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On Sunday 10 July 2016 at the European Athletics Championships in Amsterdam, three athletes in the men's 5000m final finished with exactly the same time of 13:40:85 (a fourth arrived only a hundredth of a second later!).

What is the record for the greatest number of athletes finishing with the same time?

I would like to limit the reply to international running events where the athletes start at the same time (i.e. not considering heats of athletes for the same event).

5000m final Amsterdam 2016

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    I don't have a proper answer for this, but some thoughts: (1) There's a limit to the number of starters in a race held on the track, so as a practical thing there will never be more than ~25 athletes on the track (a crowded 10,000m) and more often only ~15 (a 1500m or 5000m final). (2) There is almost certainly a technical limit to the timing equipment recording simultaneous finishers, although it is probably high enough that it's unlikely to be reached in a typical race. – pjmorse Jul 18 '16 at 14:18
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    (3) Finally, the shorter the race, the more likely it is that athletes will finish close together, simply because there are fewer strategies and variables to separate athletes, so a dead heat of 9 100m sprinters is more likely than 9 1500m runners spread wide across the finish line. (This makes your example all the more remarkable!) – pjmorse Jul 18 '16 at 14:20
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    Related: The three athletes in your example are placed because even though times are reported to 0.01 second, they can be recorded to 0.001 second - so they are rounded in the results. Those three athletes all finished between 13:40.845 to 13:40.854 seconds. – pjmorse Jul 18 '16 at 14:22
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    Do you mean the same finish time and being the first in the race or just the same finish time? – fedorqui Mar 9 '18 at 13:08
  • When I ask I was thinking about the being the first, but in the question is not detailed, I will update the question – Ale Mar 10 '18 at 9:15
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I looked for recorded instances of the same finishing time by more than 3 runners, and couldn't find any. As was mentioned in the comments, the race you referenced in your question was reported to 0.01 seconds. A quick online search showed that they eventually ruled based on the photo finish camera (those results can be seen in the photo you included in the question).

Based on my research, I'm fairly certain that at the 0.01 seconds scale, the instance you pointed to, 3 runners, is the most ever recorded. Another instance of this was in 2015, at the IAAF World Championships in Beijing. In the men's 100m, 3 runners, Tyson Gay (U.S), Asafa Powell (JAM), and Jimmy Vicaut (FRA) clocked in at 10.00 seconds (correct to 0.01s). Again, these runners were eventually ranked in fifth, sixth and seventh place respectively, based on the footage. Interestingly, at that same race Trayvon Bromell (USA) and Andre De Grasse (Canada) both came in at 9.92s. In this case, their results were declared a "dead heat", in which a judgement cannot be made, and a tie is declared. Both were awarded the bronze medal.

If we're looking for, as you originally wrote, "athletes finishing with the same time", and we're really after a dead heat that's declared as such, it seems that 2 runners is the most ever recorded. Other than Bromell and De Grasse, the most well-known case of this is the Tarmoh/Felix third place tie at the USA Olympic trials women's 100m in 2012. I know you asked for international competitions, and this isn't one, but I just think it's a great example of what happens in such an event. Since they could not be declared tied (only one of them could qualify and move on to compete in the Olympic games), they were given a choice between a coin-toss and a runoff. They both agreed to a runoff, but Tarmoh ultimately decided to withdraw from the runoff, feeling that she'd been wronged by the organization, and thus gave up the spot to Felix.

If you want to read more about these cases, and more broadly about the ties in sporting events and the discipline of timing and imaging (and its limitations), I highly recommend reading Jonathan Finn's article on the subject.

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