I've been looking a lot at wind readings and am slowing coming to the conclusion that while most wind readings look plausible, there are some real howlers as well (pun intended).
I'll give a rather obscure example, from the 2005 World Championship 100 meters.
In the heats, all held roughly between 11am and noon, the wind readings were:
+0.6 +0.9 +0.9 +0.4 +0.0 +0.3 +0.4 -1.4
In the quarter finals, all held around 7pm on the same day, the wind readings were:
-2.0 -1.2 +0.7 -1.0
In the semi finals, held around 7:30pm the next evening, the wind readings were:
The final, held around 9:30pm the same evening, had a wind reading of +0.4
The problem comes when you look at the times of Jason Gardener.
He ran in the last of the heats, and won it in a time of 10.19. You can't read much into that, since the best runners don't try that hard in the heats, although I note that the average time for the winners in the other heats (all with tail winds) was also 10.19.
He then ran in the third of the quarter finals, the only one with a tail wind. Gardener came third, just in front of Joshua Ross but with exactly the same time of 10.31. Both of them qualified, but only just. Gardener should have been trying hard in this race - he was not one of the medal contenders.
The problem is that, according to the wind readings, Gardener ran a 10.19 into a 1.4 m/s headwind when he had no reason to be trying that hard, and then ran a 10.31 with a 0.7 m/s tailwind when he had every reason to be trying hard. That just does not make sense.
To add further confusion, Gardener then ran a 10.08 in his semi-final into a 1.0 m/s headwind!
Perhaps Gardener injured himself in the quarter final? Or simply misread the pace of the race, almost with tragic results (like Ben Johnson in 1988 quarters). I think that is unlikely, because another runner, Deji Aliu of Nigeria, also ran in the same heat and quarter final, with similar results. He ran 10.36 into the headwind in the heat and then 10.39 with the tailwind in the quarter final.
I think its reasonable to think that the wind readings were wrong for both the heat and the quarter final. All of the other wind readings for the heats were in the range of a slight tailwind and all of the other wind readings for the quarter finals were in the range of a reasonable headwind. The times of Gardener and Aliu support the contention that the wind readings in their races were similar to the other races, rather than what was recorded.
If this is correct then it is a bit disappointing - it would be nice to be able to rely on the wind readings but perhaps that just is not possible. Or perhaps its a one-off? I doubt it though - there is enough anecdotal evidence to suggest that wind readings can very wrong - FloJo's world record, the 1980 100m men's final, the 200m men's semi-finals in 1972.