens also display live coverage of events in progress, and because the screens are positioned at opposite ends of the stadium — in the curves — the athletes running in either straightaway can get a high-definition look at the state of play if they choose to sneak a peek.
“It is kind of weird sometimes: It is like you’re trapped in a video game, but it’s awesome,” said Sparkle McKnight, a women’s 400-meter hurdler from Trinidad and Tobago.
For 10 days at least, the 21st-century debate about screen time and exercise involves two items that are not mutually exclusive. Carter, a hurdler from the United States who qualified for the final on Tuesday night, acknowledged that she was among those who take full advantage of the video boards whenever practical. “I definitely use the screen,” she said.
Floréal, her coach, said that the screens are particularly useful in the preliminary rounds.
“You don’t want to go out and run too fast unless you have to,” he said Tuesday. “Obviously, looking left and right to find out where everybody is can distract you, and with the screen you are always looking ahead, so you don’t have to do that.”
But the screens also can be helpful as a real-time tool when medals are at stake.
On Friday night, the British distance star Mo Farah looked up at the display at the start of the bell lap of the 10,000-meter final. Farah was in the lead and wanted to get a better sense of where his rivals behind him were positioned. What he learned from a quick glance helped him hold off the chase pack and win his latest world title.
Other distance runners who have not used the technology in the past have sometimes paid the price. During the final of the women’s 10,000 at the last world championships, in Beijing in 2015, Molly Huddle of the United States was in the homestretch and in bronze medal position. She looked over her right shoulder, saw no trouble closing on the outside and eased up as she neared the finish line, raising her arms in celebration. As she did, she was passed on the inside by her American teammate Emily Infeld.
But the new-age tools are not suited to every occasion, including Monday night’s manic, tightly packed finish to the women’s 1,500 meters, which Faith Kipyegon of Kenya won after holding off late charges from Jenny Simpson of the United States and Caster Semenya of South Africa. Simpson ended up with the silver, her third medal in the 1,500 at a world championships. Semenya took the bronze.
“I don’t watch the screen at all, because it can be a little bit delayed and the perspective can be strange,” Simpson said. “And honestly, a race like tonight, I’m running as hard as I can, and it’s hard enough for me to stay lucid and make good decisions looking at everything going on in front of me.”
But Simpson was coming from behind.
“If you’re in front, the screen may be the only data you get,” said Simpson’s coach, Heather Burroughs. “I think there are races, particularly longer races or more tactical races, where it’s useful. But I think in a race like this 1,500, where the last 600 meters is so frenzied, you really can’t look at the screen without making a mistake.
“You’re more likely to make contact with someone, and it would take a while to kind of get perspective and positioning after looking at it,” Burroughs said. “You would be at risk of missing some move that is made by failing to respond. Things happen very, very quickly.”
The same is true of other events. There is simply not enough time for screen time in a 100-meter final, and even less in the sprint hurdles, where there are obstacles to clear every few strides.
“Absolutely no using the screen — that would be a disaster,” said Floréal, who also coaches the American Keni Harrison, the world-record holder in the 100 hurdles, and the Jamaican Omar McLeod, the reigning Olympic champion. McLeod added another gold here in the 110 hurdles on Monday night.
But the hurdlers in the 400 have more running and thinking room: 35 meters between obstacles. “Still, I’d only advise it for professionals who have a keen sense of stride length and stride rate and exactly where they are on the racecourse,” said Floréal, the head track and field coach at the University of Kentucky.
He said video screens at many other venues are poorly positioned for in-race use, including the one at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore.
“The N.C.A.A. screen at Eugene is so much higher, so you have to take your eyes a little bit off the track and go 60 to 70 feet up,” he said. “Whereas in London and all the world championships and Olympics, the screens are typically directly in the middle of the turn and are so big you can see all the lanes.”
Athletes in the field events in London also are taking advantage of the screens, just not while they are in the act of throwing or jumping. Many use the displays to review their attempts, and they find the screens particularly useful considering that their access to other technology — iPads, laptops and even smartphones — is banned during competition.
“They are very strict here — you can’t get anything by them,” said Joe Kovacs, the American who won a silver medal in the men’s shot-put on Sunday. “Even an Apple watch like I normally wear is not allowed, which is smart because you could have somebody texting you what to do.”
But Kovacs and his coach can watch footage of his throws almost immediately after each attempt when they are replayed on the big screens, and then make in-competition adjustments.
Will Claye, one of the world’s best triple jumpers, said that he does the same. “It’s like we get to study our game film while the game is going on,” he said. “I definitely think it’s something that helps us all on the track, whether you are running the 10,000 and want to see what position you are in or you are throwing the shot and seeing where your rotation was wrong. It definitely helps us.”
Humans remaining humans, though, there are other benefits of keeping an eye on the video screens.
“I look at the screen all the time,” said Quanera Hayes, an American 400-meter runner. “And that’s because I want to make sure I am looking good for the people back home.”
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