Olympics time keeping has come of age

The official time keeper of the Olympics, Swiss brand Omega, will have 450 tonnes of equipment, 200 kilometres of cables and optical fibre, 480 professionals, 335 sport specific scoreboards, 79 public scoreboards and 850 trained volunteers, in Rio de Janeiro, to keep the billions around the world well informed.

Omega's London 2012 Olympic Games countdown clock.   -  Getty Images

Perfection is a chimera. But when it comes to accuracy in measuring time at the Olympics — the pinnacle of sports — one can’t afford to make even the slightest of mistakes.

The official time keeper of the Olympics, Swiss brand Omega, will have 450 tonnes of equipment, 200 kilometres of cables and optical fibre, 480 professionals, 335 sport specific scoreboards, 79 public scoreboards and 850 trained volunteers, in Rio de Janeiro, to keep the billions around the world well informed.

 

From a humble start in 1932, when a single company was entrusted with the responsibility of time, with one time keeper and 30 high precision chronographs, technology has indeed kept pace with the constantly improving athletes, winning their confidence in the process.

In 1948 in London, the first photofinish camera, Magic Eye, was used to identify the difference, when the regular clock, measuring up to one tenth of a second, showed the athletes tied.

The automatic touch pads in the swimming pool were introduced after a controversial finish in the men’s 100-metre freestyle in 1960. Soon, the Photosprint captured the moment when a contestant crossed the finish line, and put everyone in one single frame, with the timing of each competitor.

In the 1984 Los Angeles Games, the false start detection device was introduced, that allowed a reaction time of 0.100 seconds. It is a false start, if the reaction is less than 100 milliseconds.

In the 2012 London Olympics, new starting blocks, instant ranking of top three finishers in swimming, apart from a high precision Quantum Timer in athletics and water sports, with an enhanced resolution of one millionth of a second, were used.

The starting pistol is not traditional any more, and is an equipment of “light and sound”, and the Scan O Vision MYRIA captures 10,000 frames per second in a ‘photo finish’.

Instead of two photocells at the finish line in athletics, Rio will feature four photocells, which would mean more body patterns being detected as an athlete crosses the line, leading to improved accuracy.

In the pool, the swimmers stop their time, by hitting the touchpads with a force of 1.5 to 2.5 kg. If the contact is missing or too soft, high-speed cameras with 100 frames per second would provide the right picture for the time-keepers.

The scoreboards will be high resolution and much improved, with the big moments getting highlighted in a spectacular fashion.

The return of golf in the Olympics will be greeted with special scoreboards, placed at the ground level on the four dedicated tees, with information of stroke speed, estimated distance and height of the strokes, apart from other details.

Technology will also enhance the spectator experience in archery, with new targets automatically displaying scores with in-built scanning system. When the arrow hits the target, the scanners will estimate the score, with 0.2 millimetre accuracy, and display the result within a second.

Technology may have advanced beyond imagination, but the Olympic last-lap bronze bells will continue to evoke memories of the birth place of the Games in Greece, as claimed by Omega.

Made by hand in the Swiss mountains, with 50-year-old sand from Paris being heated to 1200 degrees to form the mould, the last lap bells will signal the final thrust towards the finish in athletics, track and road cycling and mountain bike events.

Of course, there will be limited edition watches on offer in Rio from Omega, the Seamaster Diver 300M, the Bullhead Rio, Speedmaster Mark II Rio 2016, for the connoisseurs who proudly flaunt their watches as much as they value time.

There will also be the four leading brand ambassadors Michael Phelps, Jessica Ennis-Hill, Chad le Clos and Sergio Garcia, extolling the contribution of Omega, all set to freeze time in its 27th association with the Olympics.